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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."