News / Arts & Entertainment

Vietnam War Protests Influenced Popular Music

A U.S. Marine pinned down by sniper fire, looks back to check on his buddies as white phosphorous artillery rounds mark major Viet Cong position, action took place 15 miles south, southwest of Da Nang, Jan. 29, 1967.
A U.S. Marine pinned down by sniper fire, looks back to check on his buddies as white phosphorous artillery rounds mark major Viet Cong position, action took place 15 miles south, southwest of Da Nang, Jan. 29, 1967.
Richard Paul
Today, April 30, marks the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.  On this date in 1975, Marines evacuated the last Americans from the embassy in Saigon, bringing to a close America’s most divisive foreign conflict - a division expressed in street protests and in song.  

The Vietnam War took place at an unusual time in United States history.  A record number of U.S. women gave birth in the years 1946 to 1959, and the largest part of that “Baby Boom” was of fighting age when the war began.  The “Baby Boomers” had also created a full-fledged youth culture by that time, a culture based largely on music.  So when public sentiment turned against the war, so did popular songs.
 
Vietnam War Protests Influenced Popular Music
Vietnam War Protests Influenced Popular Musici
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

America’s involvement in Vietnam started slowly - only 5,000 soldiers in 1960.  So at first, people in the U.S. weren’t paying very close attention. But the protest movement was starting even then.  

Within two years of the 1963 song, "A Soldier’s Letter Home,” the number of Americans in Vietnam would increase dramatically.  America didn’t have an all-volunteer army back then. In 1962 the government implemented the Selective Service, or “The Draft.”  

“When you registered for the selective service system, you were assigned a draft number.  And if your number came up, then you were in the Army,” said Leslie Waffen, the retired head of the motion picture, sound, and video branch at the National Archives and also an expert on the music of the Vietnam War.  

“'Draft Dodger Rag’ was a very important, influential song.  And it was recorded by many folk singers and groups.  And the lyrics were filled with ways to dodge the draft,” Waffen added.

Draft dodging songs, like "Draft Dodger Rag" or David Crosby’s “Draft Morning,” mostly talked about the unfairness of the draft.

“The ‘Fortunate Son’ song had several lines in it that referred to privileged youth who are able to avoid the draft and not have to participate in the war,” Waffen said

The president and the generals in Vietnam told Americans back home that the U.S. was winning the war.  But in January 1968, North Vietnamese soldiers attacked positions deep inside South Vietnam, including the U.S. embassy.  Though the offensive was soon crushed, it left Americans doubting what they were being told.  

The song, “Fixin’ To Die Rag,”  was performed by Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock, a giant music festival that was held in upstate New York in 1969.  According to Les Waffen, “it became extremely popular as a song that said everything about the public’s antagonism against the war and it sort of reflected what public opinion was all about.”

Even more important, Waffen says the song also became popular with the soldiers who were fighting in Vietnam.  

“There would be DJs in certain zones who would set up their own radio station and begin to broadcast the songs that you were not going to hear on Armed Forces Radio,” he said.

Of course there were also songs in favor of the war.  In 1965 and 1966 the most popular song in America was “The Ballad of the Green Berets.”  

And those celebrating soldiers also sang songs mocking those who found ways not to have to fight, as in "The Yellow Beret" by Bob Seeger.

America is a place of diverse opinions.  It’s also a place that offers citizens the right to express those opinions -- even when they go against the government, even in the middle of a war.

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
X
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

Avery Sunshine is known for her irresistible combination of soul, jazz and gospel influences. She’s traveled the world entertaining audiences with her powerful voice, inspiring lyrics and infectious spirit. She joins host Shawna Renee on "The Soul Lounge" to perform and share the stories behind her new album, "The Sun Room."