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Civil War by Guns N' Roses

Album: Use Your Illusion 2Released: 1991Charted:
11
  • This song is politically charged, and has an entire verse about President Kennedy's assassination. It also deals with the Vietnam War and the battle for civil rights in the US.
  • Slash (Saul Hudson), Duff (Michael McKagan) and W. Axl Rose wrote this for Use Your Illusion 2, which was released simultaneously with Use Your Illusion 1. The song originally appeared on the 1990 album Nobody's Child, a fundraising compilation for Romanian orphans.
  • On September 27, 1993, Duff explained where the song came from in an interview with the radio show Rockline: "Basically it was a riff that we would do at soundchecks. Axl came up with a couple of lines at the beginning. I went in a peace march, when I was a little kid, with my mom. I was like 4 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.'"
  • The speech at the beginning of the song is from the movie Cool Hand Luke: "What we have here is a failure to communicate..."
  • Part of the American Civil War song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" is used at the beginning and end of the song, where it's whistled by Axl Rose. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 3)
  • The line, "Did you wear a black armband when they shot the man who said, 'Peace could last forever'" could be referring to the black hand's assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that triggered World War I. It could also refer to the assassination of John Lennon, who strongly opposed the Vietnam War. The black armbands a sign of mourning, so the whole line asks whether we mourned for John Lennon as many others did at that time. (thanks, Jeremy - Perham, MN)
  • This was the only song on the Use Your Illusion albums that featured Steven Adler on drums. The rest were done by Matt Sorum, who replaced Adler in the band. (thanks, Tim - Toronto, Canada)
  • Guns N' Roses performed this at Farm Aid IV on April 7, 1990. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
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Comments: 46

