To what extent was the Vietnam War lost due to the hostility of the American media?  I was looking at factors that led to the defeat in Vietnam and I was unsure of how the media led to the American loss.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The media turned against the Vietnam war in the late 1960s, but that was not the one of the main factors leading to defeat. It could be argued that the media turned on the war after it had already been lost due to policy decisions made in Washington, D.C.

Parallels...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The media turned against the Vietnam war in the late 1960s, but that was not the one of the main factors leading to defeat. It could be argued that the media turned on the war after it had already been lost due to policy decisions made in Washington, D.C.

Parallels with the American Revolutionary War are not misplaced. One might wonder, exactly, how could a superpower like Great Britain lose against a bunch of disorganized colonies? Similarly, how could a superpower like the United States lose a war against a small, economically disadvantaged country in Southeast Asia?

Many of the reasons are the same. First, the people who live in a country that is threatened are usually much more highly motivated to fight than people shipped in from halfway around the world to wage war on them in a strange place. When it is your house, your family, your livelihood, and your way of life that is at stake, you you tend to give it your all to defend it. This is what the American colonists did and what the Viet Cong (National Liberation Front) did. Second, as with the American colonists, the Vietnamese understood the lay of the land and could engage in guerilla warfare, disappearing, sabotaging, booby-trapping, and re-appearing at will.

Further, as Great Britain did, the United States underestimated the enemy and did not commit enough resources to the war effort. Many say that an all-out land invasion of North Vietnam would have won the war, but the United States did not go that route, thinking they could bomb the country into submission.

By the time the press was advising against staying in Vietnam, they were responding to the reality of years of war mismanagement and growing public discontent. In the end, the press did contribute to the discontent, but it would almost certainly not have turned on a war that was waged effectively. If the Johnson administration and the defense department had not let the war drag on so long, with American casualties mounting and no clear gains, the press would have had little to complain about.

To that extent, this is a case of blaming the messenger.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The media was not so much responsible for the loss of the Vietnam War; however, it was responsible for shifting public opinion to a stance of being strongly against the war. In the beginning, there was not a strong journalistic interest in the conflict, and journalistic stories focused mostly on the rise of communism in the area. At the height of the war, however, due largely to the amount of citizens being drafted, there were over 600 journalists operating in Vietnam.

Many people do indeed hold the belief that the media played a role in undermining the American war effort in Vietnam; however, the media coverage could not very well be called hostile. It was simply objective. Vietnam was referred to popularly as "the first television war," and events were being reported uncensored. These stories brought to light the sheer amount of American casualties, which was the biggest reason that support faltered.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I don't think that "hostility" is the appropriate word; however the media were a substantial factor, not so much in the loss of the war as in revealing the deceptive practices of the military in misrepresenting progress in the war. As a result of information provided by the media, the U.S. public lost confidence in the war effort. The U.S. would have lost the war regardless of the press; however were it not for the reporting of the press, the war itself might have been prolonged.

The American commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, sent exaggerated reports of enemy casualties and U.S. progress to then President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson relied on the reports he received from Westmoreland and unwittingly also deceived the American public. Westmoreland continuously insisted that a U.S. victory was close at hand; yet the victory did not materialize, and American support at home quickly faded. The role of the Press was primarily to keep the public informed, but it's effect was devastating to the war effort. Life magazine ran a story entitled One Week's Dead in Vietnam. it was a photo article which looked like a high school year book, showing pictures of those who had died in the war in a single week. Both Time and Newsweek magazines carried editorials urging withdrawal from Vietnam. Ultimately Walter Cronkite, the most respected newsman in the U.S. commented in his nightly news program that he thought the war was unwinnable. After learning of Cronkite's comment, Lyndon Johnson told an advisor:

If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen.

The war continued for several more years; however it was obvious at this point that the U.S. could not win, and public support for the war was forever lost.

Among the other casualties of the war was General Westmoreland himself. He ran for governor of his home state of South Carolina, hoping to use that office as a stepping stone to the presidency. He was defeated in the Republican primary, and never again entered politics.

 

 

 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team