Sinead O'Connor was drawn to this song after learning about how Jamaicans were historically oppressed by the British. Like many Irish citizens, she believed her country had also suffered under British rule.
The song came into her consciousness after her song "Nothing Compares 2 U
" (written by Prince) launched her to stardom in 1990. She never wanted to be famous, so when she was, she saw how it created divisions. She decided to become a protest singer instead of a pop star, and "War" was her vessel.
O'Connor sang "War" - a cappella - at two landmark events in music history. On October 3, 1992, she performed it on Saturday Night Live
, ending by tearing up a photo of the Pope and saying, "Fight the real enemy."
On October 16, 1992, she sang it at a Bob Dylan tribute concert in Madison Square Garden. She was supposed to sing Dylan's "I Believe In You," but many in the crowd were hostile, so she froze. After Kris Kristofferson came on stage to encourage her, she went off script and shouted out "War."
These appearances helped establish O'Connor as very anti-establishment and perhaps a little nuts. She later needed extensive treatment for her mental health issues, but was also vindicated in many ways as history showed she was making valid points. Her studio version of the song can be found on the 2005 album Throw Down Your Arms