"War On War" is about the need to experience (and consequently accept) failure, if you wish to live life to the full, as reflected in the lyric: "You have to learn how to die, if you want to want to be alive." Wilco's frontman and chief songwriter, Jeff Tweedy, told Crud Magazine: "I think somehow you need to get to a certain point in your life where the notion of failure is absurd."
The song is an upbeat, acoustic-lead number, the rapid and sprightly strums of which reflect the subtle optimism of the lyrics.
"War on War" appears on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - the album infamously rejected by Reprise Records in June 2001, which led to Wilco leaving the label. The band then streamed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for free over their official website, before signing with Nonesuch Records, who officially released the album on April 23, 2002.
The debacle surrounding Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's release relates to this song's lyrics. Wilco managed to fight through the preliminary failure that was the Reprise rejection in order to sign with Nonesuch Records, who released Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to universal appraise. The album has since gone on to become Wilco's most popular release to date.