The Vietnam Era

The Vietnam Era refers to the years of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia. The period essentially lasted from 1961 until 1975. More than 58,000 Americans and more than one million Vietnamese were killed during the conflict.

Vietnam WarThe Vietnam War proved the defining event of the time. The U.S. and other anti-communist nations fought to prevent communist rebels, with the support of communist North Vietnam, from overthrowing South Vietnam. In the end, the communists outlasted U.S. and South Vietnamese forces and reunited the country. 

The war also served as a backdrop to one of the most turbulent periods in U.S. history. Supporters and opponents clashed about whether or not the war was worth the blood and effort. Many young people protested, angry that they could be drafted to fight and die in a war that seemed to have little to do with protecting the country.

Activism raged on college campuses as students and others raised their doubts and voices in marches all across the country. The shooting death of four unarmed students at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard fueled public outrage and a wave of protest songs like “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The song’s lyric “Four dead in Ohio” became a generation’s anti-war anthem.

MLK and Malcolm XThe Vietnam Era also proved a time of remarkable social change in American society. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders confronted racist laws and attitudes, seeking equal rights and opportunities for African Americans. Women’s rights groups demanded fairer treatment and more opportunities in the workplace. Some young people challenged conservative American values by dropping out of school, growing their hair long, and experimenting with drugs.

There were also many crazy and thrilling moments, like the 1964 U.S. tour of the British pop group called The Beatles, and the monumental effort to send people to the moon. But tragedy often overshadowed such triumphs as inspirational American leaders were gunned down and riots ripped apart poorer parts of our cities.

Music is an expression of who we are. Read on. Listen to the sounds of the times.



Story of the Album

What was happening to America? An enraged Marvin Gaye asked the question: What is going on?




Issues & songs

Learn the issues and listen to the songs on the What’s Going On album.