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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”