There are no battles or warriors in this poem, but the atmosphere and some of the symbols suggest that war is in the air. The Bible passage from the Book of Isaiah that inspired this song talks about the destruction of the enemy city of Babylon, which worshipped false gods called "idols." From reading the Bible, it often seems that everyone is at war with everyone else, and you get a bit of that feeling in this song. After all, the city wouldn't have set up watchtowers if its citizens didn't think that someone might attack them. Also, "All Along the Watchtower" was written during the height of the Vietnam War, and watchtowers are part of the iconic scenery of that war, so it's natural to connect one to the other. Overall, the mood is one of danger and suspense rather than outright violence.
Questions About Warfare
Is the city with the watchtowers supposed to represent the city of Babylon from the Bible, or is it supposed to represent the city of the Hebrews who were at war with Babylon? In other words, does it seem like the city has God on its side?
Why might it be important that the watchtower is a defensive tool of warfare? Do the people "along the watchtower" seem like victims, aggressors, both, or neither?
Do you think it's appropriate to say that this song is "about" the Vietnam War? What does making this connection add to the song, and what does it take away?
Chew on This
Because this is a rock and roll song, we have decided not to write possible academic arguments, as it seems to detract from the heart and soul of the song. Please let us know if you disagree!