What Does a Dream About War Mean?

People dream about their concerns.

When it comes to war, if there’s a chance that you or your country is going to be involved in one, it might affect your dreams.

Usually, they won’t be precognitive dreams. It doesn’t pay to approach a dream about war that way. Rather, the purpose and focus of the dream will be “What would you/ should you do in this particular situation?” Or: “What is your subconscious trying to say?” That’s not to say that you’ll never experience something like deja vu or a heightened awareness in a given situation that ends up saving your life.

Dreams aren’t meant to be taken literally. The elements of dreams are symbols. The symbol of war is wrapped up in survival in so many ways. That includes the survival of the body, the hopes, the family, the country, and various friends.

That’s true even if you’re one of those rare individuals who, deep down, enjoys the chaos war provides.

War as a symbol

Your subconscious is likely using war as a symbol. Only you can determine what the symbol might mean. Dreams are stories told in symbolic language.

War would often be a symbol of some kind of intense conflict to most people, perhaps a life-and-death struggle.

For more information about your war dream, try breaking it down with the 3-step dream interpretation process.

Your reaction to war dreams is influenced by your personality

War dreams can be almost as horrific as real-life war. I say almost because there’s usually an awareness within a dream that you’re dreaming. Even if the dream is hyperrealistic, there’s something off about the experience of any dream that tips you off that it’s a dream.

War dreams and the thoughts they inspire are part of the equipment you take into battle—whatever the battle might be.

When you have a dream like that, it can send you into a type of shell shock. You want to cry, to curl up. You think you’ve seen the worst and you realize how vulnerable you are. Or you feel like you’ve seen the worst thing possible that one person could do to another. How can the world be this way?

For much of our lives, we’re protected by naivete. We might watch violence on TV, we might see it on video games, but it is nothing like the violence of reality or realistic dreams. There’s a kind of poetry to those stories that’s missing from real-life gunplay, bombings, and injuries!

War happens at many different levels and ways. Young men will fight for the glory of their friends in the gang, and for the area of town they’re from. They’ll pull guns on each other and shoot.

Then one of them doesn’t die; instead, they’re paralyzed because a bullet severs their spine. The repercussions of the “war” between gangs last decades.

This is nothing new and we understand this deep down on a subconscious level that both Jung and battlefield poets from WWI wrote about.

War can also be a stand-in symbol for action between two companies where they’re engaged in trying to gain ground on each other.

Basic training dreams

Basic training marks a transition between being a civilian and becoming a soldier. When I started Basic in 1990, the country was at peace. Then, in the middle of the eight weeks, war broke out. We were told that we had better pay attention to what we were being taught because we could end up going over to Iraq before we went to Advanced Individual Training.

For much of Basic, I had war dreams, one after another after I laid down in my bunk. My subconscious struggled to understand what this news might mean.

My mother and my wife also had war dreams where I’d be killed.

Some will say that you shouldn’t take such dreams seriously.

Rather, you need to approach them in the right way.

Your subconscious is playing “what if.” For some people, that can be a different way of approaching things from what they usually do. Playing “what if” consciously can help you diminish these nightmares. That’s a way of confronting the nightmare.

A suggestion

Nothing is more helpful than spilling your hopes and fears out onto a page. It’s a way of airing your concerns and making them concrete so you can process them.

Dreaming can be like taking a class. You’ve had the lecture. You’ve had the experience. Now write and summarize it into a lesson for yourself.


James Cobb, RN, MSN is an Army vet and emergency services nurse who founded the Dream Recovery System. This website is a resource for those who wish to improve their ability to sleep and understand their dreams. 

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