How did the coverage of the Vietnam War in the USA lead to the demand for peace?

  • Created by: Fiona S
  • Created on: 07-03-15 18:49

The Vietnam War

  • The first war which appeared on TV the next day.
  • First 'living room war'.
  • Extensively reported in the newspapers and on TV without censorship.
  • Media coverage had a decisive effect on public opinion.
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Early Representations

  • In the early years, US media was generally supportive.
  • 1962, Time magazine praised the war as 'a remarkable US military effort'.


  • The American soldier in Vietnam - especially if he was a 'Green Beret' - was singled out for praise.
  • Article in Time, 1961, idolised him as a man who "can remove an appendix, fire an obsolete gun, sweet-talk some bread out of a native in his own language, fashion explosives out of chemical fertiliser, cut an enemies throat, live off the land..."
  • 1965, novel 'The Green Berets', Robin Moore (who claimed, allegedly untruthfully to have fought with special forces) glamorised his subjects as down-to-earth heroes, there to help the Vietnamese and set them free.
  • South Vietnamese soldiers were not portrayed so favourably - called 'lousy, dirty bug-outs' - Moore.


  • 1968, John Wayne starred in 'The Green Berets', film made with the full co-op of Johnson government.
  • After showing US Special Forces supervising humanitarian aid and giving sweets to children, the film focuses on Vietcong brutality.
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Changing Views

  • Even as the story was shown, people realised that Wayne's portrayal was another 'Wild West' - to be tamed by good and decent heroes was 'the way Vietnam ought to be;not the way it was'.
  • 1965, CBS shown US soldiers firing at the thatched roofs of Vietnamese houses with Zippo lighters.
  • 1968, Tet Offensive, America had to face what was really happening in the Vietnam War.


  • February 1698, journalist John Wheller wrote article called 'Life in the V ring' - description of day during the 'Battle of Hamburger Hill'.
  • Wheelers account concentrated on fears and bitterness of soldiers who were having to fight.


  • Same month, TV news presenter Walter Cronkite made his crucial 'We are mired in Stalement' broadcast.
  • Summed up growing mood of defeatism.
  • he, who was admired for his moderate and realistic views, reported he had 'no confidence in the Vietnamese government' and was 'disappointed by the American leaders'  and concluded 'the only rational way out will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as honourable people who... did the best they could'.
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Public Reaction to My Lai

  • Defeatism turned to horror as details of My Lai leaked out.
  • Vietnamese propaganda reports massacre and complaints as a number of soldiers were ignored or covered up for 18 months.
  • Seymour Hersch broke story November 1969.
  • Photographs taken by Ron Haeberte, official US army photographer, who had also taken graphic colour photos on a secret second camera.
  • Lieutenant William Calley, who led the massacre, was court martialed for murder March 1971.
  • After 3 days he was put on house arrest instead.
  • 79% disapproved of Calley's court martial.
  • 20% refused to accept that what he had done was wrong.

Massacre destroyed vestige of 'moral right' that Americans may have felt about the war. US public confused and distressed - how could so many good US boys be able to do such a thing. Returning Vietnamese soldiers found themselves stigmatised as 'baby killers'.

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The effect of media coverage

Student Opposition

  • 1964, first protests made by students.
  • 1965, student group organised a 36 hour 'teach-in', called Vietnam Day Committee, against the war, at University of California.
  • Attended by 30,000 students, dozens of teaching pacifists gave talks.
  • Later that year, they were the first to burn their draft cards.
  • In November, Norman Morrison, 31 year old pacifist, set himself on fire under Secretary of Defence office window, Robert McNamara.
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