War, What Is It Good For?
Speaking up for what we believe in
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider our courage to voice what we believe (SEAL theme: Managing Feelings).
Preparation and materials
You will need a leader and two readers.
Have available two versions of the song ‘War’ and the means to play them during the assembly:
- ‘War’ by the Temptations is 3.11 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUElIFMQBy0
- ‘War’ by Edwin Starr is 3.10 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpWmlRNfLck
Leader: I’m going to play you a track that was very popular among northern soul club devotees in the 1970s.
Play ‘War’ by the Temptations, fading out after about 1.40 minutes. It is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUElIFMQBy0
Some of you may be familiar with this song. It gives a clear, direct message about war: it’s not good for anything, it creates sadness and heartache and it solves nothing. But there’s something not quite right about this version. It’s rather restrained and insipid. Something’s lacking. Let’s find out why.
Reader 1: ‘War’ was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, two of the songwriters for the very successful Motown label. It was originally offered to the Temptations, whose version is the one we’ve just heard. They were very popular at the time, with many chart hits such as ‘My girl’, ‘Ain’t too proud to beg’ and ‘Papa was a rolling stone’. The Temptations produced their rather sweet, poppy version of the song ‘War’, but Motown’s owners weren’t happy with the content. They didn’t want the Temptations’ chart-topping reputation to be affected by a protest song, so they withdrew it.
Reader 2: Instead, the song was offered to Edwin Starr, a less well-known member of the Motown stable. He jumped at the chance and threw his heart and soul into a new version. His version is louder, more dynamic, full of emotion and totally committed to the anti-war message of the lyrics. He was less concerned about creating a piece of pop music than with getting the power of the lyrics across to those listening. It is his version that became much more popular and is still used today.
Play ‘War’ by Edwin Starr, fading out after about 1.40 minutes. It is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpWmlRNfLck
Leader: Edwin Starr was born 75 years ago on 21 January 1942. He died in 2003, yet his song remains an anthem for the peace movement to this day. Why is this? The answer is because of his commitment to getting across the song’s message.
We all have our opinions, whether they are about music, sport, justice, fashion, the community in which we live, politics or even this school! Every one of these opinions has a value. As decisions that affect us are made, each person’s opinion needs to be listened to. Possibly some opinions are not as clearly thought through as others, but nevertheless, to help us come to the best conclusion, each opinion is worth a hearing. Therefore, it is important for each of us to make sure that our opinion is voiced.
The problem is that many of us don’t voice what we feel and think, and if we do, it’s in a rather weak fashion. There can be many reasons for this.
Reader 1: I’m naturally a rather quiet person. I keep my thoughts to myself and ponder deeply. I’m a little frightened that, if I really express myself, I’ll get put down. I’d find that hard to live with.
Reader 2: I simply want to hold onto my friends. I’m not sure they think the same way as I do. I’d hate them to reject me because they disagree with what I’ve said.
Reader 1: What’s the point of giving my opinion anyway? Nobody ever listens. Adults think their experience and their view is more important. I’m still treated as a child.
Reader 2: It’s clear who the leaders are. It gives me an easy life if I let them get on with it. It also means that no one can blame me when things go wrong.
Time for reflection
Leader: Jesus once told his followers to be like lights in a dark world. Their purpose was to shine brilliantly with the light of his teachings so that others were better able to see. ‘What’s the point,’ he said, ‘of putting a bucket over your light? Nobody would benefit. The light would be hidden!’
His comment was made particularly to those who followed him, but the image works just as well for all of us when it comes to expressing our opinions. What’s the point of having an opinion if we don’t express it?
Whenever there is a discussion, or a decision that needs to made, it is a bit like being with lots of people in a dark room. In that situation, it would be helpful if everyone switched on the lights on their mobiles. Although each light is small on its own, together, they would light up the darkness. It is the same with our opinions. Who knows which comment will be the one that opens up the best solution?
Edwin Starr saw his chance and took it. It was a bit of a risk, but he believed that the message of the song needed to be expressed. He was right. ‘War’ has become an anthem that people have joined in with through the decades. The message was there and he shouted it loud and clear.
Thank you for the intelligence that each of us has, and the opinions that we can develop.
Remind us of this each time we are tempted to remain silent in a discussion.
Help us to speak out for what we believe, while also listening to and valuing the opinions of others.
‘War’ by Edwin Starr. It is 3.10 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpWmlRNfLck