Protests and music of the Vietnam War


The Vietnam War was perhaps the worst war the U.S. ever took part in. The government suffered massive losses, and the war substantially tainted its image. As the war progressed, the government faced great set-backs because public were totally against the war.

The government had lied to the public about the intentions of the war but as the 60’s decade came to an end, war veterans brought the truth home. This was amid an announcement by President Nixon that the war had escalated to Cambodia.

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As the public absorbed the announcement, and the truth behind the war, they were angered by the fact that many American lives had been lost in the war, and the fact that the government was still directing young-adult males to go to Vietnam. Mass protests, that had begun earlier, increased with students forming the frontline of the protesters.

Anti-protest police killed and injured a number of the protesters leading to even more protests, and irresponsibility during the protests as protesters quelled their anger. These protests continued until the government made a decision to withdraw troops from the war.

Music and Vietnam War

The Vietnam War led to an era of music that can be associated entirely with the events of the war. Music was part of the war as soldiers used in many occasions during the war. This can even be evidenced by the number of movies produced after the Vietnam War because the movies were characterized by battle scenes that have music playing in the background. An example is the movie Forrest Gump.

The troops in the Vietnam War had their own music tastes. A good example of a track that was popular among American troops is the song We Gotta Get Out of this Place.

The song Happy Birthday Abey Baby also became popular during this time because of its message, which reflects the racial aspects of the Vietnam War. Another popular song was the track, “We Will All Go Down Together” (Miller 1), which is done by Billy Joel.

During the war itself, soldiers had tapes which they were fond of listening to even as they engaged in gun battles. There were a lot of references to music by the troops as the war progressed. For instance, before soldiers fired their guns, they would sometimes say that they were “ready to rock n’ roll” (Fish 1). Additionally, as bullets or missiles were fired from a helicopter, the phrase, “Puff the Magic Dragon”, was commonly used.

Even more surprising is the fact that in certain areas, music would be playing from loud speakers as the combat progressed. An example of a song that was commonly played during combat is the song “Night in White Satin” done by Moody Blues.

People who had the privilege to have been alive during the Vietnam War agree that music had a special role to play during the war period. In fact most of these people, who are grannies now, recommend several songs to anyone wishing to know what went on during the Vietnam War.

They recommend that one listens to the message being passed by the artists of the time, and the deep meaning of the songs. The message in the music was that of a people desperate for peace in a war-torn world.

Some of the tracks showed how the government had misrepresented its intentions in the Vietnam War, and how the public was angry towards the government’s decision to be involved in the Vietnam War (Tuso 9).

It is for this reason that the 1960 decade went down in the books of performance-music history as the decade that had a record number of concerts, and number of people in concerts, in comparison with what was experienced before the decade.

Effects of the music

The discussed anti-war music had great socio-economic and political implications for the American government, specifically in relation to decisions about the war in Vietnam.

The anti-war music took the American youth of the 1960’s; especially college students to a high level as far as political matters are concerned. The anti-war musicians gave clear messages to the youth of the time; that the country had gone to political dogs, and it was time the public took control of their own destiny.

With time it was apparent that the young generation was very alert on political matters, and that the youth was not going to watch as the government misrepresented facts about the situation in Vietnam. Moreover, some combat veterans were already returning from the war and unearthing the government secrets about the intention of the war in the first place.

The social climate that was created by the presence of people who knew the truth about the war, and the presence of musicians whose lyrics and music were a reflection of the collective conscience of the public, saw the end of an unjust and barbaric war, which the government had been sweeping under the carpet with the tag “police action” (Schifferes 1).

Protests against the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was characterized by so many protests that it can be confidently argued that the protests marked the greatest anti-war movement in the history of the United States. The protests were sparked early in the 1960’s, during which they were based in colleges and large cities. With time, however, troops in Vietnam grew to more than half a million Americans.

This was after 1964. After the increased presence of American troops in Vietnam, the public grew more restless, and protests became more serious and frequent (Sayre 1). By the close of the decade, hundreds of thousands of American citizens were protesting at various locations all over the nation.

The year 1970 saw the peak of the protests as the public was angered by several attempts by the police to quell the protests. This was after four students who had been involved in a peaceful demonstration at the Ohio’s Kent State University were shot dead and other nine students injured by gunshots.

These atrocities were carried out by the National Guard Troops in an attempt by the government to contain the situation created by the mass protests against the war in Vietnam.

This increased the protests, with some protests being accompanied by violence, bombings, vandalisms and arson. The students were expressing their anger towards the shedding of blood in the Kent State protest by government agents, as well as expressing their displeasure of the government’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

By the end of the year 1974, American troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam, and the protests had also subsided (Miller 1). The puppet regime that was in Vietnam before the war had also collapsed, and thus the Vietnamese were no longer under foreign colonization.

President Nixon had made an announcement during the last day of April in 1970 that the war had extended to the neighboring Cambodia. This was, perhaps the motivation behind the protests at Kent State.

The killing of the four students, as well as the announcement that the war had escalated, led to an increase in the intensity and volume of the protests in terms of protesters. The four killed were students at the Kent State University, which is based in Ohio. This was the inspiration behind the song Ohio done by Young, Crosby, Nash and Stills.

