Phil Ochs was a singer-songwriter who released eight albums in the 1960s and 1970s. He committed suicide in 1976, after a prolonged battle against bipolar disorder and alcoholism.
This song was written in 1963, eight years after the United States military entered Vietnam. It was recorded on a 1964 Vanguard compilation LP The Original New Folks, Vol. 2, and has since been rereleased on The Early Years, an album that collects Ochs' first recordings.
Oh you tell me that there's danger to this land you call your own And you watch them build the war machines right beside your home And you tell me that you're ready to go marching to the war Oh, I know you're set for fighting, but what are you fighting for? Before you pack your rifle and sail across the sea Just think upon the southern part of the land that you call free Oh, there's many kinds of slavery and we've found many more Yes, I know you're set for fighting, but what are you fighting for? And before you walk out on your job and answer to the call Just think about the millions who have no job at all And the men who wait for handouts with their eyes upon the floor I know you're set for fighting, but what are you fighting for? Turn on your TV, turn it on so loud And watch the fool a smiling there and tell me that you're proud And listen to your radio, the noise it starts to pour Oh, I know you're set for fighting, but what are you fighting for? Read your morning papers, read every single line And tell me if you can believe that simple world you find Read every slanted word till your eyes are getting sore, I know you're set for fighting, but what are you fighting for? And listen to your leaders, the ones that won the race As they stand right there before you and lie into your face If you ever try to buy them, you know what they stand for I know you're set for fighting, but what are you fighting for? Put ragged clothes upon your back and sleep upon the ground And tell police about your rights as they drag you down And ask them as they lead you to some deserted door Yes, I know you're set for fighting, but what are you fighting for? But the hardest thing Ill ask you, if you will only try Is take your children by their hands and look into their eyes And there you'll see the answer you should have seen before If you'll win the wars at home, there'll be no fighting anymore