You Only Are What You Believe: 1967 Anti-War Protest and the Year’s Music

On October 21 in 1967, one of the most significant signs of public disgruntlement with the Vietnam conflict began.  Nearly 100,000 people showed up in D.C. to protest the U.S. role in the war.

The March on the Pentagon to Confront the War Makers started near the Lincoln Memorial, and approximately 50,000 of the protesters then went to the Pentagon, where many remained until October 23 and where some participated in acts of civil disobedience. Author Norman Mailer captured many of the events of the protest in his novel, Armies of the Night.

That year there were other protests around the country, as polls showed that the support for the war had dropped below 50%.  All of those factors led President Lyndon Johnson’s administration to respond with a public relations campaign in support of the war.

But the protest, and complaints after the Tet offensive in early 1968, illustrated that many Americans would continue to raise their voices to end the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Music Reflects the Protests Against the War

At the time, one might have noticed from the music that something was in the air. The year 1967 began with the Rolling Stones appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in January.  At the show’s request, the band famously changed the title lyrics of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to the less sexy “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.” But by September, the Doors appeared on the same show after also agreeing to alter the lyrics to their song, “Light My Fire.” But Jim Morrison captured the growing youth rebellion by going ahead and singing the offending line “Girl we couldn’t get much higher.”

In other 1967 music news, Buffalo Springfrield released “For What It’s Worth” in January. In February, Aretha Franklin recorded “Respect.” In March, the Who performed for the first time in the U.S. In June, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Also in June, the Monterey Pop Festival brought young people together to hear such artists as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Otis Redding.  Redding soon would write and record “(Sitting on) the Dock of the Bay.”

John Lennon in How I Won the War

Then, on October 18, three days before the Washington protest, the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine came off the presses with a cover photo of John Lennon from the film How I Won the War.  The film was a comedy where Lennon first appeared with his famous round glasses.

Phil Ochs Declares the War is Over

Of course, there was music at the protest in D.C. too. One of the performers at the protest was Phil Ochs. He performed his recent song that imagined a future without the war, “The War is Over.”

In the song at the protest, Ochs proclaimed “This country is too young to die,” so “I declare the war is over.” He concludes, “You only are what you believe.”

Below is a video of a different live performance of “The War is Over.”

The U.S. eventually withdrew its troops from Viet Nam, but it would be nearly six more years before the war was actually over for the U.S. soldiers and their loved ones at home.

Photo via public domain.

What is your favorite music or event from 1967? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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