Describe the differences in public perception with soldiers returning from the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In several ways, I think that the Vietnam War guided the public on how the receive both Iraq Wars and the soldiers who fought in them.  The Vietnam War was one in which the American public was besieged with intense opposition as the war dragged on with no discernible end in sight.  The public's reaction was one borne out of this negativity.  On one hand, there was intense dislike of the war and the soldiers caught this as a reflection of the establishment.  At the same time, many Americans were struggling with what it was like to lose a war of such proportions, and the reaction towards the soldiers was from this point of view, as well.  Another important element was that the media was uncontrolled in terms of their reporting.  The idea that the Vietnam Conflict was "the living room war" was reinforced with the fact that nightly news reports fed the worst of American fears and seeing soldiers as  apart of this helped to increase the negative reaction that the public held towards them.

The Vietnam Conflict helped create different realities in both Iraq Wars.  The language was different.  People who were opposed to the war were indicating that they were opposed to the war and "not the soldiers."  The soldiers returning from Iraq faced much in way of public support for what they were doing.  The labels of "baby killer," something so freely tossed during the Vietnam War, were not in use as the distinction was made between the war and those who were fighting it.  The first Iraq War defined victory in clear terms, making it easier for the soldiers to receive some level of public reaction that was positive.  I would also suggest that the use of "smart bombs" and other advanced technology kept the casualty count relatively low in comparison to Vietnam, enabling greater support of the soldiers to continue.  Finally, the government control of the media using "embedded reporters" to help disseminate a largely positive view of the war contributed to the American public's largely positive reception of the soldiers, something in stark contrast to Vietnam.

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