Update 2: How the popular music during the Vietnam War reflected the political climate in the US

For my second update, I will be discussing the rest of my research for my investigation. The second half of my research was on the background information, political climate, and popular music during the Vietnam War era in the United States. While I talked about the unity in the United States during WWII in my last update and how that affected the music of the time, I found the Vietnam War to bring an entirely different side out of the American public. It was because of these sharp contrasts in political climate during each of these events that I chose to study them both in the first place, but I will discuss more about the comparisons and contrasts in my next post.

After getting a basic rundown of the events that shaped the Vietnam war and the timeline of it all (which I will discuss in more detail in my paper), I began to focus in on political climate in the US at the time. Like WWII, I came across many public opinion polls for the war, possibly even more than WWII because it was easier to access the polls from the 1960s and 70s. Some significant poll results that I found were:

  • About 60% of Americans believed the Vietnam War was a mistake in 1971, directly after American troops had exited.
  • In 2000, only 20% of people in the US believed the government did the right thing regarding the Vietnam War (“US Involvement in Vietnam”).
  • In a study conducted at the end of the 20th century, 75% of the US population categorized Vietnam as an unjust war (Moore et al.)

These findings give a basis for understanding the majority American opinion of the Vietnam War and the United States’ place in it, which was why I wanted to start here.

I found this quote to be very telling of the divided and tense political climate in the United States at the time. Additionally, the sign in this section talks about how even the American soldiers fighting in the war questioned the government's handling, indicating that they did not feel much sense of pride and heroism like the veterans of WWII.

I found this quote in the Smithsonian Museum of American History to be very telling of the divided and tense political climate in the United States at the time. Additionally, the sign in this section talks about how even the American soldiers fighting in the war questioned the government’s handling, indicating that they did not feel much sense of pride and heroism like the veterans of WWII.

Presidential approval ratings during the Vietnam War also reflected a very unhappy population. Most Americans did not agree with the principles of communism and were even fearful of communism, so taking steps to reduce the effects of communism in Asia seemed understandable to them at first, but much of each presidential handling of the Vietnam War included massive amounts of deception into how far the US government was going to prevent communism (Britannica). Although American efforts were largely ineffective throughout the war, American involvement only got more prevalent as time went on (Jacobs and Shapiro). Especially during the Johnson presidency, the American public was deceived into thinking that there was “a light at the end of the tunnel”, which made them extremely surprised and angry when they found out about the Communists’ successful attack called the “Tet Offensive” in 1968 (Hall). Much of American’s issues with the war stemmed from this deception and made many Americans skeptical of the government and harbor sentiments of anti-establishment, which led to many massive public protests as a way to express views since the government wasn’t listening. With marches, the biggest being the March on the Pentagon in 1967, and moratoriums like the famous one on October 15, 1969, thousands and even millions of people gathered in one place to (mostly) peacefully express their dissent against the war in Vietnam (Hall).

This sign was part of the American Democracy exhibit at the Smithsonian American History Museum. It represents how the American public personally and publicly assembled to express their disagreement on the United States' position in the war.

This sign was part of the American Democracy exhibit at the Smithsonian American History Museum. It represents how the American public personally and publicly assembled to express their disagreement on the United States’ position in the war.

Music was very much connected to these protests and used as a form of dissent itself, which is what really characterized this musical era. I found many different articles discussing the importance of music from this time period, so here are some quotes from those that I found to be particularly powerful:

  • “More than any other American war, Vietnam had a soundtrack, and you listened to it whether you were marching in the jungle or in the streets.” -Doug Bradley, a Vietnam War veteran (Bradley)
  • “Songs that spoke directly to the war were proof that people were talking about this cataclysmic event, and a way to safely express the ambivalence that many in the field felt.” (Rothman)

Rock and Roll/Soul music became very prominent during this time period because the genre is characterized by raw lyrics and music, and can easily be used as an outlet for anger and other powerful emotions. I found that in most of the songs I looked at from this period, they almost all utilized this rock and roll/soul, with a major focus on the lyrics, and the instruments used to enhance that meaning. Possibly the most defining moment for music during this time period was the Woodstock music festival in August 1969. During this festival, rock and roll artists from all over used their music to protest the Vietnam war and “the system” as a whole. With nearly half a million people in attendance, “Time magazine called it the greatest peaceful man-made event in history. The impact was like the war of the worlds, a time of love and hate. I think it was also the start of the end of the war. It showed that so many people were against the way people were treating each other” (Nikkhah).  Of the songs I have chosen to analyze, 3 out of the 4 were from artists that performed at Woodstock.

The songs I will be analyzing in my paper are:

  1. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
  2. “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” by Country Joe and the Fish
  3. “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
  4. “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon

While I will go into more specific analysis of each song in my final paper, some main themes I found from these songs were:

  1. Anger at the government and the system as a whole, not the soldiers fighting in Vietnam. In fact, many of the artists were vets themselves.
  2. Complete protest of the idea of war in general. Truly, love not war.
  3. Direct and to the point, no metaphors or other devices to get the messages across. This showed the raw emotion that these artists felt and was a main reason why the music resonated so greatly with the public.
  4. Sentiments of unification and standing as one, built through anger and demand for change.

With my research finished, my main task now is to compare and contrast my findings on political climate and music from each era and compose my final paper. My final post will highlight the comparisons and contrasts I make as I analyze my data to create my final product. Until next time!

Speak Your Mind