It would not be incorrect to state that the Vietnam War can be rightfully considered as one of the most incomprehensible and murky events and simultaneously, one of the most grave conflicts in the whole contemporary history. This 20th century war is one of the longest and the most detested American war. If the overall impact of the Vietnam War is observed, one can easily see how deeply it affected the Americans. In addition, the war resulted in the breakage of American nation as it experienced defeat for the very first time. The war is exceptional in the sense that it was not only the longest or caused a great number of fatalities but there were other factors that made it an innovative war. The journalists and media men were given unlimited access to the Vietnamese land which made it possible for the American public to watch the battlefield with their own eyes.
The Vietnam War was disastrous in the sense that it killed more or less fifty-eight thousand Americans and left about two hundred thousand injured. Not only this, it brought similar fate to the Vietnamese. As far as the economic degradation is concerned, the War cost America over $150 billion. However, the war and its consequences have made the young Americans understand politics. The young American generation is now politically aware that the Vietnam War was the reason of dividing the nation and also was the main factor of losing a generation (West, 2009). The media has a very serious responsibility of constructing war events and therefore use its resources to serve an imperative social function by functioning to systematize and coordinate the connection between individual and the society (Biernatzki, 2003).
Vietnam War is being remembered as the first war (Lovelace, 2010) that was televised for the reason that television turned out to be the world’s electronic window during that era (Mandelbaum, 1982). It not only jockeyed the common man’s perceptions but also affected the policy decisions of the highest authorities. However, it cannot be said that the war was far away as the people availed the chance of watching and following every event from their lounges. The importance of media involvement in Vietnam War was to such a large extent that the Public Broadcast Service (PBS) broadcasted a 13-part television series in 1983 on Vietnam. On the other hand, the involvement of media in the war could not be fully exploited neither in the series nor the cohered book (Robinson, 2001).
In the similar manner, the Tet Offensive is of equal importance as this event symbolized television as the most significant and dependable news source. The Tet Offensive characterized media as an influential power on the opinion of the public since the Vietnam War. In 1968, the events of Tet offensive occurred that were actually a succession of decisive encounters in the Vietnam War. The most important holiday in Vietnam is celebrated on January 31st i.e. the first day of the celebration of the lunar New Year. In the year 1968, the Vietnamese Communists instigated a main odious offense on this very day all over South Vietnam. The troops of both United States of America and Vietnam turned out as unsuccessful in retaking all the cities that were captured. They had to spend several weeks to regain the control of the captured parts that also included Hue (the former regal capital).
Even though the offensive did not acquire military triumph for the Vietnamese Communists, it became successful in making them enjoy a political and psychosomatic victory. The Tet Offensive considerably cancelled out the sanguine claims by the government of United States of America that they had won the war (“Tet Offensive”, 2013). However, the South Vietnamese and Americans were militarily successful in the Communists' Tet Offensive of 1968, the events turned out disastrous for the media. This is because the reporters and cameramen instantly found themselves in the midst of the aggressive warfare. The images of battles that were televised from evidently safe and sound places and of resident sufferers “turned public opinion against the war and undermined the morale not only of American civilians but also of the troops in the field, and even of the highest government officials” (Biernatzki, 2003).
The media has been criticized by a number of scholars and press coverage observers in the USA for its role in the Vietnam War and how it showed events either in a too detailed or too brief manner. A few have also criticized it for creating a sensation broadcasting the tribulations of the war. Thus, a majority of the critics have pin-pointed journalists for presenting disturbing portraits. To cut a long story short, the news could be managed by the military and the government by taking several informal steps. However, the press ultimately violated its own laws. As the time passed, the journalists in Vietnam wasted no opportunity to take full advantage of the censorship lack by the officials and were successful in reporting about war events in a more critical fashion (Huebner, 2005). Subsequent to the 1968 Tet offensive, the meaning and purpose of press coverage in turned out as more incredulous “and the impact of that change on administration policy and public opinion became the subject of an extensive, highly partisan debate for decades afterwards” (Huebner, 2005). In addition to this, the journalists who had been given the opportunity to cover the conflict described the event in a wide range. When the writings, photographs, and shows on televisions are closely examined, it demonstrates a body of work by journalists which is a faithful reflection of the challenges and perplexities of the fighting man of the United States of America and the war in Vietnamese land (Huebner, 2005).
