The original title of "War Pigs" was "Walpurgis", dealing with the witches' sabbath. "Walpurgis is sort of like Christmas for Satanists. And to me, war was the big Satan", said bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler. "It wasn’t about politics or government or anything. It was (about) evil. So I was saying 'generals gathered in the masses/just like witches at black masses' to make an analogy. But when we brought it to the record company, they thought 'Walpurgis' sounded too Satanic. And that’s when we turned it into ‘War Pigs.’ But we didn’t change the lyrics, because they were already finished." Prior to its official release, the band often altered the lyrics significantly when performing it live. An example of this can be found on Ozzy Osbourne's compilationThe Ozzman Cometh, which features an early version recorded by Black Sabbath for BBC Radio 1 on April 26, 1970. While Butler has said that War Pigs is "totally against the Vietnam War, about how these rich politicians and rich people start all the wars for their benefit and get all the poor people to die for them", vocalist Osbourne has stated that the group "knew nothing about Vietnam. It's just an anti-war song."
Drummer Bill Ward's first memory of performing the song was at The Beat Club in Switzerland in 1968. The band was required to play multiple sets every night and had little material in their repertoire at that point, so they would perform lengthy jam sessions to fill out the sets. Iommi has said that "War Pigs" originated from one of those live jam sessions.
The addition of the air-raid siren and the speeding up of the song's end were done by producer Rodger Bain and engineer Tom Allom. The band had no input in these decisions, though they were pleased with the results.
Readers of Guitar World ranked the song number 56 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos.
Martin Popoff has called the song an "ugly, antiwar classic now considered one of Sabbath's top two or three most enduring compositions."Guitar World described the song as "the greatest HM song ever." The magazine also included the song on their list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Solos" and ranked it in 56th place. Steve Huey of Allmusic called the song a "standard".