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With God on Our Side (song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"With God on Our Side" is a song by Bob Dylan, released as the third track on his 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changin'. Dylan first performed the song during his debut at The Town Hall in New York City on April 12, 1963. Dylan is known to sing the song only rarely in concert.


The lyrics address the tendency of Americans to believe that God will invariably side with them and oppose those with whom they disagree, thus leaving unquestioned the morality of wars fought and atrocities committed by their country. Dylan mentions several historical events, including the slaughter of Native Americans in the nineteenth century, the Spanish–American War, the American Civil War, World Wars I and II, The Holocaust, the Cold War and the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas Iscariot; the song made no explicit reference to the Vietnam War until live renditions in the 1980s, when an additional verse ran thus:

In the nineteen-sixties came the Vietnam War
Can somebody tell me what we're fightin' for?
So many young men died
So many mothers cried
Now I ask the question
Was God on our side?

Music critic Tim Riley once wrote: "'With God on Our Side' manages to voice political savvy mixed with generational naivete" as it "draws the line for those born long enough after World War I to find its issues blurry ('the reasons for fightin'/I never did get') and who view the forgiveness of the World War II Germans as a farce."

The words from the song “whether Judas Iscariot had God on his side” inspired Tim Rice to write the lyrics of Jesus Christ Superstar from Judas’s perspective, although that was not, obviously, the point Dylan was making in the song.

Controversy over composition

The melody of "With God on Our Side" is essentially identical to the traditional Irish folk song "The Merry Month of May", which was also used by Dominic Behan in his song "The Patriot Game". The opening verse is also similar to the second verse of Behan's song, in which the narrator gives his name and age. Behan criticized Dylan publicly by claiming the melody as an original composition.[1] Behan took the view that the provenance of Dylan's entire body of work must be questioned. Behan exercised the same folk tradition as Dylan in writing the song, having himself borrowed the melody.[2]

Incidents of censorship

Anthony B. Herbert, Vietnam War veteran and psychologist, reported an incident related to Joan Baez's 1963 recording of "With God on Our Side" in a 1984 interview with David Barsamian:

I was called to Vietnam [in 1968] from the Middle East…While I was in Spain [en route], I bought some Joan Baez records. I went to my room in the Bachelor Officer's Quarters to listen to [them]…There was a knock on the door. It was an individual in civilian clothes. He asked me my name and rank. I just looked at him. I was [then] a major [US Army].

He asked, "[Are] those Joan Baez records?"

I said, "Yeah".

He said, "She's like anti-military…"


He said, "No, you’ll have to leave the building. That's anti-military music." She was singing "[With] God on Our Side", I think, at the time.

I said, "I think I agree with [the lyrics]. I’m not anti-military, and I agree with what she's singing in her songs." [3]

Live recordings

Dylan and Joan Baez performed the song as a duet at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1963 and July 1964, and their July 27, 1963 performance was released on Newport Broadside: Topical Songs at the Newport Folk Festival 1963 (Vanguard VSD-79144). The liner notes by Stacy Williams mention Dominic Behan's "Patriot Game", which Williams points out that Behan had borrowed from the traditional "The Merry Month of May". Another live recording of Dylan and Baez performing "With God on Our Side", recorded on October 31, 1964, can be found on the album The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall, released in 2004.

A rare post-1960s performance of the song, recorded on November 4, 1975, with extra lyrics, was included on the bonus disc in the box set The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings (2019). Conversely, Dylan's performance of the song on the album Bob Dylan Unplugged, released in 1995, significantly omits verses about the Germans and the Holocaust, and the Russians and the Cold War, for unspecified reasons.

Use in films and documentaries

See also


  1. ^ Shelton, Robert (1986). No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan. New York: Beech Tree Books. p. 213. ISBN 0-688-05045-X.
  2. ^ Wilentz, Sean (2010). Bob Dylan in America. New York: Doubleday. p. 70. ISBN 9780385529884.
  3. ^ Herbert, 1984. p. 1(transcript)


This page was last edited on 23 February 2020, at 04:06
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