Vietnam war – effect on youth of America Essay

Vietnam War marked the most significant defeat of USA in the battlefield after the Second World War. USA approached the war at the background of its enormous victory in Second World War and it was quite like a battle between Goliath and David. In terms of military strength USA was far superior to Vietnam (Karnow, 1983). It was strategic failure, diplomatic failure as well as fighting without a cause that made the USA soldiers reluctant of fighting. Also, they were bereft of any tangible goal. All these led to one of the most astonishing result in military history. USA got involved in Vietnam War as an ally of the southern Vietnam. 

Southern Vietnam was fighting against the communist led northern Vietnam and it was quite like a civil war. When USA stretched itself into this civil war the soldiers were hard to motivate as they were bereft of patriotism, which they would have shown if it was a war directly against USA, and fought to save national interest. After reaching Vietnam they felt more uncomfortable due to the tropical climate and the unknown topography. (Herring, 1979)

Their body kept on fighting while their mind got occasionally lost in their mother land in the arms of their beloved. Each war leaves a scar on the mind of a soldier and this scar is much deeper than that of the body. The American soldiers at the Vietnam battlefield were crippled without a cause, they were bereft of any idea that why they are fighting, as it was more like a civil war between South and North Vietnam rather than something hampering national interest. (Thayer, 1985)

 Far from the mother land in a depressive environment and always living under unknown enemy attack their heart was burdened by thoughts of their loved ones as well as fear of death. This emotional pain went so far that to some brutal wound or death itself became far more acceptable than living under this treacherous conditions.

 All the physical and emotional experiences found its reflection and after effect amongst the American population. Just as we have seen the First World War affecting the trends, fashion and culture of America due to several dimensions of technological development and high standard of living, the World War II also had tremendous impact in shaping the jazz culture and music of America. 

The jazz music in turn had a role to play during the war effort of America. The jazz influenced culture and the jazz music as a whole accounted for a up rise or a voice raised to support the servicemen of United States and also assisted in helping the morale of the near and dear ones in one’s family. The members of the family could hear to the music that comprised of patriotic and romantic songs felt boosted to carry on the war at the home front. This spirits of the servicemen were raised and also brought together the musicians and the Hollywood stars in order to entertain the troops. These musicians also contributed towards patriotic films. In this manner we find that music and culture has a wide impact on the society. The section, which is mostly affected in this up surge, is the youth section.

The Vietnam War was a military attempt made by the United States to contain Communist aggression in the Southeast Asia. The conditions faced at home and the unexpected loss at the hands of North Vietnamese made the residents feel that America should take less active part in foreign policy. The American soldiers faced a cold welcome from the American citizens. The hatred felt by the Americans for the war was evident. The soldiers also underwent an emotional illness like posttraumatic stress disorder. Overall, the Vietnam War altered the path of American history in the fields of foreign matters, domestic politics and the cultural and social history. The war eventually took its toll not only on the soldiers but also on the American citizens especially the youth whose vulnerable mind was bound to be affected by the consequences of the war.

Protest has found its place in music within the civilization for a considerable time period. The message conveyed was more important than the music. The antiwar music during the Vietnam era affected the children of the 60’s to a different level. The strumming of guitar took place not only in big stages but also mainly in college campuses, coffee houses and the very homes of the American youth.

Meanwhile the President Johnson had lied to the people about the actions taken at Vietnam and thus lost the favor of the public who had till then trusted the government. The youth with their strong feelings could not sit idly and watch the government cheating on the people about the occurrences at Vietnam. The media began to keep a close watch from here on. 

Most of the reporters engaged in the media were from the young generation and it was this section that first came to derive the first hand information from the soldiers who exposed the lies to them. This accentuated the already created social climate with the help of lyrics and music. These became the base for the unjust war that the government tried to shield using the term police action or calling it a conflict. The music of the era was marked by a rallying cry encompassing a cause for action.

The message contained in the music acted as a communication means that helped in uniting the population which was undergoing a feeling of disenfranchised and this situation was almost akin to the condition of the blacks during the civil rights movement. On one hand the war had an effect of silencing everyone below the age of 30, and on the other hand it was the music of the time, which brought out the emotions of fear and anger and led it towards the way to achieve something concrete. 

It is the young generation that was mostly involved in the political actions and political issues like civil rights movements and the war protests. Political messages were extensively borne by the songs. Also, there were songs like “Ballad of the Green Berets” which glorified the efforts of war. (Adair, 1981) The World War I and II on the other hand embedded the messages of praise about the war effort. As the war went on the music turned out to be more meaningful and thought provoking. The lyrics of the songs inspired the anti-war veterans. The youth were distrusting and cynical about what the government said about Vietnam. 

