By Devin Johnson
Antiwar songs not only played a huge part in the protest against the vietnam war but they also helped transform the American music culture for many years. Popular music at the time echoed the opions of many Americans during and many years after the Vietnam War. Popular music at this time was more than just music, it was “a source of strenght, unification, and expression when the battle is raging (Anderson, 2001).” The Vietnam War played a significant role in the growth of the music industry as the contoroversy surrounding Vietnam became the driving force of musicians writing hundreds of songs talking about the war. An astonishing fact is that there were over 120 songs written by country-western singers in support of the war. Over a hundred pro and antiwar songs became popular during this period and it led to the growth of both country and rock music. There were about 80 country music radio stations in 1961and by the end of the 60s there were over 600 country music stations. Record sales for country music sales had tripled by the end of the decade. Older artists like Pete Seeger, Malvina Reynold, and Peter Yarrow began protesting America’s involvement when troops were first sent to Vietnam as military advisors. Their music talked about traditional folk themes such as peace, justice and brotherly love. Younger folk singers such like Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were more boisterous than their older folk music counterparts. Most of these folk songs were traditional style which were performed with one entertainer and with a guitar, but this all changed when Bob Dylan invented folk-rock which had a heavy rock beat with a faster tempo. Folk-rock later became the most popular form of music that spoke out against the Vietnam War. Rock music bacame another form of popular music in which many artist used as a protesting tool. Protest music began its demise once President Nixon began gradually withdrawing troops out of Vietnam, this led to the traditional messages of romance and courtship back into popular music. Popular songs like “War” by The Temptations and Edwin Starr, and “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Revival Revival no longer reached the popularity that they did during the Vietnam War.
Protest songs were not the only forms of expression that people used to speak out against the Vietnam War. Poetry was a very popular medium for people to express their displeasure with America’s involvement with the Vietnam War. Vietnam poetry falls into three categories: political protest poems, verse novels and short personal poems that presented individial scenes, character sketches, or events. Political protes poems were usually wtirren by established poets who had not been to Vietnam while verse novels were chronoligically linked poems that detailed a person’s experiences at war. (Pratt, 1998). The first important book of protest poetry was A Poetry Reading Against the Vietnam War which has edited by Rober Bly and David Ray, who were also the founding fathers of the American Writers Against the Vietnam War. A multitude of poetry that were written relfect the personal attitudes of many writers of the peroid. Their poems showed what they thought about the US involvement in Vietnam by references to the political scene, the war as seen on TV or reported in the news papers, and to anitwar themes in general (Pratt, 1998). The views of the poems of this time reflected the general opinions of many people during the Vietnam War.
A group of poets and writers got together in 1965 to form the Amercan Writers Against the Vietnam War. The group was started by poets Robert Bly and David Ray an organized readings, meetings, joined in rallies, teach-ins, and demonstrations against the war. Other well known poets that were part of this group included: Allen Ginsberg, Galway Kinnell, Grace Paley, Robert Lowell, Adrienne Rich and W.S. Merwi
Persuasive Functions Used By Anti-War Propaganda:
As stated earlier, songs played a huge part in speaking out against the Vietnam War. Songs during the Vietnam War not only challenged the US being in Vietnam, but also challenged the methods that the US were using in the war. Many anti-war songs used repititon to get their message across. Repitition is a traditional characteristic of music that allows the persuader to reinforce their point over and over again. In Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” Dylan repeats the line “a hard rain’s gonna fall,” thoughout the song, which places an imphasis on that line and reinforces the message of the song to the listener. Dylan actually wrote this song in response to the Cuban Missle Crisis but this is often referred to as one of his most distinctive war protest songs he ever wrote. “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” probably refers to the nuclear weapons that would fall in a nuclear war or the aftermath of a nuclear blast. “War” by Edwin also uses repition throughout the song. Starr repeats the same words for most of the song as he continously proclaims “War!! What is it good for? Aboslutely Nothing!”
The repetition of just these few words get the point of the song across that war (more specifically the Vietnam War) had no purpose and was not good for anything. Repetition is just one of the many components that were used in anti-war songs. Protest songs also look to change perceptions of social reality by creating awareness of an urgent problem in the environment, often focusing on suffering and misery. In the Creedence Clearwater Revivals song “Fortunate Son,” the song brings up the topic of how being a draftee who’s parents have money or social status were able to get out of serving in the military becasue of their status. This song brought up a topic that not many anti-war songs discussed and probably led to some feelings of animosity towards those who came from wealthy families.
Many types of persuasive functions were used in anit-war poetry as well. One persuasive funtion that was pretty common in Vietnam poetry was obscenities. As we all know, war is not pretty and sometimes the language used portrays this. The language used in these poems makes the poems more real and, when used correctly, can really gain the readers attention. Take for instance in Curt Bennett’s poem “The School” he states that
“Killing, destroying wiping everything away, And in the end, it is all bullshit!” Bennett uses language to get the reader to pay extra attention to what he is saying in the poem so that the point is delivered. Poems that were written about the Vietnam War were much more vivid than the war poems that were written during World War I. The poets of this period wrote about their expereinces in battle and often discussed: firefights, deaths of friends, smells of the jungle, being wounded, see Vietnamese women and children killed and much more. Their poems showed the true horrors of war through their words and were just as emotional as they were personal. The language used in many of these poems portrayed the soldiers reality and showed the public what was real to them. It let their audience know the true horrors that were going on in the Vietnam War and showed their reality to the audience. There was also many poems that relayed an “us vs. them” attitude, which was not this was limited to American troops vs the Vietcong but also included black vs. white confli