Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War is often interpreted by historians as a ‘Television war’ in which the unqualified access to uncensored war footage and inaccuracies with media reports caused public disillusionment. Historians such as Peter Braestrup and Mark Woodruff have argued that the Tết Offensive was undermined by a media fallacy by causing the demise of public support for the Vietnam War. The media fallacy was the misinterpretation of available evidence on the behalf of western journalists. This view is supported by the inconsistencies between media reports and the genuine outcome of this conflict. These inconsistencies are illustrated in the public perception of the South Vietnamese, the misinterpreted attack on the US embassy, the city of Huế and the belief in a North Vietnamese victory. Revisionist historians have dissembled this argument and demonstrated how factors such as poor leadership, self censorship and the degeneracy of moral forces during the Tết Offensive have substantially shaped the perceptions of the public. The Tết Offensive was a significant turning point in the Vietnam War but the extent to which the media influenced the public opinion is subject to the interpretation of available evidence. By first presenting the view that the media did undermine the public’s perception in the Tết Offensive and then examining the opposing evidence from the revisionist school of thought, the media can be proven to have not had a significant impact on public disillusionment during the Tết Offensive.

Historians such as Mark Woodruff have argued that the media undermined public perception during the Tết Offensive because of the contrast between military realities and what the media reported . This is a conventional assessment of the war originating from 1975 when philosopher Marchall McLuhan stated, “Television brought the brutality of the war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America, not on the battlefields of Vietnam” . This view accentuates the complete failure of the North Vietnamese military to successfully achieve their objectives and the media portrayal of a despondent and dire situation. These failures included not eliciting American forces or invoking an uprising within the South Vietnamese populace. The Tết Offensive was a major co-ordinate strike on the South Vietnamese army and ARVN-allied forces by the National Liberation Front (NLF) and North Vietnamese’s People’s Army of Vietnam (NVA). The date of the planned offensive was certified to occur on the 30th January 1968 by both American and North Vietnamese intelligence, but miscommunication within General Võ Giáp’s forces caused sections of the NLF to inaugurate the offensive one day later. This military blunder engendered many of the North Vietnamese military failures as the consequence of a lack of reinforcements and disorganisation. Incursions by the NLF into Tun Son Nhut air base and the city of Huế were successful in consummating a surprise incursion but failed due to the lack of a “second wave of re-enforcements” . These failures were disguised in media reports as physiological victories for the North Vietnamese. Woodruff argued that this undermined public support for the Vietnam War .

Woodruff argued that segments of the US military were well prepared for the Tết Offensive . This view contradicted media reports at the time which claimed that there was no prior warning of the offensive . Woodruff predicated that the preceding warnings of an immanent attack by General William Westmoreland in January demonstrated how the media’s misconceptions distorted the public’s perception of the subsidence of American control over the Vietnam War. Military precautions undertaken by General Wegand which included the defoliation around Chi Hoa prison and the removal of breechblocks to safeguard artillery demonstrated that the American military was prepared for the threat posed by North Vietnam.

Central to the controversy...
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