The Vietnam War was a turning point in American History. The war dragged on for 20 years, seeing the most deaths in a war since WWII. The Vietnam War also caused a large amount of turmoil stateside. The American Public began going against the war, and protests were either very peaceful or sometimes, they were violent. All of this happened around those in the music industry and they provided a voice to the concerns of the American Public. Their influence knew no bounds during this uneasy Vietnam War Era. Public opinion regarding the Vietnam War brought changes to musical artists and their song writing, which in turn, impacted how the Vietnam war was managed and viewed by American Politicians.
The Vietnam War was one of the bloodiest in American history. From 1955 until 1975 on average, nearly 8 Americans died every day in the war. One American life was lost every three hours. Every three hours a mother would lose her son. Every three hours someone in America was told their loved one would not be returning home. The brutality of Vietnam was greater than that of any war since World War II. Though numbers vary the national archives state that there were 58,220 military casualties in the Vietnam War (“Statistical Information about Casualties”).
Americans believed that the war was being won over seas up until the Tet Offensive. After it, Americans more vigorously opposed the war and President Nixon called for peace talks. One of the bloodiest incidents of the Vietnam War was the Massacre at My Lai. Those who died were not Americans though. They were of Vietnamese village people who were innocent. On March 16, 1968 American soldiers of Charlie Company killed hundreds predominantly consisting of women, children and old men (Gray, Martin). Outrage ensued when the acts were made public in 1969, and Americans voiced their opinions over the war saying it was unjust and that the United States should not be losing so many lives over in Vietnam. The cover up attempt by the United States only further proved that the value of human life was beginning to be lost, and that it was a war to display power rather than to complete objectives.
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The war was already losing favor with the American Public because of the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive showed the American Government mislead Americans about how successful campaigns within Vietnam were. The Tet Offensive began in January of 1968, was an offensive by the North Vietnamese Army, or NVA, that sought to rally the support of the public in South Vietnam into an uprising that would expel American forces, and unite North and South Vietnam into one state (History.com). Though the idea of the uprising failed, it did prove the ability of the NVA and the sheer desire to win the war (History.com). The American Public soon realized that the war itself was beginning to become a lost cause, and that politicians sought victory for their own personal gain.
William Westmoreland, a United States Army General at the time called for 200,000 more troops through the draft in order to launch an effective retaliation directed towards the NVA (History.com). Americans saw through this call and realized the Vietnam War was slowly being lost, while many were still dying as well (History.com). Richard Nixon, who was a big proponent of the war, saw that there was growing unrest in America and began to call for peace talks though, they would not formally come to fruition until 1975 (History.com). This loss of public support that came with the realization that America was losing the Vietnam War helped fuel the Anti-War movement within the United States which lead to more protesting and more violence along with it.
The young people within America were the fuel for change in the Vietnam War Era. Unlike the generation before them, they resisted war and protested the American government in the name of peace as opposed to fighting the Vietnamese for victory. They lead the call for peace with protests at universities, and at a concert on Max Yasgur's Dairy Farm which became an iconic scene for one of the greatest peace concerts of all time. The spirit of young Americans during the Vietnam War proved to be the unwavering beacon that sought peace throughout the latter half of the war.
On August 15, 1969 one of the most notable peace oriented music festivals began. Woodstock symbolized more than just the hope for an end to the Vietnam War, it also showed that if peace was the goal, then it could be achieved. There were no incidents of violence within the crowd of hundreds of thousands of people over all three days. The only violence at the festival was when a political activist jumped up on stage and began to speak. He was promptly met with the neck of Pete Townshend's guitar and he quickly left the stage. Of the performers at Woodstock, Country Joe of "Country Joe and the Fish" sang a song that highlighted the horrors of the Vietnam War Era for Americans.
The song "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin-To-Die" both satirizes and highlights the atrocity of the war. A short verse of the song in particular vividly describes the reality of the number of deaths “C'mon mothers throughout the land pack your boys off to Vietnam. C'mon fathers don't hesitate send your sons off before it's too late, be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box" (Joe McDonald). Though harsh, the song does illustrate the frequency with which deaths of family members occurred in the war. He was not alone in singing the song, however, he was joined by virtually the entire crowd after encouraging them to join in as to send a message of peace. Some other protests for peace, however, were far from peaceful.
