Rock Music and the Vietnam War

Topics: Lyndon B. Johnson, United States, Vietnam War Pages: 5 (1225 words) Published: March 2, 2015
Byron Johnson
Professor Briggs
Music 24B
3 December 2014

Stop and Listen to the Music
“War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” These are the lyrics from the 1969 smash hit titled “War.” Edwin Starr wrote this song in protest to the Vietnam War and it expressed many peoples’ feelings towards the war through a catchy melody. Music can have a profound impact on social politics, and can serve to connect people. Many of the songs written in the late 1960s captured the American public’s discontent with the war. Rock music and American social movements now go hand in hand, but it all started with the Vietnam War. During the war, Americans at home turned to music to express their discontent and used it as a form of protest. Following World War II, the United States of America was the world’s only true superpower. Therefore, when radical communism movements started in emerge in the Asian Pacific, America felt it was their duty to stand up and rid it out. Up to that point, all wars that America had been involved in had a clear entry date and a clear enemy. This was not the case in Vietnam, however. Initially, President Kennedy thought that sending a small team of American Special Forces into the country to train the opposition to defeat the communists would suffice. However, the enemy developed unique guerilla warfare tactics, something the United States never saw coming. For example, the fighters would blend into the civilian population during the day and attack at night, leaving the Americans fighting a war with no clear enemy. Americans did not volunteer for the war in large numbers and following the assassination of President Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson raised the troop level to nearly one million servicemen, many of whom were selected to serve via the draft lottery. Former sociology professor Howard Schuman articulates his thoughts on the war when he observes “the Johnson administration wanted to fight this war with cold blood” (Converse, Schuman 17). Meaning that President Johnson initially thought it would be a quick and precise war and the domestic impact would be minimal if any. This turned out not to be true and support for the war slowly began to dwindle. The horrors and realities of war became real to the American public during the Vietnam War. On a daily basis, the news would show images of villages being destroyed, Vietnamese children burning to death, and American servicemen being sent home in body bags. These images resonated with the people back home and lead to public outrage and a large anti-war movement. Young people did not want to go and fight for a war they did not believe in. Yet, the draft loomed over every young man’s head. At the time, musician Frank Zappa stated, “the youth were not loyal to flag, country, or doctrine, but only to music” (Anderson, 51). This led to the explosion of the rock music scene and its rebellious, anti-establishment themes. People needed an outlet to get away from the war, so Woodstock, a massive three-day music festival of peace, was created and took place on a dairy farm in the rural town of Bethel, New York. The performers included Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater Revival, Santana, The Jefferson Airplane, and a variety of other 1960s musical icons. The festival planners had originally hoped for a turnout of 50,000 people, but ended up having more than 400,000 people attend the concert. The concert was a huge success and to this day is considered by many to be the greatest concert of all time because of the impact it had on the music industry and society. Some of the more powerful songs that came out of the era include hits by Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles. Young folk singer Bob Dylan, who later catapulted to international success, captured the anger of many Americans in his song “Masters of War.” Some of the lyrics were: “You fasten the triggers for others to fire, then you sit back and watch while the death count...

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