Thus, the music served as a uniting factor for this generation, which was against the war. The war of Vietnam was found in the words of every young American and was broadcasted on al forms of media, which included newspapers, radio, television movies a end magazines. The young generation witnessed their friends around them being registered into the army and then taken away to the foreign land, never returning. The young people were pulled into the military and most of them resented having to join the force this early. What made the burden even more tiresome was the fact that it was not a patriotic war but a diplomatic and strategic one instead. Such wars did not affect the freedom of American. The music was thus born out of the understanding that the war was not the ultimate solution to the worldly problems. Also, the cause of dying was not justified in any form or in any substance. The veterans enjoyed the music, which came out of the era. The artists like Jimi Hendricks, Janice Joplin, Jefferson Airplanes, The Doors and The Beatles were popularized. There were songs like “Eve of Destruction”, “War”, “Soldier Boy” and “Give Peace a Chance”.

It was because of the war that the artists felt like writing mostly against it and about the happiness of peace. Thus, the war affected the music of the times and the cultural of the era was reflected in that music. This would become clearer once one looks at the lyrics and analyzes them. Artists like Jim Morrison and Country Joe McDonald spoke against the war. The music comprised of harsh negative message and a sarcastic underlying tone, which effectively created an anti-war atmosphere. This was a time when the views about the war changed.

For instance, in the song, “Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag” by Country Joe McDonald supports the negative attitude of the public towards the war, as revealed in the lines 

“And it’s one two three
What are we fighting for
Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam…”

It is clear that the lyricist supports the opinion that the war is unnecessary. It exposed how the soldiers went to the war in a disoriented and disorganized state.

The lyrics depict the young people as commodities and as unimportant identities, as revealed in the lines:

“…Sent your sons off before it’s too late
You can be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box”

Thus, the music reflects the fate of the several soldiers engaged in the armed forces. This song was played on the radios of the armed forces and exposed the way in which the American life was affected by the war.

The style of the modern millionaire or the Mod Millionaire’ was that of the Beatles. This style had its origin mainly in Paris couturier Pierre Cardin who launched a youthful pattern of jackets for men. These wee made of corduroy and were without tails or collars. The style was mainly ready made and inexpensive for clothiers like John Stephens who made huge business during 1958. These were unlike the traditional conservative men’s wear. The era marked an alteration n terms of fashion show for men’s wear. The 60s offered casual clothing and stores like Brookes Brothers and J. Press became popular in New York. These offered conservative suits, flannel jackets etc. many of the youths had moved away from fashion and trends and were more engaged with discussions about the war. (Welters and Cunningham, 2005, 794)

As far as the screenplay was concerned the Vietnam veterans were not much represented for a long time after the withdrawal of the troops. They came to be represented in series like Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978), Coming Home (1978), and Birdy (1984). These films centered around the victimized veterans who represent the war’s effects on America. For instance, the film ‘Coming Home’ focuses the anti-war message on the destruction and damage inflicted upon the bodies of the soldiers along with the mental set back and suffering. The films aimed at resolving the issues of war. This is taken as the problems of masculine identity. All these were depicted within the boundaries of the traditions of melodrama by working through a love triangle including two veterans and bears two different perspectives about the war. It also highlights the role of the soldier (in the film) along with the political image borne as a star (Jane Fonda). The Vietnam War epic “Apocalypse Now” made by Francis Ford Coppola was one of his greatest achievements. (Walker, 1991)


The war was the most discussed one among the youth especially the students of schools and colleges. The popular music, films and media all talked about the war and thus held the interest of the young generation. What affected them the most was the fact that they were dragged into the war at an age when they could do a lot more constructive things. Besides the nation had already fought the two great wars during which the support from the masses was huge, mainly owing to the nature of the cause of war (it was not patriotic for the Vietnam war). According to a political science professor, Bill Avery, belonging to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “My guess is it [Vietnam War] will linger in the same way the defeat the South suffered in the Civil War has lingered”. He also said, “When you fail to achieve your objectives — we were not defeated in Vietnam, we won almost every battle — it’s seen as a defeat in people’s minds, and that lingers long afterward”. (Wolgamott and Anderson, 2007) He has been teaching courses ranging from politics of the Vietnam era and the impact it continued to have on the domestic and foreign policy of United States. He also concentrated on the analysis of films centering on the war. The professor rightly reflects the minds of the youth as far as the war is concerned in the following words:

“The students don’t have a lot of information (about Vietnam) because I don’t think it’s being taught well in high school… But they have a whole lot of interest because they had uncles, fathers and so on in the war. I’ve had them write papers about it, and they’ve been very personal, emotional papers. As that generation passes, there will be less intensity of feeling among young people. But the interest will continue, I think.” (Wolgamott and Anderson, 2007)


Anderson, “Vietnam Era Anti War Music” Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), 2006

Adair, Gilbert. Hollywood’s Vietnam: From “The Green Berets” to “Apocalypse Now”. New York: Proteus, 1981

Herring, George C., America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1979

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History, Foreign Policy Association, 1983

Thayer, Thomas C., War Without Fronts: The American Experience in Vietnam. Westview Press, Colorado, 1985

Welters, Linda, Patricia Anne Cunningham, “Twentieth-Century American Fashion”. Berg Publishers, 2005

Walker, Mark. Vietnam Veteran Films. Metuchen, NJ and London: Scarecrow Press, 1991

Wolgamott, Kent L. and Mark Anderson, Vietnam War continues to run through American culture, Lincoln Journal Star, retrieved on November 13, 2007 from: