The aim of this investigation is to see: to what extent did United States’ television influence the end of the Vietnam War in 1975? Two sources which will be analyzed for relevance to the investigation are The “Uncensored War”: The Media and Vietnam by Daniel C. Hallin and Ending the Vietnam War: A History of America’s Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War by Henry Kissinger. The first source consulted was The “Uncensored War”: The Media and Vietnam by Daniel C. Hallin published in 1986. The relevance of this source is that it analyzes the significance of television in the Vietnam War. A value based on the origin is that the author, Daniel C. Hallin, is an experienced historian who specializes in research on media and the Vietnam War (“Daniel C. Hallin”). Another value based on the purpose is that the source seeks to explain the connections between how the media in the United States influenced the Vietnam War. A limitation based on the purpose is that the book focuses on the media and the positive and negative impacts of media on the Vietnam War and offers a limited perspective as it does not offer analysis regarding the government’s perspective of the war.
Finally, a value based on the content is that the source contains quotes from government leaders and news reporters, so it provides extensive evidence of the role of television in the war. However, a limitation based on the content is that this is a secondary source and the author is American, so there may be bias or misinterpretation within the analysis of the evidence. The second source consulted was Ending the Vietnam War: A History of America’s Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War by Henry Kissinger. This source is relevant to the investigation because it offers the government’s perspective on the role of television in influencing the end of the Vietnam War. The origin of this source is valuable because the author was the National Security Advisor for part of the war, so he has insight into the actions of the government (Kissinger 10). A limitation of the origin is that the source is from a United States’ official, so there may be bias towards supporting the government in its actions during the war.
A value based on the purpose is that the source could provide information about actions the government took during the war which were portrayed negatively in television, showing both sides of the story. Furthermore, another value based on the content is that it directly gives quotes and views of government officials and their reasoning for the actions taken to end the war. However, a limitation based on the content is that the source does not offer any analysis of the television portrayal of the war. Section II – Investigation The Vietnam War was a war fought between North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese forces. North Vietnamese forces had communist ideologies, so the United States supported the “anticommunist government…in the South” (Editors). The United States saw it as their duty to help fight communism, which is why the US intervened in the Vietnam War (Editors). During the Vietnam War, television took on a new role within American society, becoming the most prominent source of information for citizens. The Vietnam War, from 1954-1975, was the first war in which the role of television was changed (Editors). It was the first war where “reporters were routinely accredited to accompany military forces yet not subject to censorship” (Hallin 6). One can see that television became vital for war news so viewers consistently relied on it, making television an authority. Since television exposure led to negative public opinions about the War, television influenced the end of the Vietnam War. During the years of the war, “more than 90 percent of U.S. households had a television and almost 60 percent of them used it to get most of their news” (Hillesheim).
Television grew to be a common household item and due to this, it became a “decisive influence on…American public opinion” and “the most powerful single influence on the public” (Hallin 106). In 1963, the tradition of a half hour daily broadcast began and this “greatly increased popular dependence on television as a source of news”, according to Samuel Huntington, who participated in a 1975 study discussing how government changed as a result of media exposure (Hallin 4). This heavy reliance on television and the intrigue that television brought into Vietnam prompted television to become a holy grail of information during the war. Since Americans were integrating television into their daily lives, the anchors on national TV took on the role of authority (Hallin 6). Furthermore, as Americans began to watch more television, the press exposed secrets which the United States’ government tried to hide to project a positive public image. At the start of the war, the United States wanted to have “good relations with the press” because it would ensure that the news being published would only help the United States’ cause of fighting for South Vietnam (Hammond 25). Here, it is evident that the United States wanted to keep good relations with their press to generate internal support to fight the war. It was imperative that the US maintained good relations with the press because the press became the bridge of communication between the government and the citizens.
The positive relationship was maintained for some time and in the early years of the Vietnam War…most news coverage was highly supportive of American intervention in Vietnam” (Hallin 9). As television was so heavily relied on and the press provided communication between the government and citizens, the press having good connections with officials meant that the American war effort was supported at the start. However, this peace between television and the government did not last long. After the gory reporting of the Tet Offensive in 1968 and “the subsequent shift in American policy from escalation to de-escalation”, American perception of the war shifted from one of support to one that was anti-war (Hallin 9). The Tet Offensive fully exposed the brutality of the war and to the United States’ audience, showed how unprepared the American soldiers were in lieu of a surprise attack. During the Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese forces, including the Viet Cong, launched a surprise attack on South Vietnamese and American forces (Hastings). Although the United States’ government believed they were ready to fight the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces, those forces were receiving aid from “China and Soviet Union” and built up their strength to launch the Tet Offensive (Hastings). To American viewers, after reporters videotaped and commented on the Tet Offensive, they were able to see that the American government was lying about being prepared to fight and this shed a negative light on the war because American viewers were deterred by the lies they had received from the government. In fact, through the use of polls, it was found that there was a “seven point” increase in opposition against the war after the Tet Offensive (Hillesheim). This event changed the American citizens’ perspective on the war because they saw that North Vietnamese forces were backed by aid and their own country was unable to defend against brutal attacks. Since there was no censoring of the television images which were gory, this implies that the citizens were demoralized by the defeat and lost the nationalistic pride within their own country and refused to offer support (Hallin 6).
