How Communism resulted in Jam Bands, which are extraordinarily popular in Steamboat.

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Communism had a profound effect on nearly every aspect of life in America during the last half of the twentieth century. First and foremost are the political effects such as Containment and the Truman doctrine. There is also the habit of lying to the people the government developed during the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts. Perhaps the most lingering effects communism had on America in the last half of the twentieth century were the increased mistrust of the Unites States government and the subsequent rise of the American counterculture that resulted from the combined strain of both the Korean and Vietnam wars had on the American people. The counterculture gave rise to many things; most dominate in today’s society being jam bands. The American government’s response to the threat of communism set the stage for the rise of the Hippie movement in the last half of the twentieth century along with their new kind of music.

The Korean War undoubtedly set the foundation for the hippie revolution by planting the first seeds of mistrust for United States officials and introduced the baby-boomers to the horrors of war. Still being young, they did not fight in this conflict however they still bore witness to the impact of the Korean War through their family members and communities who were involved. The situation in Korea had been worsening for a long time. After the country was split into two at the 11th parallel line, Communist North Korea was being rebuilt by the Soviets, while South Korea was left to the United States. By this time, our nation was honor bound by the Truman Doctrine to support people worldwide defending themselves from communism. The doctrine pledged the United States to  “assist free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”[1] The doctrine called for the US to provide “money and aid’ to countries threatened by communism. It was not until the North Koreans invaded South Korea with the intention of killing the president and taking South Korea for the communists that America became actively involved in the conflict. The Korean War could have been less violent if it were not for one man, General Douglas McAurthur, and his blind fear of communism. General McAurthur, ignored the orders from the president to say on the south side of the 38th parallel, the line that divides North and South Korea. Unauthorized attacks in North Korea continued until president Truman finally fired General McAurthur the next spring. The damage was done however, and 50,000 Americans died in Korea. This event planted the first seeds of mistrust for high-ranking officials in America and by extension, cultural rebellion in the future hippie revolution.

It took twelve years and another international conflict with communists to really get the Hippie revolution started.  In the 1950’s, America found herself aiding a colonial power to maintain control over the people of Vietnam who were fighting to gain their independence. This goes against the idea of the Truman doctrine, American is suppose to help people trying gain their freedom The problem was that the Vietnamese rebels were communists and “both president Truman and President Eisenhower feared that a victorious communist-led independence movement in Vietnam could tip all of south-east Asia into the ‘Red’ camp.”[2] The United States could not allow another country in Asia to fall to communism, because according to the Domino theory if one nation falls to communism the rest will follow.

When our money and guns failed to help France maintain control in Vietnam, we consented to setting up a puppet government in the newly created South Vietnam and trying to rebuild the country into an “anticommunist bastion formed in the United States’ image.”[3] However, the hearts of the Vietnamese were with the communists and it was not long until the Vietcong invaded South Korea to reunify the country. Where money and guns had failed, the urge to save the world from a bleak red end prompted America to send in our own men.

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution allowed President Johnson “the power to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attacks against the armed forced of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”[4] By 1968 there were 550,000 US troops on the ground in Vietnam.[5] President Johnson wanted to resolve the situation with minimal disruption at home, and so the policy of a ‘limited war’ on the home front arose This policy gave rise to one of the most lasting effects of the Vietnam conflict; “a growing public cynicism about the integrity of the government.”[6] Nobody at home knew the full scope of the situation. However, the American Soldiers faced unfamiliar and hostile territory, full of hiding places for the enemy, as well as booby traps. They were at a disadvantage by fighting in the jungle and our weapons were out of date. The fight was going badly for the Americans. This war along with the discovery that the Government had been lying to the people all along about the situation of the war in Vietnam, gave the hippie revolution exactly what they needed to band together: a common enemy. In this case, it was the corrupt actions being taken by the government and the  high death tolls of American soldiers. Once their society had been torn apart by conflicts over civil rights and the war in Vietnam, youths “used rock music as a proud emblem of their rebellion against the more staid and conservative aspects of [society].”[7] In the face of a war that seemed endless and a government they could not trust, America’s youth turned to a counterculture whose message was embodied by rock music.

The counterculture believed that their parents’ culture had failed them, resulting in their friends and neighbors involvement in bloody conflicts overseas that the majority of American youth and several people in the president’s cabinet felt America had no right to be fighting. Walter Lippmann, the Dean of American Journalists and the “most experienced observer of international affairs in the United States” stated that, “our security and well being are not involved in South East Asia or Korea and never have been.”[8]  Inspired by the unpopular war and the mistrust for the government, America’s youth retreated into a culture of their own, “political controversy [was] most visibly reflected by the fads and consumer choices of Americans population of young people.”[9] As the situation in Vietnam worsened, many anti war movements, including the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), came to the conclusion that “the war exposed a national corruption so deep that nonviolent revolution was necessary…that the establishment was beyond redemption.”[10] Protesting the war alone was not enough for the hippies however, who “emerged mostly from SDS ranks, [and] saw the war in simple terms as imperialistic genocide.”[11] They felt this problem was deeper rooted into the American paradigm itself: “the war represented the predictable violence of the straight establishment.”[12]  In order for improvement, the entire way of life needed to shift. They believed simply that “everyone needed to lighten up and have fun.”[13] As a solution, “these Hippies sought to create an alternative way of life that overlapped with the more general youth culture but which went much further in its alienation from the middle class consumer society.”[14] And they were not alone either; “Cheered on by visionaries as diverse as ex-Harvard professor Timothy Leary, acclaimed writer Ken Keasy, and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, members of the counterculture sought to establish new life styles in which co-operation replace competition.”[15] The Hippies wanted to create a society where through co-operation everyone has a better life, for example “the ‘Diggers’ believed that everything should be ‘free’, with goods and services being bartered, traded, or simply given away.”[16] For a short time in 1967 and 1968 the Diggers and some like minded citizens set up a food giveaway in Golden Gate Park and “also established a free store, a free transportation network, free medical care, and free concerts featuring rock groups like the Grateful Dead.”[17] Free concerts such as these, as well as the infamous Woodstock, are how the Grateful Dead became famous. The fan base of The Dead wanted to live an alternative life style; this lead to a large following of the band as they toured around. Fans created communities and spread their culture in the parking lots of venues across the country. The Grateful Dead defined the modern ‘jam band’, thus being the initial inspiration for the wide variety of jam bands that are popular today.

