My new position as the Assistant Education Coordinator at the National Veterans Art Museum has rekindled my interest in researching history and recognizing how relevant this history is in a contemporary context specifically through art. I think it is really important to understand the history of a place before and after war. For example long before 1954 when the Vietnam War started there is a long history of occupation and colonization by China (until the 9th century), France (1858-1940, 1945-1950), and Japan (1940-1945). The long enduring struggle of the Vietnamese people and a sense of ownership and freedom escalated into the Vietnam War.
Here is an incredibly brief look at this escalation: Ho Chi Minh, communist revolutionary leader, declared an independent Vietnam, called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 and helped lead the defeat of the French Union at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.The Vietnam War started in 1954 between Communist Northern Vietnam with the southern allies, the Viet Cong, against anti-communist Southern Vietnam and the United States (who declared it our nation’s mission to end communism). U.S. combat troops were sent in 1965 after assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, first president of Southern Vietnam in 1963. After years of terror and violence, The United States withdrew forces in 1973, only two years prior when North Vietnamese overran the southern capital, Saigon, renaming it Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam unified as a communist country, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, in 1976.
The Vietnam War ended years ago, but still remains as important as critical discussion as it’s influence on American culture from social politics to media and art. I am looking at the timeline of the history of the Vietnam War through the lens of protest music and the new lives that songs can have in different contexts and throughout time. Here is a small sample of songs from the beginning of my research:
>This selection of Vietnam War Protest songs begins with Eve of Destruction (1965) written by P.F. Sloan and performed by Barry McGuire which famously references the age that one could be drafted (18) versus the age that one could vote in the majority of states (21) “You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting”.
>Jim Morrison’s (The Doors) reaction to the Vietnam War with Unknown Soldier (1968) specifically references concerns in the way the public was receiving information about the war through the media. Images coming to the states from over seas from Vietnam were uncensored for the most part and it shocked the American public, causing immense distress. Veterans coming home from war were horribly mistreated from the misunderstanding of the images filtering through the media. Today the American public is “protected” from real images of war. For example this “The War Photo No One Would Publish” an article by Torie Rose DeGhett from The Atlantic, discusses a photograph taken by Kenneth Jareck on February 28, 1991 of an Iraqi soldier burned alive while trying to escape from his truck and how Jareck thought “The image and its anonymous subject might have come to symbolize the Gulf War. Instead, it went unpublished in the United States, not because of military obstruction but because of editorial choices”. What is right and wrong?
>I have also included I-Am-Fixin-To-Die Rag (1967) written by Country Joe McDonald, one of the more famous anti-war protest songs of Vietnam and the video is from an unplanned and impassioned performance of the song at Woodstock in 1969 which was featured with a bouncing ball, singalong in the 1970 documentary, Woodstock.
> War (1969) is a famous Motown song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong as “a blatant anti-Vietnam war protest” originally recorded by The Temptations, however is most known for the powerful performance by Edwin Starr. War remains a popular song today and has also been performed by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Bruce Springsteen.
>I chose to end the sample playlist with Orange Crush (1988) by R.E.M. one of my favorite bands growing up, but only from doing this research is it the first time that I recognized that Michael Stipe, lead singer, was singing about a young man going to Vietnam and Agent Orange, aerial herbicide manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense by the Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. It was been years since the Vietnam War ended, but contemporary artists are referencing what happened because the Vietnam War remains relevant and impactful today.
Please comment below for your thoughts, opinions, and feedback!