What you just heard is “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier”, written by Alfred Bryan and composed by Al Piantadosi, performed for the first time here by Morton Harvey in 1915. Written just prior to World War I, the song has since become known as the “first anti-war hit record.”
Sung from the perspective of a mother, the song describes the sorrow she feels after having lost her son in war, as she questions the very purpose of war itself, as well as the irony that every soldier fighting is some mother’s son. The song concludes that if all mothers agree to stop raising their sons as soldiers, all war would come to an end.
Combining both the anti-war and suffragist movements into one, the song became a hit almost immediately upon release, going on to sell 650,000 copies. The sentiments expressed within the song resonated with many around the world, who shared its pacifist beliefs. However, many were also staunchly opposed to the ideas expressed in the song, including Teddy Roosevelt, who called those who supported the song “foolish.” Many parody versions of the song were also produced, such as “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Coward”, as well as the bizarrely titled “I Didn’t Raise My Dog to be a Sausage.”
Despite this backlash, the song went on to inspire a massive genre of anti-war pacifist music that continues to this day. Whether it be Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”, or more modern hits such as Green Day’s “American Idiot”, anti-war sentiment has been a mainstay in music ever since.
And just like when “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” was first released, there has of course been backlash and negativity toward anti-war sentiments in music throughout history as well. Many clearly still feel, just as they did in 1915, that music protesting wars and promoting peace is “foolish.” One of the most notable examples of this occurring in modern times was the backlash against The Chicks coming out in protest against the Iraq War.
But whether it be the Iraq War, the Vietnam War, or practically any other war in the last 100 years, music has been a tool for the movement for peace, as well as a point of debate. And we have Alfred Bryan, Al Piantadosi, and Morton Harvey to thank for that.