How did the poets and the songwriters of the 1960’s react to the Vietnam War
Between 1965 to 1968 the USA sent 500 000 thousand troops into Vietnam and 50 000 of them would not return and she would lose the war; the only one she has ever lost. There was outcry from amongst the world and this would turn from a short war into a ten year battle against the Viet Cong lead by Ho Chi Minh. Many people called for the war to end but some poets and songwriters responded in their own ways. In their poetry and songs they slandered the American administration, they singled out the harshness of the war and they showed the brutality and racism of the war.
In this essay I hope to only touch the surface of the feelings and the emotions of the poets and songwriters and try to determine their views to the Vietnam War. Born in the USA was written by Bruce Springsteen as a result of the Vietnam War, the lyrics to Born in the USA are clearly anti-Vietnam War, but many Americans have been fooled by the upbeat tune and Springsteen’s delivery to thinking that they are pro-USA when they are clearly not. The song is also set to a highly militaristic drum beat, which reminds you of the hundreds of thousands of solders whom went into Vietnam marching to the long and dark road of defeat.
The song leads you to believe that the USA is ‘not a good place’, as ‘born in a dead man’s town’, is not a positive opening statement suggesting that the USA is a place with no hope. When he is born he has no hope or ‘the first kick’ he ‘took was when’ he first ‘hit the ground’ suggesting that when he was born he was kicked ferociously, maybe hinting that he is always going to be in a war, and his life will always be violent.
But he will ‘end up like a dog that’s been beat too much’ and cower away from people. Born in the USA’ is used so many times thus suggests that the USA can be the only country in the world that could do such a thing as waging war on an ‘innocent’ country. It can also suggest that Americans are the biggest and best in the world, but they always seem to get themselves into trouble. ‘Got into a little hometown jam’ could suggest that he got into a petty robbery or statutory rape, ‘so they put a rifle in my hand’ again this suggests warmongering as criminals are offered the chance to go and fight for their country and do a great honour, have a holiday and kill a few ‘commies’ in the process, when they have committed a crime.
The alternative was to go to jail; so many criminals believed the government and decided in favour of going to war. But the irony of this is that they would fall foul of the American Administration. Springsteen’s use of ‘yellow man’ again shows the racism in the USA, and in the minds of all Americans. Racism was rife in the 1960’s in the USA; the blacks were still looked upon as dirt and the Klu-Klux Clan gangs still operated by lynching blacks in the dead of night.
After the war he ‘came home to the refinery’ before he got into his little ‘hometown jam’ he used to work in the local oil refinery and when he returns from his 365 days of service he goes back to the refinery. With the words ‘son if it was up to me’ the hiring man is saying get lost. Why should he give him the job he had before back to him, a younger, better trained, man has taken the job; someone who didn’t get into a hometown jam. Even if he wanted him back he couldn’t just bend the rules just for him.
They had also lost a very unpopular war, so people would not be sympathetic to the veterans of the war. He had expected a ‘hero’s welcome’ but in fact he got nothing. ‘He had a woman he loved in Saigon’ so it wasn’t all bad for the soldiers, many of them found Vietnamese women and some even had babies, ‘I got a picture of him in her arms now’ if the women couldn’t get hold of a US citizenship, then the babies would be abandoned or be killed and then the woman would probably have to go into prostitution.
So the Americans weren’t just doing physical damage to the country but were doing a large amount of phychological damage to it as well. ‘Down in the shadow of the penitentiary’ he had no hope before and he will never have any hope in life. The threat of ‘three strikes and out was also looming over his head in the sense of the ‘shadow of the penitentiary,’ two more ‘mistakes’ then he certain to spend the rest of his life in jail without parole. ‘Ten years burning down the road…
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go’ They spent ten years and billions of dollars and achieved ‘notta thing’ to quote an American serviceman returning back to the USA from Vietnam. He has nowhere to go and the, USA has nowhere to go; they can only go lower and lower. All Along the Watchtower was written by Bob Dylan and later covered by Jimi Hendrix in the 60s. Jimi served in the 101st airborne ‘The CAV’ in the Vietnam War.
After serving in the Vietnam War Jimi became an idol for the black GI’s who where serving their 365 days. Say, that Jimi Hendrix is my main man, he has certainly got his shit together! ‘ this quotation was taken from Micheal Herr’s Dispatches and comes from a black sergeant. ‘There must be some way out of here,’ the soldiers in the war were a long way from home and they were in a totally different climate and country. ‘I can’t get no relief’ the solders were completely suffering in Vietnam, the only way they could get some relief from the war was to use the opium in their medical kits, thus many of the solders whom served in the Vietnam War went back to the USA addicted to opium.
