• Gabrielle Bossy

Uncle Sam vs. Bob Dylan: Vietnam Protest Music of the 1960s

If necessity is the mother of invention, 1960s youth had a need to be heard. Through art, bread and puppet protests, sit-ins and speeches, youth all around the world shared their voice. They shared thoughts on fertility freedoms, civil rights, government sanctions and of course, The Vietnam War. In the streets, the drafted burnt their cards in groups and behind closed doors they swallowed cotton balls to dodge the so-called “duty”. Within this core of angry youth, a new era of music dawned on the world. Like no other time in history, artists began singing about their fervent hatred for war.


A photograph of the first draft card publicly burnt.







One of the most famous songs of this decade was played (and shouted) by Country Joe McDonald and the Fish in their Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag. [1] This song alone attacked the American Army, Wall Street and even put some responsibility on parents and the drafted alike that saw the war as a patriotic duty. Using satirical lyrics, Country Joe and the Fish made a statement about the silly nature of the decision to go to war. Pretty much every line in this song spread controversy so I picked one of my favourites to share:


“Well come on Wall Street, don’t move slow. Why man, this is war au-go-go. There’s plenty good money to be made by supplying the army with the tools of the trade. Just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb, they drop it on the Viet Cong.”



Then there was Bob Dylan. How could I ever discuss politically significant music without mentioning the lyrical genius that is Dylan? Masters of War, With God on Our Side, and Times They are a Changin’[2] all begged the question of war’s purpose and result. As the 1960s was a decade of change, Dylan was at the forefront, pushing said change. Fearless and daring, Dylan’s lyrics were partially responsible for the political ties in folk music.


There is absolutely no way that I could mention all the Vietnam Protest musicians and songs and still have you reading by the end of this blog but among the list are names like: Neil Young, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Barry McGuire, Loretta Lynn, The Byrds, CCR, The Plastic Ono Band and loads more. As you can imagine, with the growing number of artists on the list, the list of musical talents not allowed on radio airwaves also grew expansively. Well…if your mom tells you that you can’t have chocolate, aren’t you going to want it more? The restrictions of music on radio fueled a fire. It drew attention to government control and self-interest. In the end, these songs became anthems for a generation that would not sit idly by and have war be waged on their behalf. “It’s always the old who lead us to the war. Always the young to fall. Now look at all we’ve won with a saber and a gun. Tell me is it worth it all?”[3]


So the next time you knock hippies for being lazy, drugged-out bums, think of all the fantastic things that the 1960s peace movement achieved. They aren’t all one.


Till next week folks- peace and love.


P.S. I must insist that you look up 1960s protest music for some fantastic musical education.


[1] Country Joe and The Fish, Feel Like I’m Fixin to Die Rag.


[2] Bob Dylan.


[3]Phil Ochs, I Ain’t Marching Anymore.

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