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#ThrowbackThursday: “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield

"For What It's Worth" is a 1966 single from the band Buffalo Springfield, often linked to the anti-Vietnam War movement.
  – "For What It's Worth" is a 1966 single from the band Buffalo Springfield, often linked to the anti-Vietnam War movement.

By Sean Smith

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to Summer. Many of us are looking forward to this weekend not only because it kicks off the Summer, but also because many of us will get a three day weekend to spend some quality time with our families and relax. However, it is also important we take some time this weekend to remember the reason for the holiday.

The Memorial Day holiday has its origins in the years following the American Civil War. Then known as Decoration Day, it was a day set aside to remember the lives of both Union and Confederate soldiers who died while serving in the war. During the 20th Century, Decoration Day gradually became known as Memorial Day and would go from honoring those lost in the Civil War, to a day set aside to remember all service members who have died in all U.S. wars.

As I mentioned this past November, in a Veteran’s Day themed #tbt post, I am an Iraq War Veteran. Therefore, each Memorial Day my thoughts naturally tend to gravitate to the 4,493 American lives lost in that war. Now If you are a political nerd like myself, you may also be aware that the Iraq War has become somewhat of a topical issue when it comes to 2016 Presidential election politics. In recent weeks many prominent Republican candidates have said that knowing what we know now, they would not have supported the war in Iraq. I can’t help but to draw some parallels between the War in Iraq and the Vietnam War. Specifically, in regards to the lack of support by politicians and by the public at large for both of those wars as time went on. So this week I want to take a moment to remember a song commonly attached to the Vietnam War even though it was never intended to be.

“For What It’s Worth” is a song performed by Buffalo Springfield that many associate with the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, it is often cited as one of the most known anti-war anthems in music history. However, “For What It’s Worth” was in fact not written as an anti-war song in any way shape or form. While the song does talk about “young people speaking their minds” and “singing songs and carrying signs” the song is not talking about the many young people who were protesting the Vietnam war during that time. Instead, the song written by Stephen Stills, more widely known for his Crosby Stills & Nash fame, was rather describing a gathering that was protesting curfew and loitering laws that had been passed in Los Angeles. These laws were thinly veiled attempts to try and force a popular nightclub with the young people of the time called Pandora’s Box to close. The young people didn’t appreciate the laws or the attempt to shut down a popular club and so many decided to take to the streets in protest. Stills would document this in song with “For What It’s Worth”, but it would later be appropriated for the anti-war cause. The song would peak on the charts at the number seven spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and is now synonymous with the anti-Vietnam War movement despite the origins of the song having nothing to do with that cause.

So in light of the Memorial Day holiday this weekend, and the subject of war being a point of discussion in politics recently, we remember a song forever associated with the Vietnam War, “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. Enjoy.

Buffalo Springfield

“For What It’s Worth”

Atco Records