U2 songs that reference nuclear bombs and other horrors

U2 are known for their political views and agitation to get policy change but whereas like a band like Rage Against the Machine would be all in your face – U2 are just as obvious but less angry – their last tour featured members of Amnesty International coming out on stage during Walk On – a song dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burman political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

U2's engagement with themes of nuclear war and weapon disarmament, particularly evident during the tense era of the Cold War, underscores their commitment to addressing global concerns through their music. The band's approach to these themes is a reflection of the prevailing anxieties and debates surrounding nuclear proliferation and the potential for catastrophic conflict. 

U2's lyrics often weave a narrative that captures the fear and existential threat posed by nuclear weapons, serving as a voice for peace and disarmament in a world brimming with geopolitical tensions.

u2 protesting nuclear power plant

The band's exploration of these themes is more than just a commentary on global politics; it's an emotional plea for sanity and survival in the nuclear age. Their songs communicate the urgency of disarmament and the need to redirect human efforts towards peace and cooperation. This messaging is particularly resonant given the band's rise to prominence during a time when the threat of nuclear war loomed large in public consciousness. 

U2 also once famously protested against the Sellafeild nuclear plant by colluding with Greenpeace to stage an event on a beach near the site that was contaminated with radiation as the result of the power plant’s activities.

As far as I can figure the earliest U2 song lyrics that refers to atomic bombs is from the non album single, Celebration where Bono sarcastically shares that he believes in the following three things:

“I believe in the third world war
I believe in the atomic bomb
I believe in the powers that be but they won't overpower me”

That was as far back as 1982.

Seconds from the popular War album is another early U2 songs to make direct references to atomic bombs

“And they're doing the atomic bomb
Do they know where the dance comes from
Yes, they're doing the atomic bomb
They want you to sing along

Bono said to the NME music magazine in 1983 of the song:

 "There is a line in 'Seconds' about a fanatic assembling a nuclear device in an apartment in Times Square, New York, but it could be anywhere. We are now entering the age of nuclear terrorism where a group of fanatics could have the capabilities of bringing a bomb into a city and holding millions of people to ransom."

The Unforgettable Fire was released in 1984 in a time when the world was worrying itself sick about the arms race between the US and the Russians. Bono was inspired by a collection of paintings collectively known as The Unforgettable Fire which was a reference to atomic bombs being dropped in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Ngagasaki. 

Says the Edge of the art display (in the book U2: Into the Heart: The Stories Behind Every Song) "the image of that purging quality, coupled with the insight it gave into the horror of nuclear holocaust, stuck in Bono's mind".

It is perhaps ironic that the lyrics to song The Unforgettable Fire do not reference anything nuclear or atomic!

The Wanderer, featuring country and western legend Johnny Cash from the Zooropa album was definitely suggestive of being set in a post apocalyptic world set under an 'atomic sky'. Lyrically it featured a character that appeared to be struggling to find some kind of spiritual identity.

Another U2 album title also referred to atomic bombs in a most direct fashion – How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was a popular album that had a bonus track Fast Cars which gave the answer to the album’s question – one dismantles an atomic bomb with love.

Through these songs, U2 not only raises awareness about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the need for disarmament but also encourages their listeners to contemplate the moral and ethical implications of war. Their approach to these themes is not didactic; rather, it invites reflection and dialogue, contributing to a broader discourse on peace and global security. U2's songs about nuclear war and disarmament underscore the band's role as not just musicians but also as global citizens deeply invested in the pursuit of a more peaceful world.

U2's ability to articulate the collective fears and hopes of their generation, and to advocate for a world free of nuclear weapons, demonstrates their role not just as entertainers, but as global activists using their platform to inspire change and provoke thought on critical issues. Their contribution to the discourse on nuclear disarmament highlights the power of music as a tool for social and political engagement, resonating with audiences worldwide and lending a voice to the movement for global peace.

Are there any other U2 lyrics that refer to nuclear issues?

Check out this other article that discusses Bono's lyric writing abilities

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