Ken Burns, the renowned film director whose work includes series on the United States Civil War and Jazz, brings the Vietnam War to PBS this month. For today's college students, the Vietnam war is old time history, but it lives on in American culture as one of the causes that were championed by the young people of the 1960s. Protests against the war became a part of campus life in the 1960s, culminating in the shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University in 1970.
|A protester burns his draft card.|
Even before the sit-ins and marches, musicians protested the war in their songs, starting with singer-songwriters of the folk revival movement:
|Blowin' in the Wind was released on|
"The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan"
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man haveAnother Dylan song is "Where have all the flowers gone?" It includes the question, "Where have all the soldiers gone?" and the answer, "They've gone to graveyards, every one."
Before he can hear people cry
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind
|Country Joe McDonald at Woodstock|
1,2,3... What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn.
The next stop is Vietnam.
And it's 5,6,7 open up the pearly gates
Well there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die!
|E846 .P37 2012|
Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" tells listeners "You're old enough for killing but not for voting." James T. Patterson's history book, The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America, is one of many books that uses the title to portray the turmoil of the age.
|Compact Disc 13145|
"(I'm) Sittin' here on the Group W bench, 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough to join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug."John Lennon started his solo career with a song that has been sung in protest of many events during and after the war. "Give Peace a Chance" is a meditative song that can be vamped many times over for a long sit-in or protest, as when 500,000 sang it in Washington, DC at one of the largest protests in history.
|Compact Disc 2390|
Marvin Gaye, a Motown megastar, used his fame to protest the war in his song, "What's Going On." The Vietnam war grew from a small skirmish through a process known as "escalation." Gaye's song took on this idea directly:
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
|Compact Disc 21567|
The draft disproportionately took young black men, who were not enrolled in college or otherwise protected by privilege. The songs on the CD, "A Soldier's Sad Story: Vietnam Through the Eyes of Black America, 1966-73," played on black radio stations, though some songs crossed over to white audiences. One of the most famous is Edwin Starr's "War," which repeats the lines, "War - what's it good for? Absolutely nothing!"
Compilation albums that include the songs discussed in this blog post:
Compact Disc 7709
Includes Where have all the flowers gone, sung by The Kingston Trio, Eve of destruction, I ain't marchin' anymore by folk singer Phil Ochs, The Fish cheer/I-feel-like-I'm-fixin'-to-die rag, Ball of confusion by The Temptations, War, by Edwin Starr, and Signs, by the Five Man Electrical Band.
Protest: Peace Songs of the Sixties: Compact Disc 1924
The Beat Street Band keeps classic music alive in modern performance. Songs include Peace Train, Blowin' in the Wind, What's Goin' On, and other protest songs of the Vietnam era.
For more information, check out these books:
The Story of the Protest Song: A Reference Guide to the 50 Songs that Changed the 20th Century, by Hardeep Phull: ML 3551.5 .P58 2008 and online
33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, by Dorian Lynsky
ML 3916 .L97 2010
Songs of the Vietnam Conflict, by James Perone
ML 3477 .P45 2001