Late 1960s and early 1970s anti-Vietnam war protests, social and political background notes and a short discussion of some of the best rock 'n roll music of the times.
by James K. Sayre
For those of you currently in your teens, your twenties, your thirties or your forties, you are probably too young remember the late 1960s scene. First, try to imagine a world without personal computers, cell phones, Email, the Internet, VCRs, CDs or 24-hour satellite television news. For the Vietnam War, substitute the current U. S. invasion and imperial occupation of Iraq. So let us harken back to those days of yore, when we had ditto machines and mimeograph machines to produce our leaflets. Background sketch
Note: if you are curious about the childhood and adolescence background of someone who became a big anti-war protestor, please check out the stories at: Memory lane notes and links: : memory lane.
Beatnik and Bohemian roots
The beatnik and bohemian roots of 1960s protest, activism and social change: there has always been a continuous thread of alternative culture in America. From some of the earliest settlers from England and Europe who moved to the wilderness of North America in search of religious and social freedom to the solitary writings, living and protests of Ralph Waldo Emerson in the mid-19th century to the Dada art movements in the 1920s and the social and political protests during the Great Depression of the 1930s, a small but vibrant community of alternative culture has always existed. This evolved into the Bohemian movements and then the Beatniks of the 1950s. These activities typically flourished in some of the larger cities and around large universities, mostly on the east and west coasts of United States. : Beatnik and bohemian roots
The War in Vietnam:
America was deeply involved with waging a neo-colonial war of imperialism in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The French colonialists had finally withdrawn from Vietnam in 1956 after occuping the country for about a century, but the arrogant Americans decided that they had to fight "international communism" although they were unwilling to directly attack the two large communist powers, Red China and the Soviet Union. This American war of aggression was not supported by the British, the French or any other European governments. Lyndon Baines Johnson, who became President after the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, initiated a strong escalation of the American involvement in Vietnam in 1965. These actions were approved by almost every U. S. Senator after the Johnson Administration's phony reports of North Vietnamese ships firing upon U. S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of Vietnam. Things went downhill rapidly after that. : The war in Vietnam
Anti-Vietnam War Protests:
Protests against the brutality and stupidity of the war in Vietnam, started slowly, beginning in Berkeley, California in 1965. By 1968, there were massive anti-Vietnam war marches, protests, sit-ins and student strikes in major cities and on college and university campuses across the country. A turning point was in on May 4, 1970, when four peaceful student demonstrators at Kent State University in Ohio were murdered by Ohio National Guardsmen during a noon-time campus anti-war rally. Nine other students were injured by being shot by Ohio National Guardsmen on May 4th. After that, things got very nasty across the country as thousands of students took to the streets, outraged at the shedding of blood in America by government agents. Anti-war protests became increasingly violent in tone; some college campuses became virtual war zones, with arson and bombings as well as low-level vandalism, such as spray-painting and window-breaking. In 1974, the last American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and the South Vietnamese puppet regime soon collapsed and the Vietnamese were finally independent of foreign colonial occupation. The anti-Vietnam war protests also ended that year, naturally, but soon there were other looming national problems to investigate and protest, such as the continued ravishing of our natural environment. : Protests against the war in Vietnam
Know your Trustees: the corporate connections of the Board of Trustees of Stanford University. : Know Your Trustees
The draft was used by the United States government to force young adult men into uniform to fight the raging war on Vietnam. However, among many college age men and among some young working men, there was a growing resistance to the draft and in particular to serving in the Vietnam War theater of operations. Resistance at first was scattered, but as the war heated up and as anti-war protests grew more organized in the middle of the 1960s, a formal anti-draft movement called, The Resistance, made its appearance. There were mass anti-draft rallies on the campuses of many of the more elite colleges and Universities including Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, UCLA, Harvard University, Columbia University and University of Michigan. Draft cards, which were official documents issued by the Selective Service System, an agency of the U. S. government, were burned en masse at these public rallies. It was excellent political theater, although there probably were only a few thousand participants across the country. Some of the draft resisters were charged, convicted and sentenced to prisons of up to five years, although most received lighter sentences. Most draft resisters were never even charged with any crime, for a wide variety of reasons. : The draft
Political Buttons: Political buttons from the anti-Vietnam war protests and the hippie days in the late 1960s.
