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The Vietnam War In Songs

Updated on July 18, 2016

War: Good For Nothing

Edwin Starr:" War Is good for Absolutely Nothing."
Edwin Starr:" War Is good for Absolutely Nothing."

The Vietnam War: A Heartbreaker

Many songs were written during the Vietnam War, both for and against it. But Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s 1969 song, “War”, sung by Edwin Starr stated it clearly. “War is good for absolutely nothing.” The song’s message is that war brings destruction and that we need peace. The lyrics of the song show the consequence of war; mothers weeping because their sons lose their lives. Imagine the state of mind of each family that lost their sons. Just look into the lyrics. “I despise it because it means destruction of innocent lives. War means tears to thousands of mothers’ eyes when their sons go to fight and lose their lives. War ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker. War, it’s got one friend, that’s the undertaker. War has shattered many a young man’s dreams, made him disabled, bitter and mean. Life is much too short and precious to spend fighting wars. War can’t give life. It can only take it away. War, good God y’all. What is it good for? Stand up and shout it. Nothing.”

This list tells you why the Vietnam War was good for nothing:

1. The draft that started in February of 1965 started with 3,000 men, and then suddenly increased to 33,000 men in October of that same year. From 1965 – 1973, a total number of 1,728,344 men were drafted.

2. The US government told the American people that Vietnam would be a war that will be quickly fought and quickly won, as the communists in North Vietnam comprised only a mere third world country.

3. The Americans could not understand how they were defending the USA through the war in Vietnam, which is in Southeast Asia. This question lingered in their minds.

4. The street rallies and protests in the USA started picking up when the public noticed the number of dead soldiers arriving in body bags suddenly grew in numbers.

5. Some of those who protested against the war, especially the young ones, felt as though they had been betrayed by their own country.

6. In March of 1966, some 50,000 people took part in one of the largest street rally protests in New York City.

7. The mental stress among the US soldiers in Vietnam led to tragic incidents. One such incident is the My Lai massacre, which occurred in March 16, 1968, when American soldiers killed 500 Vietnamese civilians, including women and children.

8. There were approximately 58,209 Americans who died in this war. The average age of those who died was 19.

What came out of this war? Nothing, except for innocent lives lost, families grieving, men who lost their sanity, and young boys who lost their dreams.

"War" by Edwin Starr

Eve of Destruction: Destroying Human Lives is Real

The song Eve of Destruction was written by P. F. Sloan in 1964, and released in 1965. A lot of artists sang this song but it was Barry McGuire’s version that became so popular. Although this song was not particularly about the Vietnam war, it became a rallying point for the youth who protested the war. The lyrics are most descriptive: “The eastern world, it is explodin’. Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’. The song also protested the draft, which sent citizens, not just military men, to war. Boys were drafted to war when they turned 18. The song said, “You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’. You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun your totin.” Not all these young men wanted to go to war, but they had no choice. They would face five years in jail, and a jail record would permanently affect their chances of being hired for a job once they got out.

More or less 58,000 American men died in Vietnam. Many of them were too young to dream, much less live to see their dreams come true. Those who lived came home broken, mentally and spiritually. A number of soldiers lost limbs or were disabled in other ways

Barry McGuire: Eve of Destruction

The song became a hippie anthem of the Vietnam war.
The song became a hippie anthem of the Vietnam war.

Other lyrics and their references in this song:

  1. Even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’” referred to the conflict in Israel between Jews in Israel and their Arab neighboring countries.
  2. “If the button is pushed there’s no runnin’ away” referred to the atomic bomb and in a way, references the resultant chaos and tragedy that occurred after the atomic bomb was used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

Many things were going on that would cause a song like this to be written, such as:

  1. The Cuban Missile Crisis.
  2. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy
  3. Wars between Israel and the Arabs.
  4. The assassination of Martin Luther King.
  5. The Watts riots and other race-related riots.
  6. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

Eve of Destruction sung by Barry McGuire

What’s Goin’ On

This song was written by Al Cleveland, Obie Benson and Marvin Gaye, and released in 1971. Marvin Gaye had composed the melody in advance, and then added the lyrics when his brother, Frankie, came home from Vietnam. Frankie told Marvin several stories about what it was like in the war. The Vietnam war was a reality to every young American family, every sister who had a brother she loved, every parent. But it was the young, 18-year-old men who were drafted that had to deal with war’s evil cruelty. These long-haired sons wanted answers from their parents, but they got none. When they took to the streets to protest the war in large numbers, the government cruelly quelled their demonstrations. And so, they had no voice. Many who survived the war were shocked into a baffling silence. Music became the source of their voice, the questions they wanted to ask, the things they wanted to say, and the answers they wanted to find.

Did you or someone you know go to the Vietnam war?

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Marvin Gaye's brother fought in the Vietnam war.
Marvin Gaye's brother fought in the Vietnam war.

What’s Goin On? Why Were The Young Men Being Judged?


The lyrics of the song speak about being judged and not listened to. Consider these lyrics.

  1. “Mother, mother there’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother there’s far too many of you dying.”
  2. “Father, father we don’t need to escalate. You see war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate. You know we’ve got to find a way to bring some lovin’ here today.”
  3. “Picket lines and picket signs, don’t punish me with brutality. Talk to me so you can see oh, what’s going on, what’s going on, what’s going on, what’s going on.
  4. “Father, Father, everybody thinks we’re wrong. Oh, but who are they to judge us simply because our hair is long. Oh you know we’ve got to find a way to bring some understanding here today.”


This was the decade of the generation gap, drugs, psychedelics, flower power, and overall, a hovering war that was the underlying stress in many families. The slogan then was, “Make love, not war”, as the burden of Vietnam was largely borne by the young generation.

