Vietnam War Protest Songs (Part One)

The whole world’s watching
The whole world’s watching
The whole world’s watching

The Vietnam War, a protracted conflict from 1955 to 1975, began for the United States as it escalated its involvement in the early 1960s, following the Gulf of Tonkin incident[1] in 1964. Over 58,000 U.S. military personnel lost their lives in the war, with hundreds of thousands more wounded.

The conflict provoked widespread anti-war protests and demonstrations in the United States, culminating in significant events like the 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam and the 1970 Kent State University shootings. The war ended on April 30, 1975, with the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces, marking the reunification of North and South Vietnam under communist control.

“Prologue, August 29, 1968”
“Someday (August 29, 1968)”

Found on the 4th side of Chicago’s debut album, “Prologue, August 29, 1968” is a short track, an actual recording made at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. But it’s not a happy recording. It captures the sounds of black militants protesting and the efforts of Chicago police to get them to disperse.

The chant “The whole world’s watching” is repeated over and over, and its rhythm is joined by instruments one at a time, segueing into “Someday (August 29, 1968)”. Together, the two tracks form one of the more obvious examples of Chicago’s final influence, which is 60’s protest music.

Written by Chicago trombone player James Pankow and keyboard player Robert Lamm, this song is about the 1968 Democratic National Convention in the group’s hometown of Chicago, where police beat antiwar demonstrators outside the venue in what was later deemed a “police riot.” The violence at the convention was big news, energizing the protest movement.

CBS reporter Mike Wallace was famously caught in the fray, getting punched in the face inside the convention hall. The song starts with a section called “Prologue, August 29, 1968,” which is audio of the crowd at the convention chanting, “The whole world is watching.” This chant returns in the middle of the song. Robert Lamm and Peter Cetera shared lead vocals on this track. August 29, 1968, was the last night of the Democratic National Convention and saw Hubert Humphrey secure the nomination. The famous chant took place a day earlier.

“Fortunate Son
Creedence Clearwater Revival

“Fortunate Son” is a song by the American rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival, released in 1969 as part of their album “Willy and the Poor Boys.” The song, written by John Fogerty, is a potent protest song that critiques the privilege and inequity of the time, particularly concerning the Vietnam War.

It expresses the resentment felt by those who were drafted to fight in the war while privileged individuals often avoided the draft. The song’s raw, powerful lyrics and catchy guitar riffs made it an anthem for anti-war and social justice movements of the era, and it continues to resonate as a symbol of protest against social and political inequalities.

The thoughts behind this song—it was a lot of anger. So it was the Vietnam War going on. … Now I was drafted and they’re making me fight, and no one has actually defined why. So this was all boiling inside of me and I sat down on the edge of my bed and out came “It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son!” You know, it took about 20 minutes to write the song.

“Fortunate Son” wasn’t really inspired by any one event. Julie Nixon was dating David Eisenhower. You’d hear about the son of this senator or that congressman who was given a deferment from the military or a choice position in the military. They seemed privileged and whether they liked it or not, these people were symbolic in the sense that they weren’t being touched by what their parents were doing. They weren’t being affected like the rest of us.

John Fogerty

The song, released during the peak period of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, is not explicit in its criticism of that war in particular, rather, it “speaks more to the unfairness of class than war itself,” according to its author, John Fogerty. “It’s the old saying about rich men making war and poor men having to fight them.”

“Still in Saigon”
Charlie Daniels Band

“Still in Saigon” is a song by the Charlie Daniels Band, released in 1982 as part of their album “Windows.” The song tells the story of a Vietnam War veteran who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)[2] and the haunting memories of the war. The lyrics vividly depict the emotional and psychological toll of the war on veterans, addressing themes of trauma and the difficulties they face when they return home.

This song came at me from two different directions; from our producer at the time, John Bowman, and from a group called Vietnam Vets of America, somebody had found it. Dan Daley had written it and it was very much in with the way that I felt about the Vietnam veterans, because it was so totally unfair how these people were treated when they came back from a war that they had nothing to do with starting. That was the drug generation. How screwed up could their minds get that young men and women would go over to a war in Southeast Asia and then intentionally kill babies and stuff? That’s not what our military’s about.

