The Influence of Music on the Vietnam War and Civil War

Updated on April 22, 2018

A war or protest song is a musical composition that narrates political conflicts and war related themes, or a society's approach towards war. The theme of the songs can either be pro-war or anti-war; it can be propaganda for political groups or a description of everyday life of soldiers or protesters during war times. Some songs have a strong emotional influence on the people who are listening as they are thought-provoking and questions life, systems, humanity, and it also reflects a society’s set notion and belief system.

Propaganda Is The key

Songwriters project their ideologies with authority over the audience compelling the audience to reason and act. The lyrics of many songs are thought provoking and force men to stand in opposition to the common principles that society follows, on the other hand it works to establish the already existing ideologies.

A Few Legends Of Rebel Music

Clancy brothers contributed to the rebel music and their songs were traditional Irish songs that reflected the colonial rule in Ireland.

With the popular folk revival in America, there came singers like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs who wrote songs that adopted the folklore through their war songs that spoke of peaceful living, anti-violence and humanity. In fact, Dylan was highly inspired by the Clancy brothers.

The revival and the many wars that angered the community resulted in a new space for left-wing associations during the 1950s and many artists releasing politically influenced music.

Restricted from mainstream spaces, Pete Seeger became an icon for the protest. Seeger was the most important figure in the revival till Bob Dylan came over. Seeger’s songs did not receive popularity especially in media. Though other folk singers performed at spaces like coffee shops and other open public arenas, he was not allowed to perform at places like schools and summer camps as the folk revival created a rebellious scene in many spaces.


The Origins Of Folk Music

The musicality of folk being simple chords, the use of banjo, acoustic guitar, fiddle, traditional tunes has not changed though the themes have altered.

Folk music and country music though stand out as different genres have common origins and roots as country is derived from folklore. The folk songs and country were usually confined to traditional forms of music and storytelling of particular communities. The Irish folk and the American folk have many similarities since most popular folk artist of America followed the traditions of the European folk specially the Irish.

Folk Music In War

Many country and folk songs of America hold facts from the American civil war and the Vietnam war. Some of the songs can also be traced back to Irish rebel songs that were sung during the Irish civil war.

With the folk revival, the songs of country and folk evolved as a popular genre and soon songwriters received popularity and they appropriated the genre to societal themes of war, politics etc. With the revival, the folk music became a part of the popular music culture and it slowly became commercial like other genres of music.

The civil war brought many singers who spoke of unity and freedom and discouraged the idea of violence. It is also said that no war in American history has ever created as many songs as the civil war. Most of the songs that emerged during this time span dealt with the violence of war, home, slavery of the African, freedom, religion and women’s suffrage. Folk songs of this period gained admiration as they used old hymns and gospel songs and appropriated them to the current political situation that the people were witnessing, thereby eliminating the spiritual element attached to them. These songs retained their music element but the lyrics were altered to fit the political scenario of the war period.

Politics Of Music

During the American civil war, both Union and the Confederate sang songs about every aspect of the conflict. The Union referred to the United States of America which was the national government and twenty free states and five border slave states which supported them. The Confederate States of America also indicated to as the Confederacy, was formed by seven slave states in the Lower South area of the United States. Many war songs were produced from both sides and these songs spoke of lives of soldiers, political themes, government, home and the changes that occurred because of war and violence. People who did not fight on the battle field responded by writing such contemplative songs and poetry. Most of the country songs that were sung after the war period to remember the soldiers of the war used minimal instruments and were highly dependent on the rhythm, beat and rhyme. With the slow tempo of the song and sensitive lyrics, they played a major role in the protest and were used for propaganda.

Musicology And Its Contribution To War Songs

Musicology can be understood as a research-focused analysis and observation of songs by studying it with various other disciplines. Musicology as a whole includes history, cultural studies, philosophy, aesthetics, politics, sociology and other sub disciplines.

Historical musicology deals with the music of politics that engage with the reception, the origins and roots of the song, political contexts and criticism of music over time and also what instigated the popularity of the genre.

The performance with the use of instruments by folk singers clearly categories them from poets who engage indirectly with the audience. Singers always received instant responses with their live performance and this was clearly seen in the war times as people were inspired by their ideologies and thoughts.

Questions & Answers


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      • Susan SJ profile image

        Susan SJ 19 months ago

        Thank you Alun..

      • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

        Greensleeves Hubs 19 months ago from Essex, UK

        I love so many war songs composed in past decades and past centuries, perhaps because many, as you indicate, are folk-based - my favourite genre of music. Combine that with a powerful message in the lyrics, and it's a formula which really appeals. I particularly like the songs of the American civil war and War of Independence (despite being a Brit!). As for more recent protest songs, even though I sometimes disagree with the anti-war sentiments, the music and lyrics still possess a poignant quality. So thanks for this hub.

        On a side note Susan, I note you have only recently joined HubPages - may I take the opportunity to wish you well and hope that writing on this site proves to be a rewarding experience for you. Alun