Seven presidents were involved with decisions that impacted America’s presence in Vietnam: Truman, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. Harry Truman initially supported France’s dispute with communist leader Ho Chi Min in the early 1950’s. During the Eisenhower and Kennedy terms America’s presence increased, politically, economically and militarily.The OSS, now the CIA, was also deeply involved with covert intelligence operations as early as 1944, not only in Vietnam but in neighbouring countries.
By 1959 Vietnam was divided into North and South and in July of that same year 2 American soldiers died after a Viet Cong attack in Bien Hoa. Continued unrest within Vietnam escalated into revolts against the repressive regime and the highly publicised self-immolations of Buddhist monks, their deaths also protests against the strict regime . In November of 1963 a military coup toppled president Ngo Dinh Diem’s government and the next day he and his brother were assassinated. Events were leading inexorably to full scale war and by August of 1964, after the North Vietnamese attacked an American destroyer, Congress gave Lyndon Johnson carte blanche authority to initiate troop movements into Vietnam.
It wasn’t until Johnson began his massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam in 1965 that the Antiwar Movement actually found its roots and dug in. Words like “counter culture”, "establishment”, “nonviolence”, “pacification”, “draft-dodger”, “free love”, “Kent State”, and “Woodstock” were added to the American vocabulary. It was the beginning of the hippie generation, the sexual revolution and the drug culture. The country’s youth, the ones dying in the line fire, began demanding answers to America’s high profile presence in Vietnam. They wanted to know why peace talks were organized and continually failed. They wanted to know what they were fighting for. Extensive media coverage brought the violent and bloody guerrilla war home each night to every American living room. People realised that the glowing reviews of the war effort their government had been releasing were “sanitised” and far from the truth. Even congressional senators began questioning Vietnam policies. Through it all the bombings continued and more and more of America’s young GI’s came home in body bags.
Once the draft was introduced young people on college and university campuses all around the country began to organise protests against the war. Teach-ins and student organizations like the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) held rallies and marches, the first of which happened in Washington in April of 1965. Over the next 2 years the anti-war movement snow balled. Activists, celebrities and musicians like Abbie Hoffmann, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Jane Fonda, Jefferson Airplane, and countless others took up the Anti-war cause and waved Anti-war banners. Their speeches and their music reflected the anger and hopelessness that Americans felt over the Vietnam war. Even the GI’s stationed overseas began supporting the Anti-war movement in whatever capacity they could, from wearing peace symbols to refusing to obey orders.
By 1967 America was mired in its own urban problems. As the bombings and body count in Vietnam continued to escalate so did civil unrest. 100,000 Anti-war protesters gathered in New York and thousands more in San Francisco. There were urban riots in Detroit. Johnson’s support was falling drastically on all fronts. Anti-war rallies, speeches, demonstrations and concerts continued being organized all over the country. There was a backlash against all that was military. Soldiers returning home from the war were no longer regarded as heroes but as “baby killers”. Young men sought to evade the draft by being conscientous objectors or leaving for Canada. North Vietnam’s bloody TET Offensive of 1968 and the resultant horrendous casualties the Americans suffered eroded the situation at home even further.The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy also sparked racial tension and unrest. Wisely Lyndon Johnson did not seek re-election.
Richard Nixon’s number one campaign promise to Americans was that he’d end the war with “Vietnamization”, or systematic troop withdrawals. Yet the American presence in Vietnam remained high and casualties mounted, as did the cost of running the war effort. Taxpayers were paying 25 billion dollars per year to finance a conflict no one believed in anymore. The Woodstock concert brought 500,000 together from across North America in a non-violent protest against the war. Nixon’s plan to attack communist supply locations in Cambodia failed and set off another round of protests. The Kent State student protest in May of 1970 turned deadly when National Guardsman fired into crowds, killing 4 students and injuring dozens more. Students all across the country became enraged and over the next few days campuses all over the US came to a virtual standstill.
