Do you think the Vietman War was the war we lost on television or because of television?I am having a hard time coming up with an answer, and i would like some help.

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timbrady's profile pic

timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

This is an interesting and difficult question.  I should let you know that I was in college during the Vietnam War and have personal experience of the War and television.  I don't actually feel that television was responsible in any way, but was, instead, a "co-conspirator."  I think that we lost the war because we didn't have the political will to take the steps necessary to win the war.  I think if we had left the war to the military, we would have won.  Television was a factor because it brought the war "home" in a way that had never been possible before.  But television isn't a thing:  it "shows" us what it wants us to know (cf: "1984").  By showing us selective views of the war, television created a demand among a vocal portion of the population which put pressure on Congress who responded to the pressure.  (You might want to looking into the Democratic National Convention of 1968 for an example of how things evolved.)

This is not to say that either position (pro/anti-war) was correct.  This is just my recollection of what happened.  Television is a powerful instrument for shaping opinion, and since it can never be neutral any more than newspaper or magazines can, it's something that needs to be watched with a critical rather than a receptive eye.

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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I would have to agree that the Vietnam war was lost on television, not because of television. The media brought the war into our houses every evening, showing pictures from the combat zones. The most vivid memories I have is of the televising of the soldiers coffins as they were returned home.

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Surely television had a huge affect on American opinions about the war, and was instrumental in turning public support against the war with its images of napalmed villages and the Tet Offensive.  That being said, I believe the war was never winnable militarily, so it was, in the long run, immaterial whether or not we saw it taking place on television.  The loss - or more accurately our inability to win - was inevitable regardless.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

I believe the former is true:  The Vietnam War is the war we lost on television.  In my opinion, news coverage of military operations should NEVER be allowed.  There are things that the military must do to keep us safe, . . . as well as major mistakes they make, that cannot be understood by the civilian world.  If we cannot trust our Commander in Chief, then we should not have voted for him.  (Or we're just screwed if we DIDN'T vote for him.  Ha!)  This brings a few different posts on the discussion board full circle.  All news media has a slant.  There is nothing that says coverage of a war (or other military operation) would not be slanted either.

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dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

In reply to #3:  I can disagree with none of this, but would offer my (perhaps paranoid) suggestion that television did not "project an ugly reflection of truth ...."  Television does not just "reflect";  it molds the truth by selecting what to show, what not to show, for how long, etc.  Television (the media) creates reality and does not just report/reflect it.

Timbrady I respect and appreciate your reply, do not think you are paranoid, and offer this response...I think it can be argued that because the Vietnam War gave way to 'unconventional styles of news coverage' it opened up a kind of pandora's box, expose the hard truth...mix it with the political agenda of the television station...and the T.V. station becomes the begin and end all of right and wrong. I think today's mainstream media is absolutely and completely rooted in that jilted philosophy, however I do believe their was a time, however brief, where by integrety wasn't just a word. Vietnam was a double-edged sword with regard to the media. The media exposed the federal governments' real incapacities during the war, but in that victory paved the way for the media to exercise carte blanche with its own political agenda, which has now become commonplace on channels 2, 4, and 7 basically telling people what to think without them figuring that out for themselves. Well I am here to say I'm 50, I 'GET' it, and do not appreciate it.  What is most unfortunate about this is the fact that most young people gravitate towards what they precieve as right by equivitating it to what is most seen and/or heard in the news. Is it possible that all those news folks believe that the American viewer doesn't see the bias??? Or do they do what they do because it is their corporations agenda and compliance is required???

timbrady's profile pic

timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Interesting topic. There is no denying that television had an impact on America's perception of the war, it is often referred to as 'The Television War'. However, to say the war was lost on television or because of television oversimplifies the complexity of that war and for that matter that decade. From a military perspective there are usually two ways to assess a win or loss, number of casualities or satisfied objectives. The United States lost approximately 58,000, the Vietnamese over 2 million, today Vietnam is a communist country...you decide.

 While it is true that President Johnson concluded...if he lost Cronkite (major tv news reporter) he lost the American people. I think it is fair to say people lost faith in the objective of Vietnam because they lost faith and trust in their president. Those experiences combined with the t.v. images of flag covered caskets, draft and anti-war demonstrations, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and dare I say the waste of many American lives due to what the Johnson administration dubbed as ' being on a learning curve' with regard to Vietnam. Learning curve...how dare they take American sons based on that.  It was bold arrogance and the assumption that superior military might guarantees victory that caused America's self inflicted humiliating and humbling defeat.

Television was not responsible for the loss, however it projected an ugly reflection of truth...............

For what it's worth.... I have met many Vietnam Veterans who believed early on in their cause, however many of their views had changed as the war dragged on.   

  I can disagree with none of this, but would offer my (perhaps paranoid) suggestion that television did not "project an ugly reflection of truth ...."  Television does not just "reflect";  it molds the truth by selecting what to show, what not to show, for how long, etc.  Television (the media) creates reality and does not just report/reflect it.

dbello's profile pic

dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Interesting topic. There is no denying that television had an impact on America's perception of the war, it is often referred to as 'The Television War'. However, to say the war was lost on television or because of television oversimplifies the complexity of that war and for that matter that decade. From a military perspective there are usually two ways to assess a win or loss, number of casualities or satisfied objectives. The United States lost approximately 58,000, the Vietnamese over 2 million, today Vietnam is a communist country...you decide.

 While it is true that President Johnson concluded...if he lost Cronkite (major tv news reporter) he lost the American people. I think it is fair to say people lost faith in the objective of Vietnam because they lost faith and trust in their president. Those experiences combined with the t.v. images of flag covered caskets, draft and anti-war demonstrations, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and dare I say the waste of many American lives due to what the Johnson administration dubbed as ' being on a learning curve' with regard to Vietnam. Learning curve...how dare they take American sons based on that.  It was bold arrogance and the assumption that superior military might guarantees victory that caused America's self inflicted humiliating and humbling defeat.

Television was not responsible for the loss, however it projected an ugly reflection of truth...............

For what it's worth.... I have met many Vietnam Veterans who believed early on in their cause, however many of their views had changed as the war dragged on.   

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