I really enjoy the question at the end of this song. Very rhetorical, yet it makes you think about what it means and on what it's saying to. What is so civil about war anyway?Phil - Neenah, Wi
The intro to this song " what weve got here is failure.....ect ect was added after Steven Adler was kicked out of the band. This was the last song he recorded on drums with guns n roses, Axl thought it would be a nice send off to add that, At the time i agreed, The speech is a send off to a junkie that they tried to reach but couldnt.Ian - Sydney, Australia
this is perhaps one of the greatest G'N'R songs ever written. It gives a message on war and the effect it has on people.Scott - Russell, Ny
This song is a step in the right direction to ending war, but as others have posted religion is also the biggest reason for war and as soon as religion is eliminated from government( George Bush, gay marige, winkity wink wink) there will be an end to war.Daniel - Visalia, Ca
agreed for the most part kenneth. Religion is THE Evil. Get rid of suicide bombing! Having to wake up bright and ealier to hear a old man preach about something utterly annoying. I mean hell ya pray at your bedside and your futures going to be honkey dorey? Bull****. im no atheist either. Great song!Josh - Trenton, Il
As long as there is religion, there will always be war. Get rid of religion, and there might be a realistic chance of getting rid of wars. Religion is the root of evil!Kenneth - Copenhagen, Denmark
This song should be put into a music video with Metal Gear Solid 3. Just another way to make people think, great song for a great game. I also like the "Cool Hand Luke" part at the beginning.Jonathan - Paoli, In
I love this song, I really do, but no matter how hard we all try, war will never end because of one thing, our sinful human natureSteve - Winnipeg, Mb
I grew up to Guns N' Roses. Best band EVER. Love this song.Corey - Richmond, Va
Ishi, I guess you're right...I should just shut my mouth instead of confronting what is true. War breaks my heart, as it obviously does yours, but instead of confronting it, let's just live in denial, not talk about it and long for things that just don't exist. My point was that if we would all just control, in a positive way, the things that we can, the world would be a far better place, and maybe someday we would be on a path that's closer to peace. But you are right, we should all just keep our mouths shut and wish for things the way we would like them to be instead of trying to make them happen. If that is your attitude, I would suggest your are more the problem than the solution. So remember Ishi, let's all keep our mouths shut, and magically, someday war will go away.Matt - Boston, Ma
Well I just registered to say what a load of nonsense you are speaking Matt. You must be god to know there will always be war. We bow at your feet. NOT. In fact it is just this (know it all) attitude that keeps us in the dark ages. Why does there have to be war? Can't we find a better way of sorting out our differences?... Of course we can but with people like you about it's not going to happen fast is it. Then you go on to slag of the band for not setting a good example. Why bother if there is no hope in your mind anyway?....... The fact is what you say is true, whatever we do does have an effect on humanity, so maybe think about what you say before you open your mouth. ............ Yes we may be a long way from ending war but if there is any development at all it's going to lead to us not acting in this barbaric way. I'm sure there were attitudes like this in the past, people who said there will always be slavery or women will always be inferior. Just like them you don't know squat.Ishi - Birmingham, United Kingdom
Great song but Max from NY hit it right on the head. It's silly and naive when rock stars try to express an intelligient opinion about world issues: things so complex that they couldn't possibly be done justice in the framework of a pop song (even one as great as Civil War). Sorry kids, but in this world, as long as there are two entities and one objective there will be war. The end of all war will come at precisely the same time as the end of mankind. I don't like it but that's the way it is. When AXL says the line "...I never fell for Viet Nam...", I have to laugh. I don't know about you but I was too busy playing stickball and stealing candy bars from 7-11 to worry about such things when I was, like AXL, at best, 12 years old. Funny though, how these pop stars, who are so torn up about world affairs, tend to behave so badly in the world in which they actually live. Treating fans with disdain. Destroying property for the fun of it. Being charged with rape (though not convicted). Not to mention inciting more than one riot. I could go on, but the point is, why can't these whiny pop revolutionaries effect some real change in the human condition by exhibiting better behavior in their own every day lives, you know, where they can actually make a difference. Maybe they could start by not glorifying the use of drugs and alcohol to a such gluttinous degree. Maybe while they are pining for world peace, they could practice a little less mysogeny. Maybe they could respect the fans who shell out dough many of them can't afford, so they can be made to wait three hours for some a-hole rockstar, who has no real idea about the outside world, to get his ass onstage so said fan can have a little enjoyment from his favorite band, in an otherwise miserable existence, and actually be able to get up for work the next day. How about understanding the power of the "cult of personality" and realizing that your actions can have both a positive and negative effect on a mass of humanity that can be stirred to a mob riot because that petulant lead singer, who didn't get his green M&M's, decided to leave the fans to fend for themselves in the midst of a drunken riot. Bottom line: the world would be a far better place if people would just effect, in a positive way, the things they actually have control over instead of railing about things so far afield, and so far beyond their comprehension, that they effect no real change at all, other than just carrying out one of the oldest rock cliches there is: the anti-war song. Spare me. Again, great song though.Matt - Boston, Ma
this is Guns' 4th best song behind sweet child, november rain, and estranged. GNR lives on!Caleb - Nashville, Tn
this is the best song by guns n rosesAlex - Wayland, Mn
Guns N Roses didnt write this song, It originated from an old band in the early 60's...Oli - Monroe, Mi
and max, axl is an extremely intelligent person. I don't like him personally, but he is a musical genius, and very intelligent. Even Slash in his new biography states that while axl is very stubborn and hard headed, he is one of the smartest people hes ever met.Spencer - Mcbride, Canada
Jerrod, are you on crack? Axl's vocal style is totally different than roberts.Spencer - Mcbride, Canada
GnRs best work lyrically by far...and the best messageTim - Philadelphia, Pa
I think the song sends a very strong message, it says that there could never be peace in the promised land, Palestine, which is very true. Think of the major world turning events, such as the crusades, and the formation of the state of Isreal, and others, they are all related to the same piece of land.Ghaith - Dubai, Other
Guns n roses is the best band ever.period.Blane - Pocola, Ok
I believe civil war is one of the best songs axl ever sung (being the robert plant wannabe he is sad but true, sorry axl much love dude) and says what needs to be said to certain polititians in every verse. Loved it two seconds after it started!Jerrod - Lewisburg, Oh
Civil War was written for and first released on the Nobody's Child - Romanian Angel Appeal CD released by Warner Bros. Records in 1990. This was a compilation with artists including Traveling Wilburys, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Billy Idol, George Harrison, Paul Simon etc.Lm - Notodden, Norway
I don't really care about the political meanings that can be drawn from this song. I generally find songs like this that have a political message to be annoying and obnoxious. I'm not really inclined to listen to the political insights of Axl Rose, someone who doesn't strike me as being particularly intelligent.

Anyways, I like the guitar and vocals a lot, and it's a good song.
Max - New York, Ny
theres a difference between this and the rest of gnr's work. it makes a point, and though this track isn't favored by serious gnr fans, it still has the signifigance of axl rose and slash's abilities.Ozzy - Fresno, Ca
Note: there are not many anti war songs too much better this...not MANY...Shelby - The Other Side , United States
WOW. I am not a Guns N'Roses fan, but I heard this song today and was blown away. Axl sings incredibly when he isn't screeching! While there are a few much better anti-war songs, Civil War is nothing short of amazing. Great job, GnR! You sort of changed my mind with one song!Shelby - The Other Side , United States
To me this song is explosive, it deals with now and the past. I connect it with the war on Iraq, and the CIA intervention in Guatemala, and other Latin American countries. The whole genocide perpetrated by the Guatemalan army backed and financed by USA.

