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Editor: Steven L. Danver
Date: 2011
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 5)

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“Counterculture” describes the emergence of a generational rejection of American lifestyles and commercial veneration marked by drugs, sex, communal living, and “acid” rock music. Called “hippies,” these young Americans were drawn to the anti-Vietnam War movement as one avenue to express their dissatisfaction with American society. Most veteran peace activists resented their involvement in the antiwar movement.

Along with the appearance of the rebellious Students for a Democratic Society and its Port Huron Statement (1962), the growing opposition to the Vietnam War gave birth to a popular counterculture movement. Building coalitions to end the war was tricky business, and the inclusion of counterculturalists added not only tensions within the movement as a whole, but also problems for veteran peace activists who resented these nonconformists wedded to drugs, promiscuity, outlandish costumes, and a desire to build alternative institutions. One of the most striking cultural characteristics of the anti-Vietnam War protests was the number of hippies, schooled in matters of drugs like LSD, open sex, and “natural lifestyle, who were attracted to the peace cause.” During the mid-1960s, highlighted by an overflowing population of flower children in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, many young Americans had no respect for their parents’ skills or wisdom and had disdain for their money. Generational conflict, acerbated by the war, began to replace social conflict as the critically divisive issue.

Representing the nation's more recent bohemian subculture, the hippies shocked the country's somewhat dour population with their dirty dungarees, long hair, less-than-acceptable vocabulary, and use of mind-altering drugs, liberated sexual mores, and “acid” rock music. The Woodstock Festival of 1969 symbolized the impact that the counterculture movement had in the United States. The counterculturalists argued for simplicity, communal life, and peace. Turned on by Ken Kesey, author of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, they considered all politics a dead end. Between 1965 and 1970, the counterculturalists were easily noticeable. Their distinguishing attire including wearing beads, raising their fingers in a V-shape, and simply saying, “Peace.” Their attraction to the antiwar movement was superficial at best. However, they did add color to the movement even though their disdain for discipline and organization did not sit well with the serious-minded antiwar leaders. The antics of Abbie Hoffman and his “yippies”—the political component of the hippies—was more a matter of style than substance. Nevertheless, it was though the efforts of Jerry Rubin, Hoffman's associate, that some veteran antiwar activists expanded the vision of a militant, politicized counterculture as part of the antiwar movement. By the late 1960s and early Page 938  |  Top of Article1970s, the Weather Underground, which broke away from the SDS, the Yippies, the Crazies, the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, and other revolutionary groups took part in antiwar protests.

In general, the counterculturalists’ simplicity in political matters rendered them ineffective in the larger antiwar movement. Their antics also provided additional ammunition that supporters of the war and administration officials used to discredit the antiwar protests. The notion that antiwar protesters and stoned hippies were dupes of a communist conspiracy was widely believed among the war's supporters. What could not be denied was the confluence of political responsibility, ideological awareness, and cultural creativity expanding the influence of antiwar protests.

Charles F. Howlett

Further Reading

Farber, David. “The Counterculture and the Anti-war Movement.” In Give Peace a Chance: Exploring the Vietnam Anti-war Movement, ed. Melvin Small and William D. Hoover. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1993.

Fraser, Ronald, ed. 1968. New York: Pantheon, 1988.

Gitlin, Todd. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. New York: Bantam Books, 1987.

Perry, Charles. The Haight-Ashbury: A History. New York: Vintage Books, 1984.

Zaroulis, Nancy, and Gerald Sullivan. Who Spoke Up? American Protest against the War in Vietnam, 1963–1975. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1984.

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1766600340