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Vietnam actually sought help from America to build their nation and in particular, to help to drive the French colonialists out of their region. However, the USA turned them down and they turned to the Soviet Union for assistance; the US instead opted to help France – a step which was seen to have an imperial nature.
Undoubtedly, the media played a significant role in the Viet Nam war of 1955-1975 (MacArthur, 515). This war was famous on a global scale; it was a war between France and the Northern part of Viet Nam. The French colonized Viet Nam for 80 years; in 1945 Viet Nam was divided into south and north (MacArthur, 521). The northern part fought with France in 1946 and in 1954 they won the fight. This success enabled the reunion of the north and the south to form the United Vietnam. During the war France got financial backup from America and also military support (MacArthur, 505).
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The coverage of the war was not restrictive to the television viewers; people viewed every happening from the war field. Television technology exposed the horror of the fight; this has formed the basic argument of how this has impacted on the development of the war. There were no attempts by the government to censure such open coverage of the war; other reporters such as the newspapers were free to question or comment the war.
This had major impact on the public opinion of the war, the images of the war created misunderstanding among people all over the world. The unregulated media coverage was an aspect of negligence by the government since the coverage was direct without evaluation making it easy for people to misunderstand the situation.
Hallin (1989) referred to the war as ‘the uncensored war’; draws from the coverage by popular press like the New York’s Times and from television reports on the war from 1965-1973 (Hallin, 172). Hallin notes that the media presented official perspectives of the war (Hallin, 234). Unlike other journalists who concentrated on figures of the war and the political aspects of the war; Herr dealt with the effect that the war had on the lives of people watching the happenings during the war and revealing the truth surrounding the war. In his work ‘Dispatches’, Herr dealt with the tension, terror, excitement and deaths that are related to the war.
Vietnam War was described as ‘television war’ or ‘living room war’ because it was the first one that has ever had unrestricted coverage (Robert, 446). The general idea for such coverage was to have an anti-war influence on the public. However, the images and live broadcast of the war inspired revulsion on the public and this made it lose the support of the viewers. For instance, the CBS aired the scene of lighting of Cam Ne village by Marines (Robert, 530); the opinion of people on this scene was included in this coverage. Viewers also witnessed the brutality of Col.Ngoc on a captive in Saigon Street (Robert, 534).
The media played a significant role in revealing the credibility gap which existed between the public and their government. This was through revelation of how the military and political powers were utilized in the Vietnam War.
America offered military support in bid to stop the war in 1964-1972; the war saw the development an antiwar movement which was a result of unlimited media coverage which would give detailed and critical information on the war (Anup, 2003). The war revealed to the public that the government in other cases reveal only what would please them and some details are reserved. However, the Vietnam War was an eye opener since the public saw how the government conducts foreign policy; all atrocities carried out during the war were exposed.
As early as 1965, an opposition against the government action was in place; a group of scholars pointed out the inappropriateness of involvement of America in the war. Information on how the war began and the ongoing situation was made known to people through the media which helped in forming the basis for disapproval in engagement of America.
The media aimed at bringing reality of the war to the people but the antiwar programs affected the sentiments of the audience. For instance, ‘That Was the Week That Was’ was a program that criticized the president Johnson’s moves in the war and it influenced the opinion of the viewers.
Reporters in Vietnam enjoyed freedom of press; they did not experience any official censorship and they moved around with freedom (Anup, 2003) The impact of this was felt at home, information gathered by reporters would have been filtered by the broadcasters who would argue that some footage could offend some viewers. At first, it was thought that the coverage of the war was uncensored until the antiwar movement by Vietnam veterans campaigned for critical media coverage.
In 1967 about 90% of the news in media was about the war and this has been watched by over 50 million people (Bonior, Champlin, Kolly, 1984, p. 4-5). During this time, the public and the media offered strong support to the war; the military would report continuous progress and they would be applauded. However, the support started going down gradually; with no censorship required in reporting by journalists, they would present to the public graphic images from the war and interview of soldiers.
A major change in reporting by the journalists in war took place in Tet Offensive when soldiers from the northern part of Vietnam swept through cities in the southern. During this time, the media gave the perception that the US military was defeated but the military reported that they won because the North Vietnam soldiers actually suffered many casualties (Anup, 2003). This time of the war increased the number of stories editorialized by journalists to 20% from 5.9% (Hallin, 1986, p. 170). In a statement in CBS, Walter Cronkite said that optimists took the Tet as a victory while those who reported the scene as a defeat gave unsatisfactory conclusion (Hallin, 1986, p.170).
Tet offensive and Walter statement had the impact of making American involvement in the war negative. The massacre which took place in My Lai in particular damaged the image of American soldiers. It had been reported that 100 soldiers had been killed but some other reports revealed that 350 Vietnamese soldiers had been massacred (Hammond, 1998, p. 192). Such conflicting information brought the subject of American soldiers into a wider coverage by the media.
Negative and conflicting media coverage influenced opinion of the public towards the war; the killing they witnessed through media such as television and newspapers made withdraw their support of the American soldiers. Although the media tried to avoid reporting on the anti-war movement before this massacre, but later covered their story which seemed to overshadow the war. Reports on demonstration by the movement experienced a wider coverage as well as the human impact of the situation. The situation was politicized and coverage shifted from the war to the political situation in the country; during this time only 13% of the news dealt with the war ground in Vietnam (Bonior, Champlin, Kolly, 1984, p. 8).
As the journalists concentrated at reporting American politics in relation to the war, only a few reporters were left to cover the war. As a result of intense media coverage of the political situation in America, most of the soldiers decided to leave Vietnam and go back home. According the report of 1967, out of 3 million American soldiers who had been sent to the war, only 200,000 were discharged after the withdrawal from the war (Bonior, Champlin, Kolly, 1984, p. 8).
According to Pilger, Americans lost the war due to media coverage which undermined efforts of the soldiers and that of the governance. For instance, the Newsweek during the war carried a headline “An American Tragedy”; this invited a feeling of defeat to the soldiers (Pilger, p.259). He adds that reporters and broadcasters contributed to the loss by opposing the involvement of Americans in the war.
However, it cannot be concluded that the media is solely to blame for the Vietnam War or for the defeat of Americans (Robert, 546); but the media played a significant role in creating mixture of feeling to the public that affected their opinion and efforts of the military.