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Vietnam Songs Summary

Ohio — Crosby, Stills Nash, and Young

Written by Neil Young, this song depicts the animosity felt by some Americans toward the results of the Vietnam War. After American troops invaded Cambodia in 1970, many felt misguided by the federal government, and protests began sprouting around the country. On May 4, 1970, the National Guard opened fire on protestors at Kent State University, killing four students and wounding nine. Neil Young, upon seeing the shockingly realistic cover of Time magazine, wrote his hit song. He was outraged by the government’s attempt to oppress students exercising their constitutional rights. Like many Americans, Young blamed Nixon for the events at Kent State. In his song, Young even references Nixon and his “tin soldiers,” the National Guard. By May 10, Young gathered in the studio with Crosby, Stills, and Nash to record the hit song. Ohio was on the best-sellers list by July and was on the Top 40 for seven weeks. For many, this song serves as a reminder of the fallen Kent State students.

The Ballad of the Green Berets — Barry Sadler

The Ballad of the Green Berets became one of the biggest pro-war songs during the Vietnam era. Written originally by Barry Sadler, the song made its debut in 1963. It was inspired by Sadler’s time in the U.S. Air Force and Army. In 1964, Sadler was sent to Vietnam, but was sent home only months later when an infection from a punji stick endangered his life. The army began to use Sadler’s song to instill hope in the American people. Robin Moore, who helped Sadler obtain a contract with RCA Victor, helped Sadler revise his song. Sadler’s song was immediately sent to television shows and radios across America. The army recognized the song’s ability to inspire people in a time of protest and doubt. This song was number one on Billboard’s for 5 weeks during 1966.

I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag — Country Joe McDonald

This iconic song became a national symbol of protest during a time of conflict and war. In 1965, Country Joe McDonald, the writer, was inspired to write this song after serving with the U.S. Navy. McDonald recalls that this song just came to him while he was working on another Vietnam song. He was able to finish “The Rag,” as McDonald refers to it, in 30 minutes. This darkly humored song attempts to poke fun at the political leaders whom McDonald blames for the outcome of the war. He believes politicians’ unwavering desire to make money was a pitiful excuse for thousands of American lives to be lost, especially under a draft. McDonald performed The Rag at Woodstock in 1969 along with the infamous “Fish” chant. He wasn’t originally scheduled to sing, but a cancellation by Jeff Beck made it possible for McDonald to sing in his now most famous performance.

Researched by: Taylor Romero
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School


Franklin, H. Bruce, Editor. The Vietnam War in American Stories, Songs, and Poems. Boston: Bedford Books by St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Harrington. Jim. “Berkeley folk rocker survives ‘children’s game of rock‘n’ roll’,” Oakland Tribune 07 Feb 2008. Business Network. 30 May 2008 .

McDonald, Country Joe. “How I Wrote the Rag.” Country Joe’s Place. Apr 2000. 30 May 2008 .

Rhine, Gail, President. “CASCA: The Eternal Mercenary.” Barry Sadler: Official Web Site. Americana Books. 30 May 2008 .

Thrasher, ““Ohio” — Neil Young Lyrics Analysis.” Thrasher’s Wheat. June 2003. 30 May 2008 .

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