The song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong as an anti-war, and especially an anti-Vietnam War song in 1969. It was first recorded by The Temptations an included on their 1970 album Psychedelic Shack. Whifield re-recorded it with Edwin Starr, so as not to involve the fans of The Temptations with the politics.
In 1970, the intense Edwin Starr version went to #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, #3 on the U.S. R&B Chart, #3 in the UK, #9 in Germany and Norway, and #14 in The Netherlands. It was not only his most popular song and his signature song, but it was also a very popular protest song. On the track, there were the lead vocals by Edwin Starr and background vocals by The Originals (i.e, Freddie Gorman, Walter Gaines, Hank Dixon, and C.P. Spencer) and The Undisputed Truth (i.e., Joe Harris, Billie Rae Calvin, and Brenda Joyce Evans). Instrumentation was by The Funk Brothers, the fabulous Motown session musicians.
In 1971, Starr earned a Grammy nomination for best R&B Male Vocal. His recording of “War” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
There have been other versions by Bruce Springsteen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Jam, Joan Osborne, the Beastie Boys, Black Stone Cherry, and Boyz II Men to mention a few.