Rock and the Vietnam War

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Soldiers during the Vietnam war looked up to rock symbols such as Jimi Hendrix and rock music in general to better understand their situation and express their feelings.  There was a strong dichotomy between the home front and the war, but it cosisted of as many similarities as there were differences.  Just like back at home, soldiers were often divided by cultural and racial differences.  This was made fun of in the Underground Rock radio station coming out of Saigon, Radio First Termer, which had as its host a man by the name of “Dave Rabbit.”  Leaving the air one night he said “There is no black power.  There is no White power.  Only rabbit power,” mocking the racial divides back at home.  It was this station and others at the war front that mocked many aspects of the war, often the reasons for the war itself.  This gave the soldiers something to cling to as they stood in a country they weren’t familiar with, having to fight an enemy they didn’t understand.  Jimi Hendrix in particular was important to the GI’s in Vietnam because the younger soldiers identified with him.  He was in the air force briefly before the war and emphasized the values of progression and rebellion, which many soldiers clung to.  By following him they felt that they could bring back part of home with them.  Through this and other avenues soldiers felt like they could still take place in the counter culture that was appearing back at home.  Another example of this is the “helmet graffiti” that occurred during the war.  Soldiers would illegally modify their helmets with quotes and phrases like the word “Peace” in order to identify with the counter culture and demonstrate their reluctance to participate in the war.

 

Source:

Kramer, Michael J. The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture. Oxford University Press, 2017.

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