Students will:

  • identify theme, tone, imagery used in past and current war songs
  • describe effects of war songs on community opinions
  • draw conclusions about public perception based on war songs
  • identify the author’s purpose in song lyrics
  • infer how an individual is inspired to take action through song
  • evaluate the changing tone in music between the Vietnam War and the War on Terror
Middle and High SchoolSocial Studies, Language Arts, Music

One Class Session
Medal of Honor Focus: Michael E. Thornton, U.S. Navy, Vietnam War

For the Teacher:
Before class, display the following quotation in the classroom for the concluding activity: “I think everybody has to sacrifice for something great. Nothing is given to you; you have to work for it.” —Michael E. Thornton, Vietnam War

Introductory Activity:
Respond to the following journal prompt: “Have you ever fought for or stood up for something you strongly believed in when most people thought you were wrong?” Explain this incident and how it made you feel.

Whole Group Activity:
Students will watch the video about Michael Thornton and list moments that stood out as noble or heroic. The teacher will conduct a discussion after viewing. Ask students to imagine that those who served in the Vietnam War, even Thornton himself, were scorned by the majority of the public. The signs of the times are usually depicted in the music of that era. Never has this been more evident than during the Vietnam War era.

Listen to the songs “War” by Edwin Starr and “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, written during the Vietnam War. Discuss how the artists’ feelings about war are reflected in these songs. Listen to the songs “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” by Toby Keith and “Iraq and Roll” by Clint Black, written during the Middle East conflict. Discuss how these songs portray different perceptions about the two conflicts.

Small Group/Individual Activity:
Divide students into small groups. Distribute lyrics from the song list that reflect a variety of opinions on different wars.

Students will identify tone, theme, imagery, and author’s purpose for each song. They will infer when the song was written and why. Each group is responsible for recording their responses.

Whole Group Activity:
Student groups will share their thoughts and findings with the class and point out connections and common literary devices in the songs. Song excerpts may be played.

Concluding Activity:
Refer to initial quotation and inferences about lyrics. As a group, students will reflect how their own thoughts about the quotations relate to the group consensus about war.

Discussion; student work on tone, theme, imagery, and author’s purpose; reflection

Mike Thornton Living History video, handouts of song lyrics, songs to play in class


Revolutionary War

“Yankee Doodle” by Richard Shuckburgh

Civil War
“Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Julia Ward Howe
“When Johnny Comes Marching Home” by Patrick S. Gilmore
“Dixie War Song” by Dan Emmett
“Follow the Drinking Gourd” slave song sung in Underground Railroad

War of 1812

“Star Spangled Banner” by Sir Francis Scott Key

World War I
“America” (“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”) by Samuel Francis Smith
“Over There” by George M. Cohan
“The Old Grey Mare” by Unknown
“Hail! Hail! The Gang’s All Here” by D.A. Estron

World War II
“God Bless America” by Irving Berlin

Vietnam War

“The Times They Are A ‘Changin’” by Bob Dylan
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone” by Pete Seeger
“For What It’s Worth” by Stephen Stills
“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night
“Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon
“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
“Star Spangled Banner” Jimmy Hendrix Guitar Rendition
“Imagine” by John Lennon
“Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire

War on Terror
“Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth” by Willie Nelson
“The Final Straw” by REM
“In a World Gone Mad” by The Beastie Boys
“Have You Forgotten” by Darryl Worley