This songs to me says how dirty the US government is. How it lies, how religion is imposed to set wars. How inhuman, but most of all how hippocrate the government is. Bush, I don't need your civil war, it feeds the rich while it buries the poor. Understand my comment is not against the american people but those haters who sit in the white house.
Juan - Guatemala City, South America
i'm pretty sure the "ain't that fresh" line is SUPPOSED to piss people off. i mean...it's Axl Rose.
As i see it, it comes off as: "You're sending these soldiers off to die, isn't that a load of crap?" But its totally Axl's style to write things that are suppsoed to make you respond.
Dan - New York, Ny
Oh, and the song is amazing! When I carefully listened to the lyrics it made me cry... actually, it still does. Whenever I listen to it I can't stop seeing people fighting, women crying, dead children, blood and pain, smoke and guns... it has some sort of hypnotic effect upon me and it fills me with all the strength one would need to never ever stop dreaming of peace! PEACE!Raluk - Negresti, Romania
About the line "Did you wear a black armband when they shot the man who said, 'Peace could last forever'"... when I first heard the song I automatically thought of John Lennon. And on Wikipedia you cand find the same association. Mainly, it referes to mourning (the black armband) his death as many have done at that time. I also thought of John Lennon (who had a major influence in the fight against the Vietnam war) when I heard the line "all these dreams are swept aside By bloody hands of the hypnotized Who carry the cross of homicide". There is a book written about the death of John Lennon which contains arguments for the theory that John Lennon was killed by a hypnotyzed person. It as also a fact that John Lennon was a very influent person at that time and that it had been followed by the FBI for years... some pages of his file can be found on the internetRaluk - Negresti, Romania
the "ain't that fresh" bit isn't a line on it's own - it's part of the preceding bit "your (not you're) power-hungry selling soldiers in a human grocery store ain't that fresh"

that's what i reckon anyway - and it makes the line that bit less cringeful
Joe - Dublin
I LOVE THIS SONG! It is so good but since i am a american i find it a little mean but true to hit on us like that that but still i love it. One of the best vocas of Axl ever a ture masterpiece. I share it to all of my friends and they like it even if they hate Guns N Roses! well i love the line " What so civil about was anyways?" it is magical! well the one thing i hate anbout this song is that one line "Ant that fresh" it is horible. well other than that it is a grat song not there best but good!Jake - Little Rock, Ar
this is the song i play to all of my friends whenever they say that Axl sucks at singing. this is a true masterpiece.. and i completely agree with will. because thats the first thing i thought of when i heard those lyrics...Matt Sangster - Niantic, Ct
The line, "Did you wear a black armband when they shot the man who said, 'Peace could last forever'" is not actually referring to the black hand's assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand , but instead to John Lennon's (of the Beatles)assassination.
Will
Will - Redlands, Ar
This song shows the range that Axl has with his voice.... starting with the deep lyrics at the start and then his crazy yelling... it's so cool. Great band, great songJeri - Edmonton, Canada
Everybody's talking about the lyrics which are really great but as far as the music is concerned it's a masterpiece right up there with novenber rain ,estranged,breakdown.it starts of with slash on clean guitar playing beautiful rythem and the way the distortion kicks of in the chorus is wonderful!then there's the beautifully composed wah-assisted guitar solos...May not be GNR's best song but better than many other bands best stuff!!!Darren - Bombay, India
The whole line that goes "did you wear a black armband, when they shot the man who said peace could list forever" they are talking about the black panther conspiracy against Martin Luther KingNick - Maine, Me
... but still, the song is great, and the lyrics are really good!Jl - Bretagne, France
Er.... just a small line to say that no black hand whatsoever ordrered the assassination of Franz Ferdiand, just a young sick student. And the archduke FF never ever said anything about peace going to last forever, he was just a tyrant-to-be in a dictatorial and nearly feudal society. This line in the song has nothing to do with this.Jl - Bretagne, France
This is the best song ever written.Eric - Sanford, Nc
I totally agree Ana...especially given the current political climate of our nation.Eric - Sanford, Nc
i wonder why this song isn't played much on the radio here, because it's the greatest anti-war song ever!! i mean, look at the lyrics! really perfect!! and the thunder... gives charm to it!Ana - Lokev, Europe
this song is good but the part when axl goes "aint that fresh?" really pisses me offZac - Olive Bridge, Ny
i did this song for my english speach last year,and got the highest mark in the class fo it.
its not gunners best song but the song iss a tops 1 and it says alot to me about the greed of the american heads of state. the lyrics and the music of this song is excelent. and the guitar work is tops by slash
John - Northam, Australia
Words cannot even begin to describe how great this song is. I remember when I first heard it,I hated it. And I said to myself I hated the song Civil War. Then I heard a song on the radio and I fell in love with it. Then I found out it was Civil War. This is one of the greatest songs ever.Becca - Hamilton, Canada
the lightening and thunder part at the end scares me for some reason!! i'm not even normallly afraid of it either..anyways, my friend stuck this song on a mixed c.d. he made me. i didn't even realize that that was Axl in the begining when he's singing deep and stuff. Sadly i think that this is one of the best anti-war songs. like, it's up there w/ dylan's stuff. great great song!!!Anastasia - Anaheim, Ca