American War and the Music It Inspired

Essay by ericabeeA, April 2009

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Since Homer and his Iliad, the role of the artist has been to capture, explain, and interpret public events in such a way that the general population can make sense of what is happening around them. As a result, music throughout history has been used as both propaganda and protest. Dating back to the American Civil War, music has been used to promote, inspire, boost confidence and morale, and convey the feelings and emotions of the people. Even our national anthem originated as a poem inspired by the Battle of Baltimore. Francis Scott Key witnessed first hand the bombarding of American forces by the British all throughout the night. The next morning as the smoke cleared Key was able to see the American flag still waving. This inspired him to write a poem describing his experience and set it to the music of an English drinking song called "To Anacreon in Haven" (Evisum Inc).

The Battle of the Republic was an anthem that inspired Union soldiers and civilians during the Civil War. Both 20th century world wars produced many patriotic songs, songs that could almost be seen as a form of propaganda. However, it is clear that war-time music is no longer purely patriotic. Each war preceding the Vietnam War saw music used strictly to inspire support for the war, but during the Vietnam War is when music changed to become primarily anti-war or "protest" music. This trend did not end with the eventual end of the Vietnam War; each conflict since has seen anti-war sentiments expressed through music. Most recently the attacks on September 11th, 2001 have been turned into musical verse and the Iraq War has also inspired music to express both pro-war and anti-war feelings.

The Vietnam War was the first American conflict when musicians began to...