Woodstock and the Vietnam War

How and to what extent did Woodstock influence the anti-war movement in the United States particularly during the Vietnam War?

Woodstock and the Vietnam War

On August 15th, 1969, four hundred thousand Americans gathered around Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in White Lake, New York. Fashioned to familiarize the concepts of free love, radical hippie movements, and drug culture, America presented one of the most inspiring and liberating music festivals of its time, Woodstock. The festival brought a great deal of noted musical artists to take part in the counterculture’s strategy in putting an end to the Vietnam War. The festival was able to flock together the American youths who had opposed views towards war. Woodstock furnished an alternative community for those who promoted peace and free-love known as the “hippie” community. With the Vietnam War happening half the world away, people’s stress towards the loss of great numbers of soldiers in the war grew and found no reason in their country’s inclusion in the mishap, especially the youths of the era due to their rebellious ideologies. This investigation will answer the question “How and to what extent did Woodstock influence the anti-war movement in the United States particularly during the Vietnam War between 1969 and 1975?” Society was slowly becoming segregated between people who supported it and those who opposed it. This gave Americans an initiative to bring the anti-war movement to light by taking control over mass media and altering people’s views regarding the Vietnam War. Throughout its development, Woodstock was argued to be just a group of people listening to music and did not create any effect in aiding the countercultural anti-war movement. Tom Wells states that the countercultural movement would have been more efficient and succeeded in ways more than one if it hadn’t focused so much on developing an attractive media-driven coating to attract youth.

The importance of Woodstock was that it was viewed as a fundamental symbol to the progressing youth movements. The youth of society began to recognize that they could span their voice greatly. With the ability to disperse its differing views from conventional society, people began to recognize the effect of youth and question the role and power of authority in the United States. Drawn by many artists blending with one another in one place, youths from across the United States attended the Woodstock festival not only to promote free love and music, but also to amplify their voices of peace and unity. Woodstock left a mark in American history to be of the most influential forms of societal power over government. The event has rippled a diverse breed of countercultural activity and propels itself as an example of a successful youth movement antagonistic to war. Today, Woodstock sits at one of the highest pedestals regarding anti-war strategies and counterculture.

The Vietnam War’s inception brought with it two opposing views regarding America’s role in the war. One view was that the United States took part in the war due to the country’s security and economic desires. The second view was that America participated in the war to apply its view of opposing the lengthening effect of communism. With the American people freshly beginning to trust the media coverage from their televisions, journalists were given the freedom of publishing all of the news that was occurring in Vietnam. By spreading coverage of American soldiers dying in the war as well as the unimaginably unbearable living conditions, people across the United States began to withdraw their support of the war. The more the war proceeded, the more displeased the nation grew. The progression of the Vietnam war abroad made Americans become hesitant and questionable towards the United States’ involvement in the war. Mark Barringer analyzes the youth’s perspectives developing exponentially from a verbal effort to a violent effort. At the time, a great number of American youths were drafted to Vietnam on account of the losses occurring abroad . However, Tom Wells argues that the slowly evolving countercultural movement financially sustained Americans chose to defy the adequate and undecorated strategy of avoiding participation in the war, thus creating what was known to be “draft evasion”. American youth understood that the war itself was extremely costly and risked the country’s economy by an extremely parlous margin.

With America’s failures increasing in Vietnam, people began to question the country’s association with the war. The Vietnam War held the highest fraction of African-Americans to ever serve in a war and also serve in the front line while less than half of white, male Americans were put on the front line. After learning this, white Americans who opposed the inequitable treatment to the African American demographic gave themselves more of a reason not to participate with the war. With a great amount of youth being journalists and linked to media coverage in general, people began to learn more of how corrupt the situation is developing abroad in Vietnam and protests began underway. According to historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, the Vietnam War was a prodigious mistake due to the fact that it brought with it economic and social deficits. From Barringer’s standpoint, the Vietnam War made Americans lack the ability to trust public institutions and media coverage. His article of potent analysis regarding the Vietnam War’s effect on the counterculture’s anti-war movement stresses on how the American youth began to input a physical rather than verbal effort to put an end to the war and spread countercultural views across the nation.

