The War Is Over (Phil Ochs song)

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"The War Is Over"
Song by Phil Ochs
from the album Tape from California
GenreProtest song
Songwriter(s)Phil Ochs
Producer(s)Larry Marks
"The War Is Over"
Single by Phil Ochs
B-side"The Harder They Fall"
GenreProtest song
Songwriter(s)Phil Ochs
Producer(s)Larry Marks
Phil Ochs singles chronology
"Outside of a Small Circle of Friends"
"The War Is Over"
"My Life"

"The War Is Over" is an anti-war song by Phil Ochs, an American protest singer in the 1960s and early 1970s, who is known for being a harsh critic of the war in Vietnam and the American military-industrial establishment. The song, which was originally released on Tape from California (1968), has been described as "one of the most potent antiwar songs of the 1960s".[1]

One of Ochs' biographers wrote that "The War Is Over" is his "greatest act of bravery as a topical songwriter".[2]


American involvement in the Vietnam War escalated significantly during 1966. The number of American troops fighting in Vietnam increased that year from 184,000 to 450,000.[3]

In 1966, poet Allen Ginsberg decided to declare that the Vietnam War was over.[4] The idea of ending the war simply by declaring it over appealed to Ochs, who organized a rally in Los Angeles to announce that the war was over.[5] To publicize the rally, he wrote an article in the Los Angeles Free Press titled "Have Faith, The War Is Over":

Is everybody sick of this stinking war? In that case, friends, do what I and thousands of other Americans have done — declare the war over.[6][7]

Ochs wrote a song for the rally, in which he, like "thousands of other Americans",[6][7] declared the war was over.[8]

The song[edit]

"The War Is Over" alludes to war films and their heroes and asks "what's this got to do with me?"[8] The song describes anti-war protesters as "angry artists painting angry signs" who have become "poisoned players" in a cycle of endless anti-war demonstrations that have failed to end the war.[9][10] The song mockingly suggests that young men enlist in the army to "serve your country in her suicide", but adds that "just before the end even treason might be worth a try — this country is too young to die".[8] Each verse of the song ends with variations on the words, "I declare the war is over, it's over, it's over".[11]

Ochs recorded "The War Is Over" for his fifth album, Tape from California. The musical arrangement, by Bob Thompson, incorporates martial beats, brass horns, and flutes.[12][13] The opening is a theme from the National Emblem March [14] by Edwin Eugene Bagley. Other parts of the arrangement include quotes from John Philip Sousa's patriotic march "Stars and Stripes Forever", implying that opposition to the Vietnam War was patriotic.[15] As the song fades out, the horns play part of Ochs's own "I Ain't Marching Anymore".[12]

Notable performances[edit]

Ochs first performed the song in public at the "War Is Over" rally in Los Angeles on June 23, 1967.[9] "The War Is Over" became one of Ochs' best-known songs.[16] He performed before 150,000 demonstrators in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on October 21, 1967.[17][18]

In November, Ochs planned a "War Is Over" rally in New York. After Ochs sang "The War Is Over", several thousand demonstrators marched from Washington Square Park to Times Square and then to the United Nations.[19][20]

In August 1968, Ochs performed "The War Is Over" during the protests in Chicago, inspiring hundreds of young men to burn their draft cards. When Ochs sang the line "even treason might be worth a try — this country is too young to die", he was interrupted by five minutes of cheering. He couldn't finish the song and had to leave the stage.[21]

On August 28, 1969 Ochs sang the song at Chicago's Grant Park Bandshell on the first anniversary of the Democratic Convention's "The whole world is watching" police riot.

The Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975,[22] and a final "War Is Over" rally was held in New York's Central Park on May 11. At the rally, Ochs sang "The War Is Over" in public for the last time.[23][24]

Single release[edit]

A&M Records released "The War Is Over" as a single in 1968.[25] The B-side of the single was "The Harder They Fall", another song from Tape from California. The version of "The Harder They Fall" on the single is a rock version of the song that has never been released on any album or compilation.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Slonimsky, Nicolas; Kuhn, Laura Diane (2001). Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. New York: Schirmer Books. p. 2644. ISBN 0-02-865525-7.
  2. ^ Schumacher, Michael (1996). There But for Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs. New York: Hyperion. p. 142. ISBN 0-7868-6084-7.
  3. ^ Patterson, James T. (1996). Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 595. ISBN 0-19-511797-2.
  4. ^ Ginsberg, Allen (1984). "Wichita Vortex Sutra". Collected Poems 1947–1980. New York: Harper & Row. p. 407. ISBN 0-06-015341-5. I here declare the end of the War!
  5. ^ Schumacher. There But for Fortune. pp. 139–141.
  6. ^ a b Ochs, Phil (June 16–22, 1967). "Have Faith, The War Is Over". Los Angeles Free Press.
  7. ^ a b Finger, Steven M. (June 15, 2017). "The War Is Over — Phil Ochs Writes for the LA Free Press". Los Angeles Free Press. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c Schumacher. There But for Fortune. p. 141.
  9. ^ a b Doggett, Peter (2008). There's a Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars, and the Rise and Fall of the '60s. Edinburgh: Canongate Books. p. 106. ISBN 1-84767-180-2.
  10. ^ Perone, James E. (2001). Songs of the Vietnam Conflict. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-313-31528-0.
  11. ^ Eliot, Marc (1989) [1979]. Death of a Rebel: A Biography of Phil Ochs. New York: Franklin Watts. pp. 126–127. ISBN 0-531-15111-5.
  12. ^ a b Perone. Songs of the Vietnam Conflict. p. 52.
  13. ^ Untergerger, Richie (2000). Phil Ochs's Tape from California Liner Notes (CD reissue). Collectors' Choice Music. CCM-138-2. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  14. ^ National Emblem March on YouTube
  15. ^ Perone, James E. (2004). Music of the Counterculture Era. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-313-32689-4.
  16. ^ Armstrong, David (1981). A Trumpet to Arms: Alternative Media in America. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press. p. 109. ISBN 0-89608-193-1.
  17. ^ Jones, Thai (2004). A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family's Century of Conscience. New York: Free Press. p. 138. ISBN 0-7432-5027-3.
  18. ^ Schumacher. There But for Fortune. p. 170.
  19. ^ Schumach, Murray (November 26, 1967). "Antiwar Demonstrators Stage Impromptu March". The New York Times. Retrieved January 7, 2009.
  20. ^ Schumacher. There But for Fortune. pp. 172–173.
  21. ^ Doggett. There's a Riot Going On. p. 191.
  22. ^ Schomp, Virginia (2002). The Vietnam War. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Benchmark Books. p. 78. ISBN 0-7614-1099-6.
  23. ^ Schumacher. There But for Fortune. pp. 305–306.
  24. ^ Eliot. Death of a Rebel. p. 243.
  25. ^ a b Cohen, David (1999). Phil Ochs: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 188. ISBN 0-313-31029-7.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Phil Ochs performing "The War Is Over" at The Bitter End on YouTube