Behind the scenes: Civil War – Guns N’ Roses

What's so civil about war anyway?

Guns N’ Roses are probably one of the most famous bands in the history of music. Formed in Los Angeles back in 1985 they quickly reached success also thanks to the extraordinary vocals (and eccentricity) of the band’s front-man, Axl Rose, and the iconic guitar solos by Saul Hudson, better known as Slash.

However interesting, the scope of this column is not to talk about the history of the band, but rather the impact of the song as a political and social statement. We would like to present to you, one of their best songs which at the same time addresses global (and historical) issues: it is called “Civil War“, taken from the 1991 album “Use Your Illusion II“.

Simply stated, it is a protest song  in which the lyrics strongly condemn each kind of war, generally referring to all war as “civil war”.
On September 27, 1993, Duff McKagan explained where the song came from in an interview on Rockline:

Basically it was a riff that we would do at sound-checks. Axl came up with a couple of lines at the beginning. And… I went to a peace march, when I was a little kid, with my mom. I was like four years old. For Martin Luther King. And that’s when: “Did you wear the black arm band when they shot the man who said: ‘Peace could last forever’?” It’s just true-life experiences, really.

And in fact the song is full of historical references:

  • it starts and ends with Axl Rose whistling the American Civil War song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home“;
  • it quotes a speech by Peruvian Shining Path guerrilla officer saying: “We practice selective annihilation of mayors and government officials, for example, to create a vacuum, then we fill that vacuum. As popular war advances, peace is closer“;
  • it mentions Martin Luther King and J.F.Kennedy assassinations, as well as the Vietnam war: “D’you wear a black armband/When they shot the man/Who said “peace could last forever”/And in my first memories/They shot Kennedy/I went numb when I learned to see/So I never fall for Vietnam […]”;

Beyond all historical references lyrics take a clear and strong stance against any kind of war, which “feeds the rich while it buries the poor” and which goes on “as the years go by/With no love of God or human rights“.

This wonderful song ends with a very ironic question; the singer asks: “What’s so civil about war anyway?

Lyrics:

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate
Some men you just can’t reach
So you get what we had here last week,
which is the way he wants it
Well, he gets it
N’ I don’t like it any more than you men

Look at your young men fighting
Look at your women crying
Look at your young men dying
The way they’ve always done before

Look at the hate we’re breeding
Look at the fear we’re feeding
Look at the lives we’re leading
The way we’ve always done before

My hands are tied
The billions shift from side to side
And the wars go on with brainwashed pride
For the love of God and our human rights
And all these things are swept aside
By bloody hands time can’t deny
And are washed away by your genocide
And history hides the lies of our civil wars

D’you wear a black armband
When they shot the man
Who said “peace could last forever”
And in my first memories
They shot Kennedy
I went numb when I learned to see
So I never fell for Vietnam
We got the wall of D.C. to remind us all
That you can’t trust freedom
When it’s not in your hands
When everybody’s fightin’
For their promised land
And

I don’t need your civil war
It feeds the rich while it buries the poor
Your power hungry sellin’ soldiers
In a human grocery store
Ain’t that fresh
I don’t need your civil war
Ow, oh no, no, no, no, no

Look at the shoes you’re filling
Look at the blood we’re spilling
Look at the world we’re killing
The way we’ve always done before
Look in the doubt we’ve wallowed
Look at the leaders we’ve followed
Look at the lies we’ve swallowed
And I don’t want to hear no more

My hands are tied
For all I’ve seen has changed my mind
But still the wars go on as the years go by
With no love of God or human rights
‘Cause all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars

I don’t need your civil war
It feeds the rich while it buries the poor
Your power hungry sellin’ soldiers
In a human grocery store
Ain’t that fresh
I don’t need your civil war
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
I don’t need your civil war
I don’t need your civil war
Your power hungry sellin’ soldiers
In a human grocery store
Ain’t that fresh
I don’t need your civil war
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no uh-oh-uh, no uh-oh, uh no
I don’t need one more war

I don’t need one more war
No, no, no, no uh-oh-uh, no uh-oh, uh no
Whaz so civil ’bout war anyway?”

Categories
Sounds from the Bucket
Marco Principia

Born in Rome, his beloved city. Graduated with honors in Political Science and International Relations at Università degli Studi "Roma Tre". Expert of current affairs and United Nations. Recently attended a course in Humanitarian Emergency at INTERSOS. Currently employed at CIES - ONLUS in the Coordination and Organization Office for Interpreting and Translation Service for Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of International Protection. Huge fan of A.S. Roma.
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