Punk rock, its sub-genres, and sub-cultures, emerged in the mid-1970s, coinciding with the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975, and the renaming of Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City. With a rejection of the mainstream and anti-establishment, punk bands often tackled political issues. Growing-up in the context of the Vietnam War, the collapse of South Vietnam, and the impact of the war on veterans returning home, a large number of punk songs focussed or referenced the war, often using it as a point of comparison for contemporary events.
In the 1980s, with the rise of Reagan-era nationalism, or attempt to overcome the "Vietnam Syndrome" - the perception that domestic controversies over the war led to the US taking a less interventionist position in US foreign affairs - punk rock and it's sub-genres played a significant role in opposing Reagan interventions, such as in El Salvador, Grenada, and Nicaragua. This opposition to government foreign policy and interventions continued in the 1990s, with the Gulf War, and in the 2000s with the invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iraq War.
This forms part of the larger Vietnam War Song Project (VWSP), an interpretive examination of over 6,000 Vietnam War songs identified, revealing how the war's significance is represented through music. The project also collects spoken-word recordings about the conflict. The goals of the project are: (1) to critically analyse the song lyrics, searching for historical, social, and cultural themes, and collecting data on the genre, location, ethnicity, nationality, language, and time period of the recordings; (2) to learn about the Vietnam War, and the music and artists associated with it; (3) to preserve the physical records for the future, as artifacts of the 20th century. This unique collection of voices advances scholarship by providing insights into people’s views about the war over time as represented in music, looking at diverse communities and vibrant music scenes. It is crucial in developing our knowledge of the war and the humanities, through the use of a digital research platform.
Hugo Keesing, Wouter Keesing, C.L. Yarbrough, Justin Brummer
University of Maryland, Modern Songs of War and Conflict: Keesing Collection on Popular Music and Culture, 2023