Author: Emma Callesen

“Masters of War” by Bob Dylan

bob dylan
Val Wilmer/Redferns “Bob Dylan”

Bob Dylan has written some of the most well-known anti-war and pro Civil Rights songs to date. While most of his anti-war songs were originally written to protest the Vietnam War, many of them, including “Masters of War”, are still used to protest present-day wars. Dylan borrowed the arrangement for “Masters of War” from the song “Nottamun Town” recorded by folksinger Jean Ritchie. Dylan changed the lyrics and made it his own, although the lyrics were much more direct than most of his other songs. He was more emphatic in “Masters of War” with the message he wanted to convey: that the people with power in the government are at fault for the atrocities of war and all the unnecessary spilling of blood. Dylan was never so forthright in his other songs and he even surprised himself with the lyrics he used, stating “I’ve never written anything like that before. I don’t sing songs which hope people will die, but I couldn’t help it with this one.” Every line in this song is about how terrible these ‘masters of war’ are, and how Dylan can see through them, how he knows what they are doing in secret, how he hopes that they die and that Jesus doesn’t forgive everything they have done. Although this song was written during the time of the Vietnam War, the lyrics have been viewed as politically significant in many situations since then. Civilians continue to use this song in protests when they feel government authorities are misusing their power and that they are being treated unfairly. With the simple background music Dylan took for this song, the lyrics play the most important role. “The lyrics are powerful and unforgiving and they feel more intense because they are accompanied by this steady, calmer, background folk music” (WiB Team). “Masters of War” will always be an icon in the world of protest against wars that citizens feel are not right.
Emma Callesen


Team, WiB. “I CAN SEE THROUGH YOUR MASKS – EXPLAINING BOB DYLAN MASTERS OF WAR.” Words in a Bucket. N.p., 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

Sullivan, James. “Bob Dylan’s 10 Craziest Fans.” Rolling Stone. Val Wilmer/Redferns, 16 May 2014. Web. 08 Nov. 2015.

Dylan, Bob. Blowin’ in the Wind. Bob Dylan. Columbia Records, 1963. Web.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Photo by Emma Callesen. Dylan, Bob. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan. Rec. Winter 1962. John Hammond and Tom Wilson, 1963. Web 16 Sept. 2015. Held at the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released in 1963 by Columbia Records and acted as a distinct catalyst for change by promoting the Civil Rights Movement and supporting the anti-war movement toward Vietnam in the United States. This was Bob Dylan’s first successful album; it includes songs such as “Masters of War” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” whose lyrics communicate his desire for peace and equality.  Despite the specific political meaning of the songs at the time they were composed, these have become ingrained broadly across American social movements and remain powerful to this day. Read more