Kent State was the sight of protest after Nixon's announcement of the movement of United States forces into Cambodia which neighbored Vietnam (Lojowsky). Nixon wanted to stop the invasion of North Vietnamese forces into Cambodia but was met with massive backlash from the American Public (History.com). Protests occurred across the country, Kent State however had 4 dead and nine wounded. The protests were without much incident until May 4. Around 300 students gathered after lunch for a rally, and were met by the Ohio National Guard (Lojowsky). The students were funneled from the commons between two buildings and up a hill towards a parking lot when the Guardsmen opened fire on the unarmed students. The short incident was described with great power by Lojowsky:
After thirteen seconds and seventy-six bullets, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and Bill Schroeder were dead. Alan Canfora, John Cleary, Thomas Grace, Dean Kahler, Joseph Lewis, Donald Scott Mackenzie, James Russell, Robby Stamps, and Douglas Wrentmore were wounded--Kahler permanently paralyzed from the waist down (Lojowsky).
After the incident, the only student strike in American History occurred (Canfora). It was the largest strike in American History in which approximately 5,000,000 students participated in protests (Canfora). The incident at Kent State perfectly portrayed how poorly America was dealing with the Vietnam War. Turmoil could not be escaped whether at home or overseas, and the tensions were mounting. The unrest within America was at a point where it could not be ignored. Change had to be brought about, and a catalyst for that change was the international language of music.
During all of the turmoil occurring within the United States, music was the voice for change. Rock music was many times inspired by the beliefs of the American Public. Bands like “Creedence Clearwater Revival” or CCR wrote songs concerning the unrest of the era such as “Fortunate Son” about the Vietnam War. Bands like “The Rolling Stones” who also wrote songs regarding the time period such as “Gimme Shelter" which is about the fear instilled in many in the era. Music was just part of the intensely complex situation the United States was in in the Vietnam War Era.
"Fortunate Son" by CCR is about the growing problem where those who were of wealth had little issue staying out of the Vietnam War, but the poor were sent off to fight for the country. Lead singer John Fogerty wrote the song, seeing the bad direction the war was heading in, and the amount being asked by the government of the people:
Some folks inherit star pgled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask them, "How much should we give?"
Ooh, they only answer More! More! More! (Fogerty)
CCR demonstrates through this short song, the unrest among Americans about the government's view on expendability and the necessity of the war. "The Rolling Stones" saw this too, and wrote one of the most famous songs of all time about it.
"Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones starts off slowly, much like the war in Vietnam, and gradually escalates into a very loud and serious matter with Merry Clayton screaming "Rape, murder! It's just a shot away"(The Rolling Stones) repeatedly and to the point where her voice cracks several times, showing the passion with which she sang it. The song then goes on to turn from saying "War, children, it's just a shot away"(The Rolling Stones) to saying "I tell you love, sister, it's just a kiss away" (The Rolling Stones).
This is not unlike Americans during the Vietnam War, where in the beginning they are pro war and gearing up, but they progressively realize the war is not worth the lives that are being lost and seek peace desperately. The had song great influence almost immediately at the free concert at Altamont. The concert was anything but peaceful, however. It turned violent with the stabbing of a gunman by a member of the Hell's Angels gang, who were enlisted as security, three accidental deaths and four live births (History.com). America's view of the war changed over time and Americans were desperate for peace in Vietnam.
The American public's shift in opinion of the Vietnam War brought changes to music artists and their song writing, which in turn, impacted how the Vietnam War was managed and viewed by American Politicians. The Vietnam War was the stage for horrible atrocities and copious amounts of death. Its horror will only be fully understood by those who lived it. The pain of the war was felt back in the United States and many advocated for peace.
The movement pushed musicians to go and be the voice of peace along with the protesters. Through their efforts they influenced politicians at the highest levels of government such as Richard Nixon, then president of America, to be swayed against continuing war in Vietnam. If the American Public did not protest the war, and instead wanted to go with the plan to enlist the 200,000 more soldiers needed for the offensive on the NVA, one has to wonder the number of lives that would have been lost and if the same result would have been produced.
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The History of the Vietnam War and Its Impact on the United States. (2022, Nov 15). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/the-history-of-the-vietnam-war-and-its-impact-on-the-united-states/
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