Part and parcel with anti-war marches, petitions, picket signs, were the small round colorful political buttons. "Make Love, Not War" (originally made by the Sexual Freedom League in Berkeley, CA), "Get out of Vietnam." "End the War." "Yankee, Come Home" (from the Stanford Committee for Peace in Vietnam) and many others. Major protest marches had their own buttons. The attempted levitation of the Pentagon demonstration yielded a button, "The Pentagon is Rising" with a black Pentagon, with an orange background (the protest was staged on October 21st).
There also were political buttons advocating social progress, such as "Legalize Abortion" (abortion was illegal in the good ole USofA in the 1960s). Sexual freedom advocates also made some vaguely off-color or ambiguous buttons, such as "If it moves, fondle it," "Pills, Please" and "unbutton."
The most famous button was the peace symbol, which came from the British anti-nuclear bomb protests in the 1950s and which was semaphore for N (nuclear) + D (disarmament).
One of my favorites, was: "U. S. out of North America," an all inclusive thought. . : Political Buttons
Part and parcel with the growing anti-Vietnam war protests in the 1960s was a growing general disillusionment with American middle class material progress, with the "keeping up with the Jones mentality" and the general emptiness of American life. As alienated kids protested, grew their hair and smoked their pot, they began to reorder their lives and some of them "dropped out" of school and traditional careers to pursue different styles of living. These included more sexual freedom, less work, less ambition, and more being stoned or "high," more meditation and thoughtfulness, more bicycle riding, more walking and more hitch-hiking. (Of course, someone had to be driving that VW van that gave you that groovy free ride, but no worries, mate!). These kids and young adults became known as "hippies." Of course, no one really knew what a "hippie" really was, so you just smiled when someone asked you if you were a "hippie." Many of the hippies were ostensibly apolitical or nonpolitical; some moved to the country and built and lived in teepees, old farm houses or even built their own new-style dome homes. Geodesic domes were all the rage in the early 1970s as an alternative to the traditional four-cornered house. : hippies
You may want to check out an interesting web site called hippy.com link: www.hippy.com
When hippies first made their appearance in the middle of the 1960s, they expressed themselves in many different ways: long hair, colorful clothes and jewelry of all sorts. The traditional cotton blue jeans were patched and decorated with embroidery. Cotton T-shirts were silkscreened with protest slogans or fanciful designs. The more adventuresome did their own resist tie-dyeing and resist batiking of fabrics and T-shirts. Loose over-shirts came into style. There were several sources of inspiration for the hippies new clothing styles: the American Indian (now called "Native Americans"), the frontiersman and pioneers with their buckskin, fringed jackets and heavy leather belts, the English and European Renaissance with a revival of the Pleasure Fairs and the Dickens festivals, along with velvet shirts (I sewed myself several in my day). : hippie clothes
Hippie personal decorations, home and room decorations:
Hippie personal decorations were wide ranging, from rings (Ringo Starr of the Beatles rock band wore rings on many of his fingers), bracelets, headbands (to hold that long hair in place), necklaces, woolen belts woven on small inkle looms, bells and even wearing earrings in pierced earlobes. Hippie home and room decorations included the new psychedelic rock concert posters, and black light posters. Of course, there was the ever-present scent from burning incense and from essential oils, often imported from India. : hippie decorations
Yippees were few in number, but very visible, with colorful clothes and banners at peace demonstrations. The name "yippee" was invented I believe, by one Abbie Hoffman, who was a political youth leader against the Vietnam War and the establishment political support of that war. He coined the term "Yippee" as short for members of his "Youth International Party." A Yippee was a joyful shouting protesting anti-war hippie, or at least he was until he got tired or bored or depressed or old. : Yippees
Part of the hippie and protest movement wanted healthier more organic food to eat, not the processed manufactured TV-dinner-style foods that many Americans had come to enjoy in the 1950s and 1960s. Vegetarianism gained a new foothold in America. The notion of growing food organically (without any artificial chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or other poisons) became more popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. : organic food
The Civil Rights movement and folk singers:
In the United States, the black civil rights movement had slowly been picking up steam in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, with a series of sit-in demonstrations, pickets and boycotts. Change was in the air. Folk singers such as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were leading and supporting this growing movement. : Civil rights and folk singers
Mainstream media/alternative media:
The newspapers and television stations were generally supportive of the growing Civil Rights movement. On the other hand, they were also very supportive of President Lyndon Johnson's rapidly escalating commitments of men and material into the Vietnam War. This war support gave rise to the counterculture's "underground" small weekly newspapers, which sprouted up in most major American cities and in many college communities as well. These ranged from The Berkeley Barb in Berkeley, California to the Village Voice in New York City. : Mainstream media
Traditional establishment drugs of choice included coffee and tea (caffeine), tobacco (nicotine) and beer, wine and hard liquor (alcohol). The new counterculture hippie movement began (or continued the Beats use of) marijuana (from the sticky resin formed on the female flower buds of Cannabis sativa or hemp plant. Psychedelic drugs were also tried by some including mescaline, psilocybin and LSD. : drugs
If you care to, you can check out some of the childhood memories that laid the foundations for this anti-war protester at: Memory lane notes and links: : memory lane.