The country’s overall perception, as a result, drastically changed to one of anti-war opinions. The citizens came to realize that the television showed the harsh reality of the war and in turn, television influenced the next actions that the government would take. After these incidents, President Richard Nixon soon took office, replacing Lyndon Johnson as president (Rose). The President and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, knew they had to “end the war in some way” (Rose). Hence, Nixon and Kissinger took steps to institute a plan in which American troops would slowly be removed from South Vietnam, while America continued to build up troops in the South Vietnam army and provided support in 1969 (Rose). Then, the two officials began to negotiate with North Vietnam and ultimately, in 1973, signed the Paris Peace Accords which terminated US intervention in the war (Rose). Even Kissinger, in his memoirs, said that “[w]e had hoped…that the Paris Agreement would unite the American people because the peace movement would be able to find fulfillment in the ending of hostilities and the advocates of ‘peace with honor’ could take pride in having extricated the United States” (Kissinger 453). These actions taken by Kissinger and Nixon were a result of the dissent within the United States from the televised Tet Offensive. Hence, Kissinger and Nixon’s actions imply that they had to take measures due to growing public opposition to the war and they themselves realized that unity did not exist within their own country. In order to fix the unrest within the country that resulted from the bloody televised exposure, the United States had to leave the war. As a result, when the US left the war in 1973, the South Vietnamese forces fell to communist forces in 1975 due to the lack of American support and troops (Hastings). On the other hand, television may not have been an influence on the Vietnam War. This is due to the fact that people may not “remember what they see on television news very well” (Hallin 107). The argument can be made that since television is a “visual medium, while it can portray violence and suffering very effectively, [it] cannot deal as effectively with politics or strategy” (Hallin 109). As television can be dramatized for entertainment value and people may misinterpret facts, it is possible that the American news outlets were exaggerating the war and unfounded blame was placed on the government. Then, the actions taken by the government would be independent of television.
However, with the evidence of officials taking action because of media, it can be seen that television did influence the end of the Vietnam War. In conclusion, television did have a major influence on the end of the Vietnam War because television forced the government to leave the war. Presidents Johnson and Nixon, who were leaders during the highly televised years of the war, realized they would not be able to fight the war without public support (Rose). The government needed to take action to leave the war after the Tet Offensive as a result of anti-war movements spurred by the images of horror from the war. Reducing resources and troops and signing the Paris Agreement were the actions taken as a result of pressure from the public due to television (Hastings). Hence, television had a great impact on the Vietnam War because it shaped American public policy, effectively ending the war. Section III – Reflection Throughout the course of the investigation, the investigator saw that historians have to employ numerous methods in order to gain a holistic understanding of a topic. A prominent method within this investigation is the analysis of primary sources. The investigator saw how crucial it is for historians to obtain a wide variety of primary sources, in order for the historian to make the most objective conclusion as possible. Within the book, The “Uncensored War”: The Media and Vietnam by Daniel C. Hallin, the historian analyzed television samples to understand how the Vietnam War was portrayed and drew conclusions based on the nature of the television samples (Hallin 11-12).
However, the investigator learned that a challenge facing the historian would be the possible misinterpretation of primary sources, leading to conclusions that are not properly supported by all pieces of evidence. Another challenge based on the use of primary sources is bias. Historians may encounter bias towards a certain ideology or government when studying primary sources. The investigator saw possible bias within the source Ending the Vietnam War: A History of America’s Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War by Henry Kissinger. This memoir was written by the National Security Adviser under Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War and since Kissinger is a government official, a historian would have to be wary about bias displayed by Kissinger towards the US government (Kissinger 10). Another method that was apparent in this investigation was the use of polls to investigate historical events. The investigator saw that historians can use results from polls to analyze the effect of historical events on society, as historians did during the Vietnam War to gauge public support of the war after the Tet Offensive (Hillehseim). However, from this, historians can also face the challenge of determining if the public’s opinion is reliable or if people have lied when taking polls. This presents a challenge for a historian when studying the reliability of sources to determine if there is false information that can lead to misinterpretation. Overall, the investigator realized that many methods in history arise from the analysis of primary sources and historians challenges relate to identifying bias and noting the reliability of sources.
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