As the year drew to a close Nixon’s plans to end the Vietnam war had not been realized. American citizens were not impressed, however, after Kent State Anti-war activism seemed to wane. Yet the people still demanded to know why their country was involved in a war where a resolution seemed impossible. 1971 also saw the Mylai massacre come to light, an atrocity committed by American soldiers that shocked the world and gained huge media attention. Another round of peace talks were organized on the heels of this controversy but again all attempts to end the fighting in Vietnam failed.
Bombings raids on North Vietnam were re-escalated in the spring of 1972, after peace talks headed by Henry Kissinger once again collapsed. The cities of Hanoi and Haiphong were subjected to night raids by American B-52 bombers that was unprecedented and that left the world in shock. Peace talks resumed in Paris and by the end of January, 1973, a pact had been signed by the United States, South and North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. By March all American troops were pulled out of the country and systematic release of prisoners of war on both sides was initiated. Yet by the time the Watergate scandal came to light and ruined Nixon’s presidency at the close of 1974, Communist forces had overrun Saigon. Within a few short months most of Indochina would fall into Communist hands. The Anti-war movement’s mantra of “what are we fighting for” seemed eerily prophetic.
Twenty five years have passed since the end of the Vietnam war. During that time Americans and the world learned more about the history of the conflict and why it all began in the first place. Many agree that the Anti-war movement had significant impact on the length and perhaps even the outcome of the Vietnam war. Others might disagree saying that the massive protests were part of an eroding and troubled society. One thing is certain however – the Anti-war movement left an everlasting mark on an entire generation and its country.
Today it is once again Remembrance Day, November 11th, 11:00am. For two short minutes we will be asked to put down our tools and pay a silent homage to those who fought for our freedoms. Most of us do not remember the sacrifices our fathers and their father made and how brave they must have been. I know my father joined at the age of 17 and spent 2 years as a tail gunner on a RAF Lancaster. I also know that all but one of my uncles served in various services and that 2 remained in Europe forever. My grandfathers both served in the 1st World War and my mother’s father lost 2 of his brothers at Vimy Ridge. My own father served for 25 years in the Canadian Air Force and for 4 long years worked as a bomb disposal expert on the Maginot Line. In many ways he never came back from the war.
To put it in perspective, over 15 million people were either killed in the 1st war and over 62 million died in the 2nd war. Germany lost over 10% of its entire population, Poland over 16% and Russia over 13%. In Vietnam, 58,000 US Soldier, 552 Australians, 1,000 ROK and 1.3 million North & South Vietnam soldiers were killed. Another 2 to 4 million civilians were also killed.
To remember my father, grandfathers and all those others who fought so bravely I have assembled a large collection of music that commemorates Ancient wars, the world wars, Vietnam and the future wars. This is not done to glorify war but to remember the brave men and women who stand watch each and every day so we can be free.
I have also included John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” and some of the history behind how the poppy became the symbol of remembrance, along with one other poem.
This post is broken down into the following categories:
The post consists of 8 RS files and within each you will find artists you have never heard of or familiar artists who have published music directly related to remembrance or conflict. Hope you enjoy this posts(s)
History and/or information on most of the music is included below.
In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Blowin' In The Wind - Bob Dylan
(Dylan wrote this in about 10 minutes one afternoon. He put words to the melody of an old slave song called "No More Auction Block," which he might have learned from Carter family records. In the evening, Dylan took the song to the nightclub Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village, where he was due to play a set. Before playing it, he announced, "This here ain't no protest song or anything like that, 'cause I don't write no protest songs." During this first performance, Dylan couldn't read some of his own handwriting and made up some of the lyrics as he went along. In the US, this was a #2 hit for Peter, Paul & Mary in 1963. Dylan was an obscure Folk singer at the time and for many people this was their first exposure to his music.)
Country Joe & the Fish - I Feel Like I'm Fixin To Die
(From Country Joe himself: I wrote "Fixin’ To Die Rag" in summer of 1965 after I had been discharged from the US Navy for several years. It just popped into my head one day and I finished it in about 30 minutes. I did not have a conscious purpose in mind although I had been working on another song about the Vietnam War called "Who Am I?" for several days so I had the war on my mind. The "Who Am I?" song was part of a play I was writing songs for titled Change Over, written by Fred Hayden and directed by Nina Serrano. It was performed twice, once on the University of California Berkeley campus and once on the San Francisco State College campus. 1965 was the year that the Vietnam War became big news and a big protest issue with students.)