The solders gave themselves nick names and this took away some of the boundaries and harshness of the Vietnam War, nick names included ‘joker’ and ‘thief’. These GIs ‘feel that life is but a joke’ if they cannot take life the next best thing that they can do is to treat life as a joke. ‘Businessmen, they drink’ his ‘wine’ this is a clever synonym as this can symbolise the businessmen drinking the dead soldiers’ blood, and hence making money out of the solders, by supplying them with rations and they are also making money out of the government as they need weapons.
The businessmen obviously want the war to go on for as long as possible as they will want to make as much money as possible from this short ‘money making opportunity’. ‘None of them along the line know what any of its is worth’ this can symbolise the fact that the ‘fat cats’ who are making money out of them by selling them all the ‘amenities of war’ do not know what the money they are making is worth. Thousands upon thousands of American solders are being killed and all that the businessmen can think about is making money, ‘money can’t buy life and happiness, but peace can! `Watchtower’ what is a watchtower? ‘An observation tower on which a guard or lookout is stationed to keep watch, as for enemies, for forest fires, or over prisoners. ‘ So says the Oxford Dictionary. This reminds me of the medieval ages and the carnage of the wars and battles that took place on those times. This was thought to have ended many years ago and now it is back, all thanks to ‘helpful’ America. Surf, Sea, Sun, Sex, Drugs and Sand. What is this? This is the mentality of the American soldiers to the Vietnam War, it was just like a holiday.
The commies are just useless ‘things’ and they are there to be blown up. The tune that Zapping the Cong is set to I Get Around by the Beach Boys was the code that they lived by. The Americans think that they are the best and everything they do is correct and is for the good of the world, for example blowing up helpless children. But the poet, Adrian Mitchell certainly thinks differently, his perception of the American solders is that they are a mindless warmongers and they think they are the best and when they get something wrong they just say sorry, ‘I’m really rocking the delta … ot ’em crawling for shelter … but I always say sorry’.
The Americans went into Vietnam completely fleeced by their own administration, ‘and the president told’ him ‘it wouldn’t take long’. This is a very racist piece of poetry as it hints that the we (the Americans) are the biggest and the best and all of Asia is second rate, so they are ‘zapping the cong back where they belong’ he believes that they are animals and he is scaring them back into their holes. ‘Hide you yellow asses’ again highlights the racism of the USA in the 1960s. Had a bomb in my ‘copter’ he is almost treating the war as an extension to video games, in the 1960’s ‘space invaders’ had just come out and they saw Vietnam as an extension of the game. American terms for video games such a ‘burning like toast,’ and ‘then I got to be zooming’ ”cause’ he is ‘zapping the cong’ this again proves that the solders were treating the war as a game.
The bomb ‘called Linda B’ again underlines the ‘fun ness’ that the Americans had towards the war. Mess of VC’ suggest again they have been brain washed into thinking that the VC (Viet Cong) were ‘bad people’. ‘But’ he ‘always say sorry’ this is written in a sarcastic tone and shows the inhumanity of the Americans. The Americans were guilty many a time of ‘friendly fire’ but they will ‘always say sorry’ ‘Been crapping jelly petrol’ refers to the horrendous ‘situation’ that the poor little girl (Lin Phuc)got into in the late 60s because the Americans ‘accidentally’ dropped Napalm onto her village, even though they knew it was not a VC village.
They were ‘spreading their jelly’ and ‘screwing all Asia’ in a very sexually charged stanza full of suggestion, that not only are they dropping jelly petrol (Napalm) but they are also spreading their ‘human jelly’ or ‘semen,’ across all Asia. The fact that ‘he was a Quaker’ sums up the poem Norman Morrison. Quakers believe in non-violence and if they do commit any crime they shall not go up to heaven, and that is where every Quaker wants to end up eventually and, not spend an eternity in hell.
So ‘on November 2nd 1965’ this is when the Americans were just starting to get fully involved in the Vietnam War, America was and still is ‘multi coloured’ country but was it multi minded? America in the 60’s was a very racist country and it still is. America is a very ‘beautiful’ country of landscapes, mountains and snow, but the American people are not very emotionally ‘beautiful’. Mitchell is stating that the whole of America is not a nice place, and this hits you plain and simple; no maybes no buts, just ‘terrible’.
