It was the first record made in the United States to allude to the Vietnam War in its title and highlighted that, according to opinion polls, most Americans paid little or no attention to the developing conflict in Indochina, which would consume their nation for 20 years. In December , under President John F. Kennedy, the US had 3, military personnel stationed in Vietnam. This number increased to over 16, by the end of and the conflict began to receive more media coverage.
By the end of the s, this enigmatic country would become the most controversial issue facing the US, dividing society, debated in Congress, demonstrated for and against on the streets — and documented in song. As the magazine revealed, well over Vietnam records had been released since that January alone.
Fifty years on, more than 5, songs have been recorded about the war, forming an international conversation about a conflict that tore apart the fabric of politics, society and culture. Fewer than 80 American deaths were recorded between and , compared to over 16, in alone. Playlists of the songs mentioned in each section are placed throughout the article. Press play above to listen.
However, songs that focussed solely on opposing the Vietnam conflict were uncommon until The turning point was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Johnson to send hundreds of thousands of troops to maintain a non-communist South Vietnam.
As US troop levels increased from 59, to , between and , songwriters directed their anger at the president. It was later released by a Motown Records subsidiary. King was not the first person to express this view. For decades, Civil Rights groups had struggled with accusations of being unpatriotic and communist, leaving many black artists to tread cautiously.
Following the Tet Offensive, public support for withdrawal from Vietnam increased from 19 to 55 per cent. The horrors of the war were becoming unignorable. A jellied gasoline mixture, it stuck to skin, causing severe burns when on fire. With public support for the war waning, withdrawal became a big issue in the November presidential election. Richard Nixon won the election and soon became the focus of protest.
Three key events raised pressure on Nixon. Each of them inspired records. Four students were killed by the Ohio State National Guard. It was just one of more than 50 songs released about Kent State. Third, in the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret study on the history of the war, commissioned in , was leaked to the New York Times by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg.
By the s, anti-war songs came from a range of backgrounds and perspectives and permeated popular culture. Anti-war sentiment even spread into the traditionally conservative country genre. Anti-war sentiment fuelled a large discography, but so did anti-communist sentiment. Opinion polls showed vast support for presidential policy across the Heartland and Southern states, in areas with ties to agriculture and religion. Patriotic songs supporting the government and troops filled the country charts and radio stations from the JFK to the Nixon eras of the war.
The country group sang:. The US flag was an important symbol in patriotic songs. And, like the flag, previous conflicts were often alluded to as patriotic symbols. But most of them supported Calley. Would the public have been so lenient? But the massacre also became a symbol of an unjust war. It was one of the most graphic images to appear on a Vietnam War record.
As the anti-war movement grew in the late 60s, a large number of records were recorded in support of Nixon. According to the Veteran's Administration, of the 3. The experience is reflected in hundreds of songs. Originally composed in jest, it became one of the most popular patriotic songs. Draft inequality was a major theme. Many songs also focused on the impact of war on those left behind. Each holiday season galvanised sentiment on the home front and over 70 Christmas songs were written about the war.
But not every song about absent soldiers was sentimental. Many artists were not shy about confronting the unethical activities of serving soldiers on furlough. US military involvement in Vietnam was over, but the war continued to reverberate throughout American society. Almost half of the Vietnam War song discography was released in the postwar period. The first wave of songs appeared between the peace agreement and the fall of Saigon. Many American songs of this period focused on returning prisoners of war.
The s saw a revival of interest in the war. Applied to veterans, it referred to feelings of guilt or shame about the war, influenced by the domestic climate they had returned to. We dishonour the memory of 50, young Americans who died. Two prominent themes dominated the new batch of songs. First, the attempt to overcome Vietnam Syndrome; second, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, characterised by shell shock, flashbacks and nostalgia.
The song is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran:. The completion of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall in Washington DC in led to over 30 songs of remembrance as Americans sought to come to terms with the war. Hawks and doves remained, but the names of more than 58, Americans killed became heroes, as sung by Michael J.
But the s was also the decade in which the long-term negative health effects of Agent Orange, a herbicide used in Vietnam to deprive the North Vietnamese guerrillas of concealment and food, became apparent. Fuelled by anger, a politically conscious anti-Reagan punk movement grew internationally.
Vietnam continued to be compared to other conflicts throughout the s and s. The Vietnam War inspired songs on a scale never seen before, or since, and not just in the US. Performed by men and woman of different ethnicities and nationalities, the astonishing breadth of opinions from all levels of society reveals the changing nature of responses to the war. Aided by the development of the portable tape recorder, General Edward Lansdale captured hundreds of songs in Vietnam on tape, performed by US soldiers, Vietnamese guerrillas and civilians.
These tapes tell the story of a human side of war. A playlist of all the songs mentioned in this article is available here. Skip to main content. Google Tag Manager. Justin Brummer Published 25 September US soldiers gather around a guitar player during Operation Yellowstone, 18 January Miscellanies is our free weekly long read.
Sign up here and get it in your inbox. Is it very far away? I want to see my daddy Will you take me there today? President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, 10 August Related Articles. Vietnam Before The War. More Long Reads. Queen Boudica, A Life in Legend. Get Miscellanies , our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week.