A Sampler of Rock 'n Roll Music.of the late 1960s:
(Note: album names are in italics and song names are in "Quotes").
The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George and Ringo Starr) - the Beatles were the heart of the creative English rock and pop music scene in the late 1960s.
The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, et al) - began in the early 1960s by doing covers of traditional Black American southern rhythm and blues songs; they rapidly evolved into a world famous rock band and wrote their own great original material. Still playing some forty years later.
The Pink Floyd - amazing guitar, bass and keyboard music. Produced many great albums including The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets. Songs included "See Emily Play," "Astronomy Dominé," "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun."
Cream - brilliant driving rock band that featured Eric Clapton on guitar, Jack Bruce on bass and Ginger Baker on drums. Three men that could really bring down the house. Their double album, Wheels of Fire, featured such songs as "White Room," "Down at the Crossroads" and "Toad."
Bonzo Dog Doh Dah Band - an obscure art/weirdo band that did some great covers of songs of others and also created some great music of their own. Their Tapoles album features such bizarre satirical songs such as "Shirt,'"Tubas in the Moonlight," "Ali-Baba's Camel," and "Mr. Apollo." the Keynsham album featured "You Done My Brain In," "We Were Wrong," and "Mr. Slater's Parrot." Some Bonzo band members worked in the alternative television group Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Bob Dylan - began in the early 1960s as a folk/protest singer; but in the mid 60s he switched into rock, much to the horror of some of his many "folkie" fans. He wrote, played and sang some truly amazing music and become one of the great influences of the age.
The Grateful Dead led by Jerry Garcia. Originally formed as the Warlocks in Palo Alto, California, in the early 60s. By the mid 60s they had moved to San Francisco, California, and had become the Grateful Dead. They had an original soaring beautiful kind of rock music, and had fans all over the Western world. They soon developed a hippie camp following, folks that followed their concert tours and whose young lives centered around dancing to their music.
The Doors (featuring the singing of Jim Morrison) - their first album, The Doors, was and still is truly amazing. It featured such songs as "Break on Through," "Soul Kitchen," "Light my Fire" and "The End."
Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention - from Los Angeles (LA), California - Frank Zappa was an oddity in the world of rock 'n roll: he was a serious musician with a strong background in classical music and jazz. Created much bizarre and interesting music, heavy on social and political satire. Later, became simply The Mothers. Some albums include Freak Out, Absolutely Free, Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets.
Jimi Hendrix Experience (featuring (naturally) Jimi Hendrix) - a superb electric guitar player and musician. Burned out rapidly on early fame. Albums included Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. Check out the classic Hendrix versions of the "Star-spangled Banner."
Jefferson Airplane - one of the early San Francisco bands. Check out their brilliant Surrealistic Pillow album with the "White Rabbit" song.
Butterfield Blues Band - Their album, East-West features the great long song, "East-West". You haven't lived until you've heard it.
The Thirteenth Floor Elevators - a brief and brilliant psychedelic band from Texas. Must be heard to be believed. Songs on their The Thirteenth Floor Elevators album included "You Don't Know How Young You Are," "Reverberation" and "Don't Fall Down."
The Velvet Underground (featuring Lou Reed). a brilliant edgy New York City band. "I'm Waiting for my Man" First album featured Nico, a girl singer and was produced by Andy Warhol, the pop-art diva.
The Fugs - another very gritty New York City group of beat poets, hipsters and social malcontents. Brilliant songs. "Kill for Peace" "River of Shit" and "Slum Goddess." The latter song gave rise to picture photos of attractive, young "Slum goddesses" in the weekly East Village Other, New York City's leading alternative newspaper.
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Web page last updated on 8 August 2008.