As we well know, the media and peoples opinions have a strong hold over a nation. The magazine articles we read the photographs we see, the music we listen to, the films we watch and the events that take place around us all have an impact on our opinions and beliefs.
During the 1960s’ – 1970s’ American people had to decide on how they felt on the Vietnam War. Many people strongly opposed this war, but only a few were able to spread their own beliefs on a large scale. Some such people where the band Country Joe and the Fish. They were quite popular around that period and in 1965 they had a song about the then current War called “I feel like I’m fixin’ to die”. In this song they voiced their opinion, which was shared by many others, about the war. They sang words like;
“And you know that peace can only be won,
When we’ve blown ’em all to kingdom come”
These two lines were sending a message that America was using harsh and destructive methods to fight the War, and the cynical tone in which this song is sung, only adds to the drama of the song, and would help send out their message. Other interesting lyrics are;
“Be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box”
This is, again, cynically sung, and it disagrees with the war, it also is trying to influence people not to go and fight, as it basically says “don’t get involved, for you’ll enter a pointless bloodbath”. This is a catchy song which would have reached out to the white students of the east and may have shaped some of their opinions and encouraged them to oppose the war.
Another song, “War” by Edwin Starr (1970) would have reached out to the black community, mainly in the west. It is again anti-war and through this songs course it repeats:
“War-huh, what is it good for?
It’s saying that the war is going to bring nothing positive, and a lot of death, and hence is pointless, so why fight? This song was another great way for a person who opposes the war, to try and influence a great amount of other people.
There were a lot of famous people who opposed the war, and who expressed their views in interviews for magazines etc. The media would have published this not only for the fact that it was an article on a popular subject from a celebrity and would sell well, but also for the fact that it would be used as another means of making the war look as bad as it could and encourage the public to oppose this grim event.
Jane Fonda was one such celebrity who was widely known. She opposed the war and gave many interviews. She even visited Vietnam, and gave a broadcast during her visit which surely would have tugged on a many peoples heart back home. In this broadcast Jane talked about her visit to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, its beauty, the friendly Vietnamese and how when the Americans where bombing their city they gave Jane, an American, a place in one of their best shelters. She goes on to say how terrible it was for these people, their homes, schools and hospitals were targeted and their villages invaded. She even attacks President Nixon saying his words echoed with “sinister of a true killer”.
This broadcast would have encouraged opposition to US participation in the Vietnam War greatly as it profoundly portrayed Vietnam as a victim and the US as the attacker. Many people may have thought to themselves whilst listening to this, “what is our country playing at? I won’t support this!”
Many films were made during and after the Vietnam War. Most of these opposed the war, for instance the film “Coming Home” (1978). This film actually stars Jane Fonda as Sally the voluntary nurse. It primarily tells the story of how the war affects relationships and individuals back home. It focuses on the return of veterans and much of it takes place in a hospital for disabled veterans. It gives a very violent image of some of the veterans when they talk about how some men are “into cutting off heads” and it indistinctively echoes such events as the My Lai Massacre of November 1969. This again puts soldiers and their methods in such a bad light and it does not encourage anyone to think positively toward US participation in this war.
There where a handful of pro-war films made. “The Green Berets” (1968) was a rather famous one, for it contests the increasingly anti-war movement rather effectively. It stars John Wayne, a legendary actor even today and the fact that he is in it meant that it would have a wide audience. More importantly, this film is an effective pro-war source as it portrays the Vietcong as barbarians and the Vietnamese peasants as children. A crucial part of the film is when John Wayne says to a Vietnamese orphan, “you’re what this war is all about.”
This is one piece of the puzzle which may have made people support US participation in the war as it tells people that there is a cause and it portrays the soldiers as brave and noble.
These films were sources of fiction. No one could have argued with the horrific photographs which were coming back from Vietnam, for they were not fictional, they were the real thing.
American people were seeing Vietnamese children running from American soldiers, a Vietcong shot by an American soldier at point blank in the middle of a street, and even photographs of piles of bodies including dead children shot during the My Lai Massacre. These pictures from photographers such as Ronald Haeberal and Nick Ut proved that the US soldiers and the government were using harsh tactics, which were bloody and brutal even towards the innocent. These photographs would have greatly encouraged opposition to US participation in this war, because the majority of the public had just lived through World War Two and Hitler’s harsh tactics and they weren’t going to stand through any more, let alone from their own government.
It’s no wonder there were protests and marches. Students were the people with the most time on their hands, and so they were the ones who organised and carried out most of these protests, however a great number and variety of people got involved as the Vietnam War progressed. The marches in Washington were popular ways to express anti-war feelings. They started as early as 1962 with a few thousand people but in the fall of 1969 over 250,000 crammed into the mall between the Washington monument and the Congress.
These events encouraged people to get involved in expressing their views and how they opposed US participation in the Vietnam War. They were such a big contribution and so many were involved in these anti-war movements that the government couldn’t ignore such a voice.
Altogether the media, films and photographs give such a bad view on this war that soldiers were seen as harsh, brutal and idiotic. The government was greatly condemned by its people, and this was expressed in marches and rallies. People could tell for themselves that this war was no good and that US participation was wrong, however the media and popular culture did encourage this view greatly.