During the first week of May, there was a general strike for lauding antiwar protests in Oklahoma University. Close to a thousand protesters went to the streets with one of the protesters displaying a communist flag belonging to Vietnam. He was arrested by the police under the Oklahoma law.

This led to angry exchanges between the protesters and a number of police and highway patrol officers. Several protesters sustained injuries during the exchanges and other three protesters were arrested (Garrity 1).

This led to mass protests by the students in response to the arrest of the student who had unfolded the Vietnam flag. This, combined with protests in other states like Ohio, created an environment that could be regarded as that of pure protests.

Effects of the protests

The protests that took place during the Vietnam War shaped the socio-economic and political set-up of the United States significantly. Prior to this, protests were being taken seriously, and the public was not properly protected against the atrocities of the police during peaceful protests.

The Kent State killings, in particular, led to development of appropriate laws for freedom of expression that were tailored to ensure that the public is able to express its displeasure towards the excesses of the government, and other similar issues.

Apart from this, the fact that the Vietnam War ended in the year 1974, barely a decade after the U.S. sent troops to Vietnam, can be attributed to the contribution of the public unrest.

The protests had peaked in 1970 and thus the ending of the war in 1974 can be seen as an indication that the protests made a great contribution towards efforts to end the war. The protests also revealed the fact that the ultimate power of making political decisions rests on the public, but not the political class (Fish 1).

This is because all the senators were unanimous about the decision to send troops to Vietnam. As mentioned above, the war protests led to development of a more conducive climate for expression. Thus after the war, courtesy of the protests, people had more freedom of expression than before.

Relationship between music and protests

Music formed a very important part of the protests that took place against the Vietnam War. Most of the music that was played during the time was a motivation for protests against the War in Vietnam. For example, the song Ohio done by Young, Crosby, Nash and Stills was used to call the public for more action after the killing of the aforementioned Kent State students.

In the year 1969 the song, Fortunate Son was released by the band Creedence Clearwater. The song was a protest song dedicated to the youth who were being forced to be involved in the Vietnam War.

Some of the lyrics of the song include a line that says, “It ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son, I ain’t no fortune one” (Garrity 1). Another part of the song says, “When the band plays hail to the chief, they point the cannon at you” (Garrity 1), depicting the cruelty that the protesters were facing from the military.

The songs were therefore meant to act as motivations for unrest. Music was also a consolation for the masses since they had been failed by their political representatives and thus they needed somebody with whom they shared the same sentiments.

The music played during this time also had a number of cultural influences. For instance, the impact of The Beatles was so enormous that the members of the group were trendsetters for the society. For instance, they were responsible for the popularity of long hair among boys. They set a record 21 hits that topped charts during the time.

This record has never been beaten by any other band. Their popularity was so great during the time that the guitar player of the group, one John Lennon, was prompted to think that his group was “more popular than Jesus” (Streich 1). Of course this statement attracted substantial outcries from religious crusaders but all he meant was that The Beatles were unimaginably popular.


As evidenced in the discussion above, the Vietnam War was characterized by the largest anti-war protests ever experienced in the history of America. These protests were mainly caused by the fact that the real reason of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was not known to the public. The public also saw carelessness on the part of the government, and ill intentions.

This was aggravated by the government’s requirement of young-adult males to be involved in the war after college in the late 1960’s. This requirement made college students to be actively involved in the protests, which saw a number of students being killed, and others injured by anti-protest police.

After a number of violent incidences involving students and the police, specifically the Kent State shootings and protests in several other universities, the protests increased and the number of people being involved in a single episode of protests also increased. This situation continued until the U.S. government started withdrawing troops from Vietnam in the early 70’s.

The Vietnam War was also characterized by great music influence. After losing confidence in the government, artists started producing songs with lyrics that were a message to either the government or the public regarding the Vietnam War.

The songs therefore acted as a consolation to the masses because they no longer had confidence in their government. The influence of the anti-war music was so much that even the troops in Vietnam used phrases that were actually lines from the lyrics of certain anti-war songs.

They even listened to music played via loudspeakers in some areas as they engaged in combat. However, the greatest influence of the anti-war music was the fact that it fuelled protests and thus acted as a motivation for revolting against the Vietnam War.

All in all, anti-war music and protests remain in the minds of every American citizen who witnessed the activities of the Vietnam War. The war is mostly remembered when people reminisce about the protests or when people listen to the anti-war music.

Works Cited

Fish, Lydia. “Songs of Americans in the Vietnam War”. 1993 – March 12, 2011, < >

Garrity, Patrick. “Music and the Remembrance of War”. 2006 – March 12, 2011, < >

Miller, John. “Vietnam War Protests”. Oklahoma Historical Society. 2009 – March 12, 2011, < >

Sayre, James. “Late 1960’s and early 1970’s anti-Vietnam war protests, social and political background notes and a short discussion of some of the best rock ‘n roll music of the times”. 2008 – March 12, 2011, < >

Schifferes, Steve. “Vietnam: The Music of Protest”. 2005 – March 12, 2011, from,

Streich, Michael. “Vietnam War Protest Music”. 2010 – March 12, 2011, < >

Tuso, Joseph. Singing the Vietnam Blues: Folksongs of the American Fighter Pilot in Southeast Asia. College Station: Texas A and M Press, 1990.