With God On Our Side {Live at Town Hall 1963} (23/25) – Elston Gunn

Lyrics:

Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that the land that I live in
Has God on its side

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
l’s made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side

I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side

Through many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side

So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

 

With God on Our Side

Image result for Bob Dylan

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.

Lyrics

The lyrics address the tendency of nations, tribes, or societies 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.”

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]

Censorship in US Military

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 as in Spain [en route], I bought some Joan Baez records. I went to my room in the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters to listen to [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 then identified himself. He was a one-star brigadier general. He outranked me by far.

He said, “You a fan [of Joan Baez]?”

I said, “How many records do you have to have to be a fan?”

He said, “I guess three.”

I said, “I guess I’m a fan. I’ve got five.”

He said, “You have to get rid of the records or leave the building.”

I couldn’t believe it.

I said, “I can’t play the music I want, music that was made in the USA?”

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.”

He said, “You’ll have to leave the building.”

I said, “Hey, it’s okay with me.”

So he gave me a [transfer]…I went down to the Hilton Castille in Madrid and I stayed in one of the best rooms they had, and the government had to pick up the tab.[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.

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.

Covers

Use in films and documentaries

 

 

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