Counterculture was an innermost and underlying cultural movement which sprouted in 1964 and lasted for almost an entire decade. The unabridged concept of developing a counterculture was to reject a specific social norm(s). Between the years of 1965 and 1975, a developing counterculture meant that there would be a complete rejection towards the Vietnam War and cultural standards which originated in generations before specifically the 1950s. Throughout the entire decade of the 1960s, frictions erupted in American society such as free speech, racial segregations, women’s rights, the concept of the American Dream; which was an array of morals which centered around how freedom is the fuel for affluence and sustenance, and most specifically, the Vietnam War. On account of the majority of the counterculture’s participants being young, middle-class, white Americans, economic sustenance was established by the movement and used this to amplify its goals to bring an end to the war abroad and show the hardship of war to the American people. According to George McKay and Lee Anderson, people who followed a countercultural lifestyle blended ideals of peace, harmony, love, and most specifically, music and an appreciation for art. The rejection of this mainstream culture motivated people to take part in drug usage, plan public political gatherings and promote obscenity in media sources. With the help of artists such as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane, it became evident that American music was greatly influenced by the movement and began to exemplify new genres which were unparalleled to those at the time such as psychedelic rock and folk. With new genres, people were able to construct a prime addition to the movement: music festivals.


It is obvious that the movement created a dissection in the American society. People viewed the counterculture movement as a social advancement in equality, free speech, and global restfulness. Others saw the movement as an unavailing effort to put an end to the war. George McKay argues that a great deal of American citizens characterized counterculture to be unpatriotic and insubordinate as well as a total strike on the United States’ moral statuses. With these differing views regarding the movement, authorities attempted to diminish its effects and put an end to it by banning drug use, the organization of public political gatherings and obscenity in publishing. By cultivating limitations and restrictions in society, the counterculture movement welcomed a new form of protest known as the anti-war movement.

The anti-war movement began during the start of the mishap in Vietnam which Americans of different social statuses united to promote peace and to end the war completely. One of the most important and effective movements towards the issue was the “Freedom Speech Movement”(FSM), conducted at the University of California at Berkley as an inspiration to fight for the struggle of civil rights in the United States. The FSM gave students the initiative to serve as societal illustrations of how the youth of a nation is able to create change through organizations. The FSM and SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) began to receive national acclaim and learned, with the help of national media coverage, that there were many other advocates and partisans in other corners of the country. Mark Barringer claims that members of the SDS and FSM held “teach-ins”, which were non-violent forms of protest to spread awareness of the mishap in Vietnam, in universities to educate people of the occurrences in Vietnam as well as the political and moral involvement of the United States. As the effects of the youth towards this matter began to receive high praise, students constructed networks to disperse information about the occurrences in Vietnam and share multifarious protest methods to help promote the cause; this is done with the help of the Underground Press Syndicate and Liberation News Service. The anti-war movement expanded at a parallel rate with the Vietnam War.

The Johnson administration, an administration with the occurrences in Vietnam, sent public speakers to campuses to fuel pro-war states of mind in the youths and also arrested thousands of anti-war activists. In 1965, most of the country’s demographic supported the happenings in Vietnam; by 1967, 35% of it supported. Research which targeted the anti-war sentiment found out that the socioeconomic level of people affected their perspective towards the Vietnam War. People who took part in media and the legislation greatly attacked and discredited the movement as a whole. The movement reached its epitome of success during Nixon’s administrative control over the country. In November 1969, around 650,000 people in Washington D.C and San Francisco held demonstrations. The movement adopted new protest methods such as militant protest. Nixon and his administration attempted hindering the effects of the movement by deteriorating the supporters and tracking the movement across the nation. The movement faced problems such as people bailing its participation due to doubts of its effectiveness. In 1969, counterculture took part in protests as a form of anti-war tactics. Artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Jimi Hendrix served as tethers to hold the chasms of the old and new demographics. With their support, the anti-war movement became well known across the nation and gained its fame alongside the notable musicians. Artists became drawn to the effect of their music and the countercultural society was looking for alternatives to unearth the grey area between media and society; thus, the formation of Woodstock.

John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Mike Lang were the essential four organizers of the Woodstock festival. Initially, the festival was planned by both Roberts and Rosenman as a strategy to spend money to make more money. Kornfeld and Lang’s main plan was to establish a recording studio in New York as a “retreat” for rock musicians based in the city. Though, the idea changed into orchestrating a concert for around 50,000 people to raise money for the studio. Sprouting during the Vietnam War in the late 1960’s, a tremendous amount of influential artists grew an appetite to facilitate the counterculture’s effects of peace and love as public disapproval of the United States taking part in the Vietnam War grew. The organizers of the festival began looking for potential artists who were able to perform at the festival. Lang proposed that he did not care at all for the fees and knew that Woodstock needed three major acts from notable artists and they were: The Who, Jefferson Airplane, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Lang spent around $180,000 only on signing bands. He knew that the audience would have been a great amount of young Americans and was willing to spend enough for what they deserved for a show. Initially, the organizers of the festival didn't think more than 100,000 people would be attending and had only constructed the set of the festival worth 50,000 people.This brought several issues with the venue of the festival due to the fact that there were around 450,000 people taking part in it. White Lake, a town in southeast New York presented four men with the perfect spot to hold a concert worth a hundred thousand people. At this time, the role for Woodstock was to exemplify an influential generation and thus creating the slogan of the festival: “Three Days of Peace and Music”. This appealed to a great amount of amicably rebellious youth by targeting the goal of counterculture’s anti-war movement.

