Vietnam War and American Pop Music Essay

In the 1960s and the 1970s, music became a significant tool for the people to make their voices heard, especially in the protest of the Vietnam War. There was no war in the history in America that has made a huge cultural impact like the Vietnam War. The social revolution that happened in America at the time of the Vietnam War was a precipitation of all the tension that has gotten America up on her toes since the 1950s, with the civil rights revolution among others. 

The sixties saw social revolution through the massive counterculture movement that has largely been a youth-oriented one. Feminism, African-American Civil Rights Movement, Anti-Vietnam War Protests and even Sexual Revolution occurred in the Sixties. But there is no revolution in that era that has had the profound effect like the one the Vietnam War had. The Vietnam War has left a huge mark in America’s social psyche, and subsequently made an impact in the collective consciousness of the American people. Many films have been made, songs, books and even TV shows that echoed the sentiments of the people during that time. This era changed the people’s view on media, politics, the government and other institutions. If the people in the other eras before trusted the government with its actions, this era saw that the people did not trust the  government as much because it deployed their sons to another country, in what the Americans viewed as a futile war.

The Vietnam War actually started in 1955. As an offshoot of the Cold War between the Communist Russia and the Democratic United States, the Vietnam war is also about the battle of communism and democracy. It was between the communist Vietnam (North), controlled by the Viet Congs and the democratic Vietnam (South). The US, as a protector of liberty, tried to protect the democratic Vietnam from the communists who were trying to unite Vietnam by making the country a wholly communist one. 

Because of this threat to democracy, America rounded up its troops, mostly composed of young men. In 1960, the first massive recruits occurred, doubling up in numbers in 1962, and in 1963, the world saw that the American troops have tripled in number. These young troops were to be deployed in Vietnam.

This happening, along with other socio-cultural movements in the 60s, spurred a massive protest movement. It has to be noted that this era saw the African-Americans being granted equal rights, the women equality with men, the environment being taken importance, etc. This war added to the agenda that the people were so keen to push. The people did not want to wage war, unlike the government. The people pushed for peace and focusing on the environment, not having their sons, brothers and husbands killed. This conflict between the people and the government spurred the people’s disillusionment on the American government. This event, the Vietnam War, challenged their views pertaining to their leaders and their heads of state. 

It was inevitable anyway, the troops were sent to fight in the war. For nineteen years the United States has been deploying troops over at the Asian country. They lost the war. This fueled the masses’ discontent for the government. This discontent permeated through the pop culture. It has made its way in the people’s everyday lives, especially with the movies and music. 

Art is a reflection of reality. Music and movies are art forms and they do reflect reality in whatever form they can, intentionally or not, since the creators’ consciousness also reflects the events that happen around him, through the art he has been making. This is especially true in protest music that made its way into the lives of the Americans in the 60s.

Protest music is a result of a musician’s conscious effort to be heard. The rise of protest music in the United States was seen during the time of the Vietnam War. True, protest music existed way before, ever since man started to sing, but the Vietnam War, with the media, the fifty states, and a massive support from the people was by far, the most heard and the most appreciated, in terms of its musical contributions. 

The revolution that the Vietnam War spurred was largely composed by the youth. This is especially true during the Mid-Sixties when the US recruited the student population. The students felt that they should stand up for this, since they did not believe that the war would solve the conflict. Being the idealists that they were, the students, being young, turned to music. The music of that time was not necessarily just about the music per se, but the message of the music was sending out. The music in this era, therefore, was a form of communication. Since it is music, it crossed boundaries: color, sex and social classes. The music served as a uniting force to the people who felt disenfranchised by the government. The music served as the people’s emotional barometer, and it also roused feelings of discontent and anger towards the government that does not heed its people’s call to stop the war.

It is not a new thing for the people to think of music when they hear “Vietnam War” since almost anything that has to do with the war has a soundtrack. In a book, for example, by a veteran, he would always list the music that he was listening to in Vietnam. This has made its way in the readers’ minds too. Also because of technology, the troops were able to listen to the music that was playing in the home country (unlike, say, during the World War II). Thus, American music was also present in the war, at all times. There were the Filipino bands who played American music in the American bases, pirate radios, and readily available tape decks and stereo components. Music was just everywhere in a G.I.’s life. The troops, being young people, carried with them their radios, players and even musical instruments to express themselves.

In the early 60s, rock was not as famous as it had been now. The protest music before was folk music, and the artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were at the forefront of the music in that era. They presented poignant songs that echo the sentiments of the nation’s populace. They were also icons for the civil rights movement that kicked off in the 1950s and they just carried their messages across the lines and times of the sixties. 

Bob Dylan is a folk singer from Minnesota and he was active in the civil rights movement. He is also one of the first artists to show discontent towards the American government. His writing style is poetic and very general and one can always relate his songs on anything and still be relevant. His song “The Times They are A-Changin” is very popular because of the message it brings. It’s a classic song, used by the protesters to get their message across. Since the song is very broad, it can be used to support any movement, in fact, it is used in movies, ad campaigns to promote their own messages and themes. The song talks to all people, to the listener, to the writers and critics, senators and congressmen, mothers and fathers and to everyone else. 

The song opens with the words, “Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam”, and implies that he is inviting everyone to listen to what he is about to say, and he basically delivers a speech about how time is temporal. He preaches about not speaking too soon because the wheel is still turning. For the politicians to heed the call of the people who would soon the shake their windows along with the raging battle outside. He also preaches to the parents to not criticize their children because they do not understand (this is because of generation gap, perhaps) and the ultimate verse telling the people to accept the past, change some ways (for the better) and move on.

This song was a famous choice for the people then to use in their protests. This song is an anthem and it reflects the sentiments of the people who hear it, those who care about their freedom. The third verse especially echoes the feelings of the people regarding the politicians at the time who continually push for the Vietnam War to proceed. This particular verse captured the hearts of the listeners, opting to make this song into their anthem.

The Vietnam War managed to change American culture by means of the people’s reaction to it. It has inevitably infiltrated the modern culture and shaped it to what it is today, especially in music. Music, because it is art, is supposed to reflect reality and this era proved this right, even more. With Bob Dylan’s song, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” among other influential songs, the protest movement of the 60s progressed, leading to more open cultures and further revolutionizing the thinking of the people then.

Works Cited:

Dylan, Bob. The Times They Are A-Changin. The Times They Are A Changin. Columbia, 1964. CD

Schifferes, Steve. Vietnam: The music of protest. BBC News, May 1, 2005. Web. May 8, 2011.

Tuso, Joseph F. 1989. Singing the Vietnam Blues: Folksongs of the American Fighter Pilot in Southeast Asia. College Station: Texas A and M Press, 1990.