Propaganda is how closely what people are told aligns with the government’s objectives. Propaganda can promote a legitimate war such as World War II, Korea, Persian Gulf, Enduring Freedom or a flawed conflict such a Vietnam. The use of propaganda in wartime has a lingering effect. When propaganda is effectively it can portray a conflict in a favorable light, the future perception and recollection of those events tend to be favorable and vice versa. For example, today World War I, World War II, and the Persian Gulf conflict in the 1990s are generally remembered as examples of Allied Forces triumphing over evil. In contrast, the Vietnam War is perceived today as a very painful American defeat, with no triumph over evil, in fact it may have been the Americans that were the evil. The majority of Americans think the Vietnam War was a mistake and may be the most unpopular war ever fought.
Despite the advantage of an undefeated military record that had been achieved in part through effective use of propaganda, the Vietnam War ended in a crushing defeat for the United States, which may be due failures to adapt to the new challenges posed by the conflict. Historically, the United States had never faced an enemy that could match its elite and tremendously superior military capabilities. At the outset of the Vietnam War, conventional wisdom would suggest that North Vietnam, being significantly smaller and weaker, would be easily defeated but it was able to stand up to and fight back against the strength of America’s political, military, and economic superiority. Public perception of the conflict played a key role in North Vietnam’s ultimate success.
Some of America’s greatest military achievements occurred where the American people united against a known enemy and fought for a clearly defined reason such as revenge or retaliation, free people from persecution, or help a nation which had been conquered. For example, in World War II the Americans fighting on the front lines and those keeping vigil on the home front had no doubt that the Axis powers posed a direct threat to America, as evidenced by Japan’s direct attack on American soil and Germany’s invasions into other countries allied with the US, and even today against terrorist and their cells in the middle east. This perception was fostered by propaganda and a feeling of patriotism after each of these attacked the United States in one way or another. America fought for a clearly defined reason such as revenge or retaliation, free people from persecution, or help a nation which had been conquered.
In contrast, the purpose or reason for the Vietnam Conflictto prevent the spread of communismwas more nebulous and harder for the average American to perceive as a personal threat, especially without an official declaration of war. Even so, the American public initially supported the government’s position with respect to Southeast Asia. When the war in Vietnam began, many Americans believed that defending South Vietnam from communist aggression was in the national interest. If this belief had remained, the outcome may have been very different. But perception changed because of a number of factors, including strategic missteps on the part of the American government, widespread media dissemination of information not sanction by the government, and North Vietnamese propaganda.
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