A music video by Madonna soon to be released on MTV has ultra-thin models, dressed in haute-couture army fatigues, strolling down a catwalk, hurling grenades to the applause of the audience. Speaking about the video, Madonna, no stranger to controversy, told the press: “I am not anti-Bush, I am not pro-Iraq. I am pro-peace. I hope this provokes thought and dialogue.” Madonna is an example of the growing number of high-profile performing artists, both in the U.S. and abroad, who are openly questioning the Bush administration’s intentions to attack Iraq.

While reports circulated that musicians had been told not to speak out against the administration’s push for war on Iraq at the recent Grammy awards – reports denied by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and CBS – some nevertheless did.

Sheryl Crow did not offer her opinion on going to war with Iraq, her attire did. She wore a guitar strap labeled “War is not the answer,” and a large peace cross hung from her neck. Bonnie Raitt told the audience, “Let’s build some peace,” while Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit said, “This war should go away as soon as possible.” India.Arie encouraged her fellow songwriters to deal with the impending war.

Recently, performers formed Musicians United to Win Without War (UWWW) (www.moveon.org), which includes artists such as Jay-Z, David Byrne, Dave Matthews, Fugazi, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, REM, Rosanne Cash and Missy Elliot. This anti-war coalition has so far taken out several ads in newspapers attacking Bush’s drive to attack Iraq.

The U.S. music community “is waking up,” asserts Def Jam founder Russel Simmons, who helped organize UWWW. He foresees a further intensification of anti-war activities among his colleagues. Simmons and rapper Mos Def recently recorded two 30-second TV ads attacking Bush. “Saddam Hussein is a horrible person, but that’s Iraq’s problem,” says Simmons. “George Bush – that’s America’s problem. My concern is the war on poverty and ignorance. When are we going to adequately fund that war? All the people who will die fighting in Iraq are poor and young.”

As to the impact musicians can have in speaking out against a war, Simmons comments that rapper P. Diddy “is more well known and well liked by young people across the world than George Bush. Jay-Z is more well known than Colin Powell. These are powerful voices that can make a difference.”

John Mellencamp recently recorded an anti-war song “From Washington” – a rewrite of a Woody Guthrie song – for his next album.

Opposition to war with Iraq has also been fierce among lesser-known musicians and bands who have, more so than their more prominent companions, been busy recording and playing anti-war songs. While not played on commercial radio, these songs are coming from hip-hop activist circles, the collegiate indie-rock circuit and those influenced by folksy 1960s protesters.

Musicians abroad have also been speaking out against war on Iraq. In Australia, artists have formed Peace Not War (www.peace-not-war.org) and issued a two-CD set of anti-war songs on the label Shock Records that features new hits from Massive Attack, Chumbawamba, Ms. Dynamite, Ani DiFranco, Billy Bragg, Midnight Oil and Public Enemy. In England, musicians have been active in criticizing the drift towards war. Bands such as Massive Attack and Blur helped pay for ads and posters protesting the British government’s active backing of Bush’s war plans. Long time left-wing political activist-musician Billy Bragg released a protest song “Price of Oil,” which he has made available as a free download at www.billybragg.com.

At February’s British Music Awards in London, George Michael and emerging star Ms.Dynamite sang a rewritten, anti-war version of Michael’s early 1990s hit song “Faith.” Coldplay lead vocalist Chris Martin told the audience, “We are all going to die when George Bush gets his way.” The UK-based anarchist band Chumbawamba is selling its anti-war single “Jacobs Ladder” with the notation, “We are among the artists and activists refusing to stay silent as Bush pushes for war.”

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