I went around and talked to Vietnam vets before I recorded that song, because I’d never been to Vietnam. I thought it was a very personal experience. And I went around and talked to some of the guys, ‘How do you feel about me recording this?’ I had a guy, ex-Green-Beret, working security with me at the time, and he said, ‘Do it.’ So I did. And I’ve always been glad that I did, because it was, I guess, the first song of support for the Vietnam veterans.

Charlie Daniels

The song was notable for its heartfelt and somber portrayal of the long-lasting effects of the war on veterans, and it remains an enduring representation of the Vietnam War’s impact on those who served. Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh city, was the South Vietnamese capital during the Vietnam War.

“Last Train To Clarksville”
The Monkees

“Last Train to Clarksville” is a song by the Monkees. It was released as the band’s debut single on August 16, 1966, and was later included on the group’s self-titled album. was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, a songwriting team who came up with many songs for the Monkees. wrote this as a protest to the Vietnam War.

We were throwing out names, and when we got to Clarksdale, we thought Clarksville sounded even better. We didn’t know it at the time, [but] there is an Air Force base near the town of Clarksville, Tennessee – which would have fit the bill fine for the story line. We couldn’t be too direct with The Monkees. We couldn’t really make a protest song out of it – we kind of snuck it in.

Bobby Hart

They had to keep this quiet to get it recorded, but it is about a guy who gets drafted and fights in the war. The train takes him to an army base, and he knows he may die in Vietnam. At the end of the song he states, “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

Yours Is No Disgrace

“Yours Is No Disgrace” is a song by English progressive rock band Yes, which first appeared as the opening song of their 1971 album The Yes Album. It was written by all five members of the band: Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Tony Kaye, and Bill Bruford. “Yours Is No Disgrace” is generally recognized as Yes’ first antiwar song (though “Harold Land” from their debut album also deals with the subject of war).

I’d just been to Vegas and it was amazing how crazy the place was and how silly we are. Silly human race. It was something to do with how crazy we can be as a human race to be out there flittering money around and gambling, trying to earn that big payout, when actually that’s not what life is truly about. Our life is truly about finding our divine connection with God, if you like. You know, that’s why we live.

And whenever I sing that song, it always comes back to me that I’m singing about that kind of Caesar’s Palace, morning glory, sweet human race – it’s on a sailing ship to nowhere, planet earth. The planet earth is not going anywhere. It’s going around the sun, of course, but we’re on this sailing ship to nowhere, leaving anyplace. It’s like Earth Mother. So don’t worry about stuff, it’s not our fault if things go wrong.

Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson stated that the theme of the song was recognition that the kids fighting the war had no choice but to fight and that the war wasn’t their fault. The Vietnam War was an influence on this song. Governments fight wars, not men and women – therefore yours is no disgrace.

The message is that war has no winners and no real meaning – as Jon Anderson has explained, the young people going off to fight the war had no say in the matter, and the war itself was certainly not their fault.

“Death-defying, mutilated armies scatter the earth, Crawling out of dirty holes, their morals, their morals disappear” – killing is brutal and cruel, but the disgrace falls not on the soldiers, but on those who orchestrated the war.

  1. The Gulf of Tonkin incident, comprising two reported naval clashes in August 1964, involving the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Maddox and allegations of attacks by North Vietnamese patrol boats, culminated in the passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution by the U.S. Congress on August 7, 1964. This resolution granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to employ military force in Southeast Asia and significantly escalated U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, ultimately shaping the course of the conflict for years to come. Subsequent investigations and declassified documents have since raised doubts about the accuracy of the reported events, sparking controversy and questions surrounding the incidents and the extent to which they justified U.S. military actions in Vietnam. [Back]
  2. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, such as combat, natural disasters, or personal assault. Common symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event, often leading to significant impairment in daily life. It can affect anyone who has gone through a traumatic experience and can persist for years without proper treatment. Treatment options typically include psychotherapy and medication, aimed at reducing symptoms and helping individuals regain a sense of control over their lives. [Back]

Further Reading


Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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