Marvin Gaye asks What's Goin On

Where Have All The Flowers Gone

Oh, When Will They Ever Learn

This song was song was written by Pete Seeger, with additional lyrics by Joe Hickerson in the year 1960. The first group to record this song was The Kingston Trio in 1962. Pete Seeger recorded this song in 1964. This song had its roots from the Russian Novel, And Quiet Flows The Don. The author of this book is Mikhail Sholokov. This song became popular as an anti – war song during the Vietnam war era. The lyrics keep running in circles. This is because it wants to stress a point. There are a lot of questions that this song asks. Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing. Where have all the flowers gone? Long time ago. Where have all the flowers gone. Young girls picked them everyone. Oh, when will they ever learn. Oh, when will they ever learn? Where have all the young girls gone. Long time passing. Where have all the young girls gone? Long time ago.

The first group to record this song.
The first group to record this song.

When Will They Ever Learn

The girls had picked all the flowers or bought them because they were ready to get married to their husbands. It was a big risk because they could lose their husbands, who were going to war. “Where have all the husbands gone. Long time passing? Where have all the husbands gone? Long time ago.” Their husbands had been gone for quite some time.Where have all the husbands gone. Gone for soldiers every one. Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?” Their husbands were called to join the Armed Forces, and so they became soldiers. “Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to graveyards everyone. Oh, when will they ever learn. Oh, when will they ever learn.” They died and their wives had to bury them and plant flowers on their graves. Their wives became widows, disheartened, because they lost the person they loved the most.

Oh, When will they ever learn. These lyrics keep on repeating because it’s telling our society about the ill effects of war.

The Kingston Trio Singing Live

I'd love to hear your memories of the Vietnam war.

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    • Boomer Music Man profile image
      Author

      Boomer Music Man 15 months ago

      Thank you Mel Carriere for reading my article. I appreciate your comment condemning this war. It's true billions of dollars went to waste and young lives were lost due to the greed of a few men in government.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 15 months ago from San Diego California

      We never learn. Greedy men don't blink an eye at spending billions of dollars and thousands of young lives to further their greed. Great stuff.

    • Boomer Music Man profile image
      Author

      Boomer Music Man 15 months ago

      It really was a useless warfare. Most of the protesters are so old now. We still do our protests in different ways. We do it by blogging through the use of social media. The Boomer kids were peaceful and loving. I wish that the young one's now would voice out their opinions. They may be doing it through the internet by using social media. Thank you very much Buildreps for reading my article.

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 15 months ago from Europe

      Great article! We are getting old guys when we start to like these songs, Boomer Music Man. :) It seemed to me an absolute useless warfare. There was a strong movement back then. Where are all these people gone?

    • Boomer Music Man profile image
      Author

      Boomer Music Man 15 months ago

      Thank you very much grand old lady. I sympathize with the experiences that you have gone through.Those were really times full of sadness. I am glad you came out alright. Kudos.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 15 months ago from Philippines

      I went to HS in the US during the Vietnam War. I had classmates who prayed for their brothers and friends who were drafted. It was a very sad time, and some days the tension was high, especially during the missiles of October, we wondered if we were going to die that day. And there was a serial killer then, the Zodiac. I grew up living in many countries but the tensions I felt in the US over political issues was quite different from anywhere else.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 15 months ago from Philippines

      I went to HS in the US during the Vietnam War. I had classmates who prayed for their brothers and friends who were drafted. It was a very sad time, and some days the tension was high, especially during the missiles of October, we wondered if we were going to die that day. And there was a serial killer then, the Zodiac. I grew up living in many countries but the tensions I felt in the US over political issues was quite different from anywhere else.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 15 months ago from Philippines

      I went to HS in the US during the Vietnam War. I had classmates who prayed for their brothers and friends who were drafted. It was a very sad time, and some days the tension was high, especially during the missiles of October, we wondered if we were going to die that day. And there was a serial killer then, the Zodiac. I grew up living in many countries but the tensions I felt in the US over political issues was quite different from anywhere else.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 15 months ago from Philippines

      I went to HS in the US during the Vietnam War. I had classmates who prayed for their brothers and friends who were drafted. It was a very sad time, and some days the tension was high, especially during the missiles of October, we wondered if we were going to die that day. And there was a serial killer then, the Zodiac. I grew up living in many countries but the tensions I felt in the US over political issues was quite different from anywhere else.

    • Boomer Music Man profile image
      Author

      Boomer Music Man 15 months ago

      Your family has experienced so much pain. I feel so sorry to what had happened to your Dad's family and yours too. I am really thankful that you can share these experiences with me. I will always treasure your comments Flourish Anyway. Your dad must have been so brave to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Thank you very much FlourishAnyway.

    • Boomer Music Man profile image
      Author

      Boomer Music Man 15 months ago

      Thanks FlourishAnyway.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 15 months ago from USA

      Superbly written. My father volunteered during the Vietnam Era and ended up serving 3 years in a peacekeeping role in post-war Korea. He weighed his options and it seemed like the best one for staying alive while serving his country. Three of his brothers were drafted and fought in Vietnam. Two came back with lifelong mental illness issues. Who is to say whether the illness wouldn't have happened regardless, but I wonder. The other brother became a protestor, hippie and was homeless and drug dependent for years before finding his way.

      My mother's ex-husband tried desperately to dodge the draft by manufacturing a medical excuse but ended up having to serve and returned mentally broken, dangerous, alcoholic and unemployed for life.

      My mother was a civilian secretary and my dad was in the army working at a training base when they met. They sometimes recall all the young men who they befriended and who shipped out, never to see them again. They knew many of them wouldn't make it back. Recently they had a reunion with one man who did when they saw his name in the paper. However, he had dementia and remembered little.