The selection we were given contained the works of only three people. In my opinion though, these were some of the most influential people of their time. This is either because they were rich and famous, or because they brought a sense of stark reality into their poetry and songs. Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan are both prolific musicians who are very highly respected and whose views on war helped to influence a generation of people. Adrian Mitchell however, was more of an unknown. He wrote starkly, revealing poetry about the war and his views also helped to turn the tide of American pro-war sympathy.
Together, these three men saw the War in an unsavory way. They saw it as an evil and useless act of power and aggression. However, they were part of a minority of people. Luckily, they had status, money, and most of all they had gained the public’s trust and respect. Adrian Mitchell responded to the war in a fashion that was as subtle as the war was violent. Mitchell wrote scathing pieces of poetry that often were set to famous tunes and songs. He parodied the war in such a way that it reached everyone.
If you heard his poems once, set to music, every time you heard the proper song, you would remember about the little known poet who disputes the war. Mitchell was a very clever man. He subtly got his ideas into the human mind, and he formatted them in such a way that they would be triggered periodically and would remind you of the truth. He very sublimely redirected people’s attitudes toward the war. He changed them from pro-war to anti-war. He is a model on how to achieve change without resorting to violence or open demonstrations: simply, by attacking people from within.
You cannot hide from your own mind. Once his ideas took root, you were constantly reminded and it sickened you to think that those poor people in Vietnam went through all that shit. Mitchell used a very inventive way to imbed his ideas into the populace’s mind. You can almost say that he put a virus in our brains. Mitchell saw the war as nothing more than a senseless show of violence. In “Norman Morrison”, he shows very explicitly how the Vietnamese were treated and uses the example of a Quaker as the protagonist. “Norman Morrison set himself on fire outside the Pentagon”.
The Quaker martyrs himself in front of the Pentagon, the building that is at the center of the war. Quakers are morally opposed to war, so this may not have been the best type of person to use in his poem, as his view of the war is not surprising. However, his actions are incredibly strange and are motivated by a deeply seated need to show his disapproval of the war. The Quaker shows his disdain of the Pentagon’s decision to continue the war.
Therefore, he does what only a person who is deeply devoted to peace can do. He sacrifices himself in the name of peace. He becomes the first Vietnamese on American soil. He simply burned away clothes… put on a new skin of flame, and became Vietnamese”. He has essentially left behind his American past and he takes on a new identity, Vietnamese. All of Mitchell’s other poems are as poignant and meaningful as this one. Although his other poems are not as vivid and lurid in their descriptions of the suffering of the Vietnamese, they assail the mind in different and equally potent ways. Mitchell uses repetition as a way for us to remember what he writes, and so, when we think of Vietnam, an embedded phrase which we have read many times comes back to us.
Mitchell uses a psychological manner to get through to us. He does not try to convince that he is right by standing in our faces and shouting. Instead, he enters by the back door of our mind and takes us by surprise. We are left completely unprepared for his hidden message and meaning. Many more conflicts could be solved more easily through this peaceable type of brainwashing. Bob Dylan was another great figure of his time. He was a great influence as a singer and celebrity. Bob Dylan wrote “All Along the Watchtower” and Jimi Hendrix sang it.
Hendrix played an active part in the Vietnam War as he was in the 101st airborne division, “The Cavalry”. All Along the Watchtower is used to show the true feelings that soldiers had. The soldiers believed that they were being screwed over by the politicians and they connected and bonded with the first line of the song. “There must be some way out of here”. All the soldiers felt this. They picked up on this and it helped them feel some hope because, for many of them, there had been no hope. The fact that Hendrix played it though, inspired many of the soldiers out there.
Michael Horr was especially pleased with Hendrix’s song, so much that he said, “Jimi Hendrix is my main man! He has definitely got his shit together”. As a combination, Dylan and Hendrix scored with this song. This showed the world that they did not advocate the war. They were just trying to bring some hope and reassurance to the soldiers out in Vietnam who longed for their motherland. I believe that Dylan played a sort of humanitarian role as he calmed the frustrated soldiers out there by showing them that he too felt their grief and anger at incompetent officials.
No reason to get excited… there are many here among us that feel that life is but a joke”. Life was a joke because of Generals and Commanding Officers who were in it just for personal gain. They really screwed the American people and soldiers over. In the end, many died because of ineptitude on the big bosses’ parts. “But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate”. Bruce Springsteen can be unequivocally named as the most misinterpreted man of his time. People and Presidents alike misunderstood his famed song “Born in the USA”. His song is one about the tragedy of war.
It is not, as Ronald Reagan thought, a patriotic song that commends America. It shows that all those soldiers who survived the war were not treated to a hero’s welcome. They were unwanted and despised; after all, they didn’t win the war, did they? Springsteen was condemning the way people were picked to go to war. It wasn’t free choice. If they had committed a minor crime, they had a choice, jail, or war. It was out of the frying pan and into the fire for all those poor souls. Springsteen shows how the Vietnamese had been dehumanized in the Americans’ eyes.
They were no longer Vietnamese, they were the “yellow men”. After being disenheartened, many of these soldiers were looking forward to coming home. However, nobody wanted them. Springsteen tried to show the whole nation how these men felt. Of course, the fatheads at the top didn’t listen to the song, they assumed that it had something nice to say, and they adopted it and used it in a presidential campaign. It must have been so rare back then to criticize your own government’s approach to the war. “Had a brother at Khe Sahn… there still there, he’s all gone”.
Many soldiers had friends and relatives that fought and died in the war. They may have even fought at Khe Sahn, the bloodiest battle of the war. All these soldiers put their heart and feeble hope into the war. They were welcomed back home as bums. There weren’t any jobs for them. They were veterans, but unsuccessful veterans. Nobody wanted anything to do with them. Springsteen was trying to make this abundantly clear to a nation of ingrates. Had they stayed a bit longer, they would have won. So, they shouldn’t blame these poor soldiers for failing, they should blame themselves.
The fact that Springsteen incorporated this into a song shows how strongly he felt about it. He sent his message out across the radio waves for everyone to hear and to understand. He tried to convince the people in the only way he knew how, by singing. Overall, all these three men had the same views regarding the war. They thought that it was evil and misrepresented. It was unfair to those who fought in it and was hardly a glorious thing to come home from. Mitchell, Dylan, and Springsteen, all tried their best to make a nation understand and see this.