With the effective strategies of the anti-war movement in the 1960’s, artists were drawn by its goals and its popularity nationwide. Artists were affected most by the concept of peace and put their acoustic abilities to use to support the anti-war movement and support the civil rights of the people. Numerous modernly influential artists such as Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan entreated themselves to heartening the counterculture’s stress on spreading peace and love nation-wide. One of the most influential musicians during the anti-war movement was the highly acclaimed and notable Bob Dylan. With his recording of “A Times They Are A-Changin”, Dylan impelled hundreds of musicians and other artists to follow the counterculture movement and reach out to the goals of the anti-war movement and social clashes such as racial equality and free speech. The song’s beauty was its simplicity and only encompassed Dylan himself, his guitar, and his harmonica. However, what brought people’s attention to the song was his lyrics. The song contains the lyrics: “Come writers and critics/Who prophesize with your pen/And keep your eyes wide/The chance wont come again”. By this, Dylan is reaching out to the media of the United States and how they must cover every story they can about Vietnam to share. Also, by “chance”, he is hinting at the war in Vietnam and how nothing as large and as serious to ever come across the American society. As well, by mentioning the lyrics: “There’s a battle outside/And it’s ragin’/It’ll soon shake your windows/And rattle your walls/Come mothers and fathers/Throughout the land/And don't criticize/What you don't understand”, Dylan captured the American society’s perspective on the war. With most of the families having their sons and fathers being sent to the war, a great deal of people were angered and frustrated. Another prominent artist who shone his light on his and the society’s personal views of the Vietnam War was guitar god, Jimi Hendrix. “Machine Gun”, a recording of Hendrix where he strived to capture the terror of war, was always played as dedication to the soldiers fighting for their lives in Vietnam. In the song, Hendrix uses vast guitar skills playing to make the instrument resemble the sound of a firing machine gun and capture one of the most horrifying sounds found in the environments of the soldiers in Vietnam. Another of Jimi’s tracks which Americans in Vietnam and back home found musically captivating was “Purple Haze”. Hendrix aimed to exemplify the haze which he mentions in the song to the purple smoke used in the war by M-18 American forces. The lyrics mention: “Purple haze all in my brain/Lately things just don't seem the same/Acting funny but I don't know why/Excuse me while I kiss the sky”. These lyrics brought attention not only to the concept of the haze itself, but also to the fact that soldiers were dying as they knew not of what was happening around them. Most soldiers found a liking for Hendrix’s music and style due to his anger to the American government was equal to of the society’s anger towards the Vietnam mishap. As well, having served in the military in the early 1960’s, Hendrix knew exactly how the soldiers were being treated on either side of the battle. With the counterculture movement spurring at his time, Hendrix took advantage of the opposing attitudes towards the war and recognized that the anti-war movement needed a push from the media. Lee Andresen, the author of Battlenotes: Music of The Vietnam War, analyzes the music released to the American public and its effect on counterculture. His study of the type of music people desired at the time as well as the addition of people’s remarks from the era makes his source highly valuable. Andersen stresses mostly on the how and why the music was produced and what intention the artist had. The limitation of the source is that it only analyzes lyrical depth towards the Vietnam War and offers no relation between song lyrics and social perspectives to war.

During the late 60’s, Rock n’ Roll was what amplified the achievements of counterculture and the anti-war movement with other artists such as The Doors, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Janis Joplin; her being one of the guest performers at Woodstock. By backing the confused and rebelliously minded youth in American society at the time, music was able to show suffering soldiers the success of the counterculture’s actions. Aside from solo artists, bands were highly influential in dispersing views of counterculture and anti-war; of the most two successful being The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. The Grateful Dead’s style incorporated greatly with what the hippies wanted from an artist at the time; to produce music which fueled their inclination to dream. The Grateful Dead cultivated a powerful base for the folk genre and influenced many artists at the time to become drawn to the initiative of putting an end to the Vietnam War. The band focused more on appealing to societal conflicts of the United States with songs such as “U.S Blues”, “The Golden Road”, “Fire On The Mountain”, and “Hell In A Bucket”, which were all songs written by the band’s lead singer, Jerry Garcia, as examples of hope for the dreams of the youth who were on the counterculture’s side.

