Because Vietnam-era musicians seemed to be the only people talking about America’s failure to live up to its democratic principles, many young people viewed them as “their own.”
Protest music took several forms. There was The Beatles’ more tepid “Revolution” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s everyman anthem “Fortunate Son.” Groups like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane excoriated the hypocrisy of American values, shunned commercialism and supported anti-imperial movements across the globe. People chanted lyrics while marching, listened during gatherings like the “Be-In” in San Fransisco’s Golden Gate Park or simply absorbed the meaning and messages of these songs on their own.
Much of the power of Vietnam War-era music came from its connection to the civil rights movement. Young men and women in the black freedom struggle had, since the 1950s, broadened their call for freedom to encompass oppressed people around the world. Artists like Nina Simone, Dylan and Seeger had been chronicling the tragedies of southern violence in their music, so pointing out the wrongs of Vietnam came naturally.
But interestingly, Google searches for “Vietnam Era Music” yield only protest music. This disregards the many who found the protesters abhorrent, who undoubtedly listened to apolitical songs or songs that backed the military.
The Americans that President Richard Nixon dubbed “the silent majority” — those angered by protesters — constituted a huge swath of the country. They had catapulted Nixon to the presidency and fueled a resurgent conservative political movement. The deep-seated resentment felt by so many Americans — against those on college campuses, those who defied military orders, those who questioned American patriotism — cannot be ignored, and they, too, turned to music that provided solace. Merle Haggard said he wrote his 1969 hit song “Okie From Muskogee” to support U.S. soldiers who “were…