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How the Vietnam War Empowered the Hippie Movement

September 14, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

The hippie counterculture reached its height during the war’s escalation, and subsided as the conflict drew to a close.

The 1971 May Day protests against the war in Vietnam.

On March 8, 1965, two battalions of U.S. Marines landed on beaches of Da Nang, marking the first official engagement of American troops in the Vietnam War. Over the next several years, as the United States escalated its ill-fated involvement in that conflict, hundreds of thousands of Americans joined in mass protests across the country, repulsed and outraged by the terrible bloodshed taking place in Southeast Asia. Though the anti-war movement had begun on college campuses at the dawn of the 1960s, more and more people joined in opposition to the war in the latter half of the decade, as television brought images of its atrocities into American homes in a new level of excruciating detail.

The hippie counterculture, which emerged in the late 1960s and grew to include hundreds of thousands of young Americans across the country, reached its height during this period of escalation of American involvement in the Vietnam War, and subsided as that conflict drew to a close. But hippies’ rejection of mainstream American culture, and their distinctive brand of rebellion—including their long hair and beards, colorful style, psychedelic drug use, love of rock music and eco-conscious lifestyle—would leave a lasting impact on the nation in the decades to come.

Counterculture Prior to the Vietnam War

In many ways, the hippies of the 1960s descended from an earlier American counterculture: the Beat Generation. This group of young bohemians, most famously including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, made a name for themselves in the 1940s and ‘50s with their rejection of prevailing social norms, including capitalism, consumerism and materialism. Centered in bohemian havens like San Francisco and the East Village of New York City, Beats embraced Eastern religions, experimented with drugs and a looser form of sexuality; their followers became known by the diminutive term “beatniks.”

“What’s significant about [the Beats] is that the movement was very small, it was literary—so it had a claustrophobic quality about it,” explains William Rorabaugh, professor of history at the University of Washington and author of American Hippies (2015). “You weren’t allowed to be in the group unless you were either a friend of or a poet.”

Hippies dancing at a ‘Love-In’ at …read more


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