The Vietnam War was a defining moment in the history of America as it exposed and increased the holes in the social structure of American society. Though many resisted the war, it moved the American nation to other chaotic scenarios ranging from drug abuse to other anti-war activities. The war was neither officially started nor it ended in glory. There were no celebrations and no heroes. This longest and most ostracized war for the Americans divided America considerably. The young people today don’t want that divisions to happen again as the wounds of the war are still unhealed. If considered with a general perspective, the United States of America had to pay a huge price for the Vietnam War in a political sense. The belligerent military clash destabilized the faith of public in government with the passage of time. The American people also lost their trust in their leaders’ sincerity, candor and competence. The Vietnam War also made Americans realized that they were no more ready to respect or trust the government-run institutions. Moreover, the young Americans generation learnt various lessons that were a consequence of the Vietnam War. They learnt that the military force is only to be used as a last option resort. Another lesson was that when there were other options that were less expensive then the government should not opt for expensive alternatives. In case of Vietnam War, the censorship at the foundation was the main factor that “led to discrepancies between the contents of official briefings and the much more disturbing reports of correspondents in the field and to a resulting credibility gap that grew ever larger and more damaging” (Biernatzki, 2003).
As far as the question of live coverage of battlefield and warfare by the media is concerned, the media is the main source due to which people are made known of the activities of the military forces. This live exposure facilitates the media and the society in creating a medium for a shared sense of right and wrong. Media allows the military officials to communicate with the public (Venable, 2002). On the other hand, live coverage of war by media is also to be discouraged as it develops a "compassion fatigue" in the audiences. Compassion fatigue is a modern syndrome that refers to a certified medical and psychiatric verdict. It is characterized as having a severe effect on the media audiences who get weighed down by the absolute dimensions of information regarding human misfortune and misery reported by media from around the world. The snowballing consequences of such information purportedly work to sensitively deaden “audience members into ceasing to care anymore, thereby undermining their willingness to become emotionally, financially, or physically involved” (Gibson, 2002).
Biernatzki, W. E. (2003). War and Media. Communication Research Trends, 22(3). Retrieved June 4, 2013, from http://cscc.scu.edu/trends/v22/v22_3.pdf
Gibson, R. (2002). Compassion, Morality and the Media. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 79(3), 759+. Retrieved June 4, 2013, from http://www.questia.com/read/1P3-250222321/compassion-morality-and-the-media
Huebner, A. J. (2005). Rethinking American Press Coverage of the Vietnam War, 1965-68. Journalism History, 31(3), 150+. Retrieved June 4, 2013, from http://www.questia.com/read/1P3-924408901/rethinking-american-press-coverage-of-the-vietnam
Mandelbaum, M. (1982). Vietnam: The Television War. Daedalus: Print Culture and Video Culture, 111(4), 157-169.
Lovelace, A. (2010). Iconic photos of the Vietnam War era: A semiotic analysis as a means of understanding. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 1(1), 35-45. Retrieved June 4, 2013, from http://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/academics/communications/research/04lovelaceejspring10.pdf
Robinson, P. (2001). Theorizing the Influence of Media on World Politics Models of Media Influence on Foreign Policy. European Journal of Communication, 16(2), 523-544.
Tet offensive from The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. (2013). Questia. Retrieved June 5, 2013, from http://www.questia.com/read/1E1-Tetoffen/tet-offensive
Venable, B. E. (2002). The Army and the Media. Military Review, 82(1), 66+. Retrieved June 4, 2013, from http://www.questia.com/read/1P3-107668099/the-army-and-the-media
West, A. (2009). The Vietnam War. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group Inc.