Communism had many effects on America in the last half of the twenty-century, arguably most popular are rock and roll jam bands. Communist revolutions in Korea and Vietnam happened regardless of US involvement, and did not lead to a communist takeover of the entire world as the United States had feared. What they did do was cost the United States billions of dollars and over a million lives. Misinformation on the part of the government regarding both unnecessary conflicts stripped the American people, specifically young people, of their faith in the government. It also inspired the youth of America to call for change, not only for policy change regarding America’s foreign affairs, but for an entire paradigm shift including everything from the way business is conducted to how children are raised. This desire drove them into a specific counter culture that revolved around protesting the war which was voiced by rock and roll music. Bands such as The Grateful Dead recognized the value of playing free shows to a fan base ready to embrace change. Without the U.S.’s actions against communism to first rile up the youth of America and then bring them all together, these bands would not have had the same source of inspiration or cultural impact. Their new and particularly different style of music would not have taken off. Musicians across the country would have never taken up the call, for there would be no call to pick up, and no one would be listening to jam bands.


[1] Merrill, Dennis.  “The Truman Doctorine:  Containing Communism and Moderninity.”  Presidential Studies Quarterly 36, no. 1 (March 2006): 27-37. Academic Search Complere. Ebscohost  (accessed December 8, 2012).

[2] Farber, David and Beth Bailey et. Al.  The Columbia Guide to the 1960’s.  New York:  Columbia University Press,  2001, 35.

[3] Steigerwald, David.  The Sixties and the End of Modern America.  Ney York:  St. Martin’s Press, Inc.,  1995,  71.

[4] Farber and Bailet et. AL, 38.    

[5] Farber and Bailey et AL, 38.

[6] Steigward, 96.

[7] Farber and Bailey et. Al., 59.

[8] Qtd in Steigward, 102.

[9] Farber and Bailey et. AL., 58.

[10] Steigward, 105.

[11] Steigward, 106.

[12] Steigward, 106.

[13] Steigward, 106.

[14] Farber and Bailey et. AL., 59.

[15] Farber and Bailey, 60.

[16] Farber and Bailey, 60.

[17] Farber and Bailey, 60.

2 responses »

  1. I love the grateful dead. And I love communism. But to talk of the beginnings of 1960’s counterculture without mention of beatniks, kerouac, or neil cassidy is wrong. I would argue that it was the horrors of World War II and the subsequent creation of a suburban America that left a certain subsection of the country feeling isolated. Enter the rise of the beatniks and motorcycle gangs. With their departure from mainstream America and their descent into skidrow culture, many Americans saw life from the other side of the tracks. The free flow of African American jazz music combined with their affinity for marijuana surely opened uninitiated eyes. While jazz was pushing the boundaries from big band music to other dimensions, another American tradition, bluegrass was getting foots stomping and jugs passed around. It was pure dance music. As a young man, future Dead front man Jerry Garcia made a pilgrimage to the South, where he would play with bluegrass godfather Bill Monroe. It’s important to note, the Grateful Dead were apolitical. They refused to protest Vietnam or stump for a candidate. They received much flack at the time, but decades later, I greatly respect their commitment to art and their refusal to allow that art to be diminished with petty transient politics.
    I’m not a fan of broad generalizations to explain history or the present. Every moment in universal history has lead up to this moment. If a history of communism or jam bands were to be written though, it would be a stretch to see their history’s paralleled. Having said that, if you just had to group them together, I would have used different evidence. The famous Dead haunt on Haight and Ashbury was an experiment in communalism and the Dead’s legacy of caring for an extended family of roadies and families is somewhat communal if not just generous. Finally, their encouragement of fans taping shows and freely sharing their music has become a business model many capitalists have pondered and wished to recreate with profit and success.

    Thanks for the brain exercise and Keep up the good fight. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

    • I would have to agree with you. The purpose of writing the paper was to explain the effects of communism on the last half of the twentieth century, and in an effort to make the paper interesting for myself i chose to focus on the part communism played in the development of my favorite music. If i were to write a paper that was supposed to be focusing on the rise of the 1960 counterculture, you can be assured I would include everything you mentioned and much much more. thanks for your feed back!

      never stop ascending, may the wind be your guide

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