How was opposition to the Vietnam War portrayed in contemporary literature, film and popular song?
Q1. How was opposition to the Vietnam War portrayed in contemporary literature, film and popular song?
In the following extended answer I intend to scrutinize the opposition to the Vietnam War. With the use of contemporary literature, film and popular song I am hopeful that I can express to you how these materials had quite a radical effect on the people’s opinion.
To begin, we must take into consideration the initial public opinion and contemporary sources on the war on the war in it’s originate. The people of America were continually being warned by their leaders that communism was a serious threat to their country. Numerous foreign policies against communist ideology like containment and the Trumine doctrine high-lighted this fear. So it was no great surprise that public opinion was fairly in favour of the war when Johnson announced it after the bombing of an American ship off the gulf of Tonkin in 1965. In fact most contemporary material at that time was actually supportive of the war and its authors did not want to sound unpatriotic by condemning the conflict. For example the film “The Green Berets,” released in 1968, before the opposition began to swell, was mainly a pro-war film which influenced people by reinforcing their patriotism. It was indeed a Propaganda film – popular actors like John Wayne had roles in these films to help gain the public support. However as you are about to read this was to change, dramatically.
As the late 60’s approached it became known as the “flower Power” era. It encouraged love and peace, among other things, so as I’m sure you can imagine the Vietnamese war was diverse from this trend. Opinion began to change. In the beginning some people described the change in mood as unpatriotic, however on the 27th of June 1969 ‘Life’ magazine published photos of 242 American soldiers killed during the previous week. American people were quite taken aback, it highlighted the shear death toll of such young Americans. It increased opposition to the war and wiped out most traces of the thought that being against the war was unpatriotic.
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The draft law was also largely exploited by the media, one such contemporary cartoon showed American children being forced to sign the draft law while President Johnson supervises them with a jeering grin. This draft law created a lot of controversy as well, many people argued that the senator’s sons didn’t seem to be affected by the dreaded draft law.
Contemporary film changed as well, the film ‘In the Year of the Pig’ was strongly anti-war. It contained scenes of American soldiers being carried off the battle field legless and bloody to the theme of ‘Old Glory’. This sickened American viewers, it tormented the mothers and relatives whose sons and relations were in Vietnam fighting an unjust war and thus provoked more opposition to the war. Another example of contemporary film is The Deer Hunter. It is basically about 3 young men, Michael, Steven and Nick who are young factory workers from Pennsylvania who get drafted to fight in Vietnam. After some time and many horrors the three friends fall in the hands of the Vietcong and are brought to a prison camp in which they are forced to play Russian roulette against each other. They escape and return home, but their lives are forever changed. An emotional film that would surly have affected many American viewers. The ironic rendition of "God Bless America" at the film's tragic end is perhaps the most famous part of the film and undeniably mocks President Johnson’s reason for going to war and is another example of how opposition was portrayed in contemporary film.
The composition song was the earliest of contemporary sources to show opposition to war, this criticism mounted as time went on. It evidently opposed the war also, its lyrics grew more anti-war as the years drew on and more soldiers died. Their influence was also more widespread, songs could be broadcast on the radio so, unlike films, there was a larger audience. The songs too were influenced by the era of flower power and so they urged peace and harmony and of course preached of the evils of war. Country singer Joe Mc Donald sang “What are we fighting for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam…” a more popular artist Johnny Cash sang ‘many a good man I saw fall’ and ‘I get a little tremolo when I talk’ referring to the physiological impact it had on the soldiers and again influencing opposition to the war.
Television was also an important avenue to portray opposition to the war. It broadcast scenes at a university in Ohio where a young American protester was shot by an American soldier. This boosted Anti-war campaigns and was a huge set back to those who were trying to justify the war. Moreover it was the first proper war ever to be broadcast on television. News reel images contained scenes of small naked children running from a napalm cloud or horrific injuries to soldiers with mutated bodies and even pictures of soldiers lying dead in the battlefields. A famous newsreel of a Vietnamese monk being burnt was also quite a strong symbol from the war. These have evoked opposition to the war. after careful research I have also noticed that most of the gruesome images shown to the American people had mainly a white soldier in it, perhaps that was the because the white population of America had more of an impact in the country’s proceedings and activists felt that pictures of white as opposed to pictures of coloured soldiers would have had more of an impact on the public opinion.
The incident known as the My Lai massacre also played a major part in the Vietnam War. A specific village - known to the US as My Lai, were suspected of harboring a battalion of Vietcong soldiers. The soldiers found no insurgents in the village on the morning of March 16, 1968, although they had been psychologically prepared for a major attack. The soldiers, led by Lt. William Calley, killed hundreds of civilians – primarily old men, women, children, and babies. Some were tortured or raped. Dozens were herded into a ditch and executed with automatic weapons. Initial investigations of the My Lai incident were undertaken. A written report in April claimed that approximately 20 civilians were inadvertently killed during the military operation in My Lai. The army at this time was still describing the event as a military victory resulting in the death of 128 of the enemy. The carnage at My Lai might have gone unknown to history if not for the cover up to be spoiled by soldier who witnessed what happened. It was another two months before the American public learned about the massacre and trials. The photos of the war crime were too shocking for senior officials to stage an effective cover-up. One senator said, "There are so many kids just lying there; these pictures are authentic." The explosive news of the massacre fueled the outrage of the American peace movement, which demanded the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. It also led more potential draftees to file for objector status which meant that they didn’t have to go to Vietnam. Those who had always argued against the war felt vindicated and those on the fringes of the movement became more vocal.
As a cumulative effect of the literature, film and popular song portrayed from this time there was quite an obvious sway in public opinion. The media played an indispensable role in bringing about this change one source comically states “Overnight one TV correspondent with one cameraman could become as important as ten or twenty senators”. This source obviously concurs with my belief that the media played a major role in portraying opposition through the use of contemporary literature, film and popular song in the Vietnam War. We also know that as a result of the publicity gained about the Vietnam War via these contemporary sources the anti-war movement grew. Subsequently, pressure from public opinion that had now changed to an anti-war stance caused the government to take action to end the war in Vietnam.