By Agnieszka Krowinska, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
Americans tend to react very emotionally to any kind of mention of the Vietnam War—presumably due to the fact that it was a big defeat for the U.S. government and even perhaps for American society. But one question keeps coming up: was America perhaps defeated by its own efforts and actions?
The 60s and 70s were characterized by very rapid economic growth, especially in the area of mass media: the media began to play a fundamental role in everyone’s life. After the war, there was a number of theories about why it was lost. A large part attributed the defeat to the media, claiming that they undermined the political and strategic decisions of the government. Some go further and say that the media were not objective in their opinions, that they even expressed clear opposition to the war.
But none of these claims turn out to be true; in fact, the truth was quite different. One thing that Americans were plunged into was the belief that the USA was able to win the war. Discussions were not centered on the war itself—which indeed one would think to be the most important part of the whole discussion—but on the effectiveness and techniques the American military used.
The Vietnam War was the first war in which the media played such important role—and in which they did so on such a large scale. Undoubtedly, journalists were eyewitnesses of all events taking place in Vietnam. All the while, however, the American public was convinced from afar of the rightness of this intervention—and they were expecting to win. Reports from the front were certainly not what they were expected to be. Violent scenes, and even massacres caused by military activities, significantly weakened the position of the U.S. government, and more and more people were against the intervention in Vietnam.
America’s failure in the war in Vietnam can be traced to a few different factors. Yet it is difficult to deny the fact that the media played a very important role in the negative reception of the Vietnam intervention—not through editorializing, but through the sudden abilities for studious documentation that foregrounded the distasteful elements of an ultimately unpopular conflict.