‘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.’ (Marshall McLuhan, 1975). What evidence exists to demonstrate that the American media coverage of the Vietnam War influenced its outcome?
There are only two comprehensive inferences that can be drawn upon when assessing the impact and legacy of the reporting of the Vietnam War on America and its media; the impact was enormous and its legacy unending. More than thirty years have passed since the American military withdrew from Vietnam, and in that time, the war has continued to permeate the cultural, and political landscape of America, impacting all subsequent war reporting and shaping the way in which the Government and the people of the country (and the rest of the world) view the media’s role within society. It was the first war where absolute freedom of the press was granted and where the technology was available to bring almost real - time media coverage to the citizens of America and the rest of the world. The lasting effects of the media coverage of Vietnam can be seen in the reporting of every war since and unrestricted media access will most likely not be seen again in any future conflict. However, although its impact was such, is it fair to suggest that the way in which the media reported the war actually had an influence on its outcome? The debate over how much, if any, influence the media had over the war’s result has been a persistent one and is likely to continue for a long time. Many academics, war veterans, military and government officials and citizens believe that the media played a near critical role in shaping the public’s attitudes towards the events in Vietnam and the course of the war itself. Others argue that Vietnam - media theory is a myth that deserves immediate debunking. In this essay I will examine any evidence that supports the media influence theory and look at the arguments of both sides in order to make a well-weighted conclusion. Like most conflicts there are many misconceptions surrounding The Vietnam War - as journalist John Pilger notes in his book Heroes -‘More than a third [of Americans] could not say which side America had supported and some believed that North Vietnam had been ‘our allies’” (Pilger, J., (2001), p. 178). The Vietnam conflict spanned of a period of over thirty years and was America’s ‘most divisive and least successful foreign war’ (Hallin, D., (1986), The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam, p.105). The political and cultural sense of unease after WW2 led to the ‘Cold War ideology’ which left the world’s two super powers – the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist United States at stalemate – neither side wanting to go to direct war with each other but also not willing to succumb to the other’s political aims. America’s involvement in Vietnam dates back to the French Indochina War in 1946 - for nearly ten years the USA provided France with over $ 10 million in economic aid to help the country hold on to its South-East Asian colony. The French eventually admitted defeat suing for peace at the 1954 Geneva Conference and Vietnam was temporarily partitioned with a communist government in the north and non-communist government in the south and a planned election in 1956 to unify the country. It was widely assumed that the Ho Chi Minh the leader in the North would win the election making the country a communist nation. America was the only nation to oppose this agreement. Within a year there were claims of the government in the north – the Democratic Republic of Vietnam or simply North Vietnam as they were later called in the press - inflicting horrors on the people of the north advocating a need for American military aid and involvement, and by 1960 the US government had committed $350 million in economic aid and 3,200 ‘military advisors’ (increasing to 16,000 by 1963) to support the South....
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