The ‘Pentagon’ is very important to the USA that is why it was targeted in the September 11th attacks of 2001. The Pentagon houses the CIA and many other homeland security offices, and military intelligence offices, this was almost a wake up call for the Americans as this was what they were doing to girls like Lin Phuc. ‘In the newsreels’ of the Vietnam War refers to it as the first ever war when the news cameras really got a close up view of a war in action, which meant that any American with a TV could witness the killings of American soldiers in their own living rooms.
The American people only saw the American soldiers being blown up, but they never saw any of the poor Vietnamese being killed. The people in Vietnam whom died never had their names recorded but in America it was very different for the dead American soldiers. Morrison’s ‘three children survive the best they can’ is a very powerful statement as not only is he sacrificing his eternal place in paradise but he will also put his family through hell and high water as they will have to survive without him.
Whereas people ‘were’ being set on fire and they had, no choice, they had Napalm dropped onto their village and had no choice but to burn. ‘Where nobody could suggests that as no one can see the Vietnamese people burning but in Washington people could see Norman Morrison burning. The layout of the poem leads you to think that someone in Vietnam is burning simultaneously to Norman Morrison, but in totally different situations. ‘This is what he did’ this is almost saying to you, no this is not in Vietnam; we haven’t ‘accidentally’ dropped Napalm on some village again. This is an American and he is burning before our very own eyes.
The fact that he actually decided to set himself on fire by choice will stun a lot of people, ‘he poured petrol over himself’ then ‘he burned’ and ‘he suffered’ is a stark reminder that he had the choice of life and death whereas people like Lin Phuc didn’t. This also relates to the fact that news reporters were allowed to see the war first hand, and this is how they would send their reports back, in condensed form. This set of lines smacks me in the face, plain and simple English. There are no buts, no maybe it was an accident, he had chosen to die and he had chosen to do it there and then.
He simply burned away clothes’ and ‘his passport’ and ‘his pink tainted skin’ these are the things that make him American and with out these he might as well be Vietnamese, as you can’t tell the difference between an American and a Vietnamese whom have both been burning for a long time, ‘and thus he became Vietnamese’ In To whom it may concern the character was ‘run over by the truth one day’ on this day, the truth finally caught up with him. He could have heard that the war was not going well and that American soldiers were dropping like flies.
Or maybe he had a son who was serving in Vietnam, who had been killed or severely injured and he had finally found out that the Americans were having a hard time and it was not going like clockwork. They had only sent out ‘advisors’ 50 000 of them, and suddenly he wakes up to the truth one day; body bags, death, chaos soldiers being blown up. He had been fleeced by his own administration like Judas had sold Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of gold.
‘Ever since the accident’ this could suggest that since the accident, where Lin Phuc had been burnt he had been solemn and regretful for his countries actions. Heard the alarm clock screaming with pain’ the poor little girl (Lin Phuc) who was hit by Napalm, screaming as she was in the world famous picture of her running away from the disaster, and her skin being burnt off. ‘Every time I shut my eyes I see flames’ this relates to the image of Napalm burning with its destructive power and killing and maiming all those in its way. ‘Made a marble phonebook and I carved all the names’ this is almost turning the fact that American soldiers died into a black joke. As in phonebooks you get the address and telephone number, but in this case you get their date of death and time and cause.
But in reality it is just a long black marble memorial with 50 000 names carved on. ‘They’re only dropping peppermints and daisy chains’ no they are not dropping Napalm bombs but daisy chains and its like the hippy movement and ‘peace man. ‘ We are only showing them peace and love, but in a different form. ‘You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,’ and ‘you take a human body and you twist it all about’ this is set to the tune of the hockey cokey this is usually a cheery dance, for weddings and parties. So the American fighter pilots are almost treating the war like a joke.
After hearing all of the truth he no longer wants to be mobile, he might as well be dead, if this really is the truth. ‘So scrub my skin with women’ this refers to touch. ‘Chain my tongue with whisky’ this refers to taste. ‘Stuff my nose with garlic’ this refers to smell and the pain that stuffing a whole head of garlic not just a clove up your nose will cause. But he will not feel this as he has ‘scrubbed’ his ‘skin with women’ and no longer can feel. ‘Coat my eyes with butter’ this refers to sight. ‘Fill my ears with silver’ refers to hearing. Stick my legs in plaster’ he finally will be immobile and then finally ‘tell me lies about Vietnam. ‘
Then he cannot and will not do anything about and it, even if he feels guilty. Therefore it is clear that much of not all, if the poetry and songs about the Vietnam War were very negative. This is because the whole of the world was against the Vietnam War and this how they chose to put their message across to people. The clever synonyms, references and the use of the English language gives us such a deep insight into the emotions and feelings of the poets and songwriters into the Vietnam War.