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young – Ohio
(This is about the events of May 4, 1970, when the US National Guard shot 4 unarmed students at Kent State University in Ohio. Neil Young wrote this shortly after seeing a news report on the tragedy. It was released 10 days after the shootings. The Kent State shootings had a profound effect on some of the students who later became prominent musicians. Chrissie Hynde was a student at the time, and eventually formed The Pretenders. Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale were also on campus, and after the shootings, they developed the band Devo based on the concept of "De-Evolution," meaning the human race was regressing. Said Casale, "It refocused me entirely. I don't think I would have done Devo without it. It was the deciding factor that made me live and breathe this idea and make it happen. In Chrissie Hynde's case, I'm sure it was a very powerful single event that was traumatic enough to form her sensibility and account for a lot of her anger." Mothersbaugh added, "It was the first time I'd heard a song about something I'd been a participant in. It effected us. It was part of our life.")
Johnny’s Gone to the War - Peter Krug
(This song was on the b-side of the 1st album released by Country Joe & The Fish and as a result became a well know anti-war song.)
Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream - Joan Baez
(Live version of one of here earliest protest songs. Beautifully sung. In 1966, Joan Baez stood in the fields alongside Cesar Chavez and migrant farm workers striking for fair wages, and opposed capital punishment at San Quentin during a Christmas vigil. The following year she turned her attention to the draft resistance movement. As the war in Vietnam escalated in the late '60s and early '70s, she traveled to Hanoi with the U.S.-based Liaison Committee and helped establish Amnesty International on the West Coast.)
Nineteen - Paul Hardcastle
(The title refers to the average age of US soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war. The song is made up of American commentators and soldiers along with a female chorus talking about the Vietnam war. The vocals play over an electronic rhythm. Worldwide, this was a huge hit. It was #1 in 13 countries and won an Ivor Novello award for the best selling single of 1985.)
Leaving on a Jet Plane - Peter Paul & Mary
(John Denver wrote this. It became the biggest hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, and also their last. First recorded in 1967, this was not released until 1969. To quote one of their fans;” was one of those "kids" who flew off to Vietnam in the sixties. Yes, that is also how I feel about it. At airports all over the country, parents, friends, and sweethearts could be seen hugging the departing uniformed "kids", and some "not so kids". Older military people were among all the departing. They had been there before,..but that didn't make their departure any easier.”)
Where Have All The Flowers Gone - Peter Paul & Mary
(Pete Seeger wrote this as a call for peace. He was inspired by Mikhail Sholokhov's novel And Quiet Flows the Don. The folk group Peter, Paul And Mary began playing this, and when The Kinston Trio saw them perform it in concert, they recorded it the next day. Movie star Marlene Dietrich recorded a German version. In 1965, Johnny Rivers hit #26 with his cover. Peter, Paul And Mary re-recorded this in 1997 for a public service announcement featuring guns, grieving families, deceased kids, and white coffins. It was renamed "Where Have All The Children Gone," and this ad of the same name was from the US Department of Justice, the National Crime Prevention Council, and the Ad Council.)
The Cruel War - Peter Paul & Mary
(Recorded on their 1st album Their first LP proved they could bring folk music and a substantive message to a large audience. It made the top 10, staying there for an incredible 10 months. It took over three years for it to finally fall out of the Top 100. “If I Had a Hammer” became an anthem for the civil rights movement and the threesome became its musical ambassadors.)
Stop Children What's That Sound - Buffalo Springfield
(Members of the group included Steven Stills and Neil Young. The song was written to protest the Sunset Strip riots and was aimed at both the young soldiers in Vietnam and the kids in the streets rioting.)
Universal Soldier – Donovan
("Universal Soldier" is a song written and recorded by Canadian singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. The song was originally released on Sainte-Marie's debut album It's My Way! in 1964. "Universal Soldier" was not a popular hit at the time of its release, but it did garner attention within the contemporary folk music community. Donovan re-recorded it and it became a worldwide hit for him.)