During the war, the most favored topic of discussion between anti-war youth was the unjustness of the draft in the United States. Due to the fact that financially privileged youth were able to avoid the draft by going to university, Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of the fundamental performers during Woodstock, released their anti-war hit that appealed to the draft issue,“Fortunate Son”. With lyrics being incorporated in the song such as “It ain’t me/I ain’t no senator’s son/I ain’t no fortunate one”, John Forgerty, the lead singer, captures how the only people who were exempted from fighting in the war were the ones who were financially stable and in luck to avoid the draft with their money, opposite to the majority of the youth in the United States. As well as reproducing an image that the United States is completely opposite from the classless society.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, the most distinguishable bands which flowed from the countercultural ideologies was Jefferson Airplane. The band focused more on showing the flaws and backfires the United States has towards participating in the Vietnam War. It’s lyrics and style focused less in shedding awareness towards the domestic issues coming about in America but centered itself more around putting an end to the war. After the band’s release of the song “Volunteer”, people began recognized the seriousness of their perspective towards putting an end to the war due to the band’s claims in the song to taking the issue to the streets and making an all out revolution. It was manifest that the music at the time developed an air to take a swift action to force the American government to put an end to the Vietnam War. Woodstock Altering American view on Vietnam War: In the United States, there isn't much room in society to draw a line between culture and political diplomacy. With Woodstock proving itself as a powerful symbol of counterculture and serve as an example to the success and capability of the anti-war movement, it brought with it a numerous amount of artists who promoted and supported the movement. Their vast fan-bases, made them become considered to be the megaphones of the counterculture movement by appealing to people through their song lyrics and style. Woodstock’s slogan was: “Three days of peace and music”. The slogan was the festival’s goal; achieving three full days of nothing but peaceful togetherness between Americans by putting the music of counterculture to use. Historians who focus on America’s countercultural back stories have studied the festival’s rich history and background. With many artists developing their lyrics and music to be analyzed into an anti-war perspective, historians such as George McKay are able to claim that Woodstock’s artists were able to bring attention to the negligent treatment of people in Vietnam such as the draft, racial issues, and the loss of hundreds day by day to the people who had no knowledge of why the anti-war movement was occurring. As well, the festival made many people who were in risk of being drafted to Vietnam to get out of it in any way they could. Whether it be faking mental illnesses, purposely going to prison, and entering religious occupations. Also, during the war, more than 50,000 Americans hastily left to Canada to avoid the draft due to it not being a crime in the country itself. Woodstock was an icon of hope to show that the anti-war emotions were not limited to a small amount of people. When the festival mustered together 500,000 people to take part in the “three days of peace and music”, the quiet participants of counterculture’s anti-war movement finally recognized the effects of their ideologies due to the fact that a larger amount of people became demotivated to take part in the war.Woodstock included many different genres of music which different people pertained to. Also, opposing views from historians such as Tom Wells and David Card, as well as American republican citizens came to light regarding their ideas of how the festival was not patriotic and all and traitorous. With Woodstock as a symbol of the power the youth has in counterculture, it was able to diminish the positive views people have towards the war and craved the desire to put an end to it as soon as possible.

Throughout 1969 and 1975, views towards the Vietnam War have been mixed. At first, a great amount of the demographic was supporting the continuation of the war but did not fathom the misfortunate events happening to the people abroad. After examining the anti-war movement and the anti-war sentiment in Woodstock lyrics, the investigation comes to the conclusion that the festival aided the anti-war movement in the United States to the extent that people began to hold protests and boycott the participation of the war and support the movement. With the help of notable artists, social turmoil, and media control, Woodstock became the tangible image of counterculture’s perspective on war. Nevertheless, this study demonstrates that there are clearly problems with reaching a final answer to the question because of the lack of competent views from the American society and the lack of sufficient sources. The evidence and arguments considered has led to the conclusion that the answer to this question is that the festival became the alternative for youth to make the nation listen to them when their voices weren't heard in any other ways; whether it be protests, strikes, or media coverage. By this, Woodstock cultivated itself as one of the key inflection points in American culture.

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Omie H

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