Media and the Military

During the Vietnam War the media was left unchecked and brought the wartime images of death and carnage into America’s living room. These images served as morale killers and eventually turned much of the public against its own government. During the Gulf War on the other hand, the military filtered what reached the public’s eye and morale was kept to all time highs. In wartime the government should be able to manipulate public opinion by controlling the media.
War is not pretty, and it is not for the weak at heart. Images of war should not be broadcast into living rooms live. During the Vietnam conflict this is what happened. Pictures and real time video of our troops being slaughtered during battles of the Tet offensive and the siege of Khe Sahn were sent home for all of America to see (Klein 50-51). Again, war is not pretty and the way you keep morale up is you don’t let the public know how bad war really is.
Television is one of the most powerful tools of media and “by the mid 1960’s television had become the most important source for news for most of the American public, and beyond that, perhaps, the most powerful single influence on the public.” (Hallin 106) So people trusted what reporters like Walter Cronkite were telling them. They believed it when NBC journalists told them things like, “ the Marines are so bogged down in Hue that nobody will predict when the battle would end…more than 500 marines have been wounded and over 100 dead since the in Hue began.” (Klein 51) Don’t get the wrong idea though, these things really happened but the public didn’t need to know it.
The constitution and 1st amendment still mean something but national security should come first. People rioting all over the country in anti war protests should be an issue of national security. Without the support of your homefront no country can win a war, especially a foreign war (Franklin 250). It is impossible to get support at home when NBC is showing them pictures of their boys getting massacred every night on the nightly news.
On the other hand, during the Gulf War in Iraq the horrors of war still existed, maybe not to the same extent, but they were there nonetheless. These horrors however where kept out of our living rooms by systematic filtering by the US army. Now the army didn’t just seize tapes and erase bad parts. Very few reporters and cameras were allowed to the front lines. When tapes had to be delivered back to the headquarters for broadcast the army drivers would routinely “get lost” (Fialka 2). The army also stuck the majority of the reporters with the marines. Now the army consisted of 295,000 and was the main attacking force. The Marines on the other hand only consisted of about 80,000 and were really a sideshow. They would be sent into no lose situations where small bands of Iraqi soldiers would have to surrender and these were the images pumped back into our living rooms, images of a nonviolent conflict with no losers (Fialka 6).
Morale for this war was extremely high. This was done by the way the war was presented to the public. The United States saw “a combination of Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars i.e. heroic western leadership of the Arab world joined with mouth gaping demonstrations of advanced weaponry” (Mowlana 23). With this support, President Bush had no problem with launching full out assault and crushing Hussein’s army in a matter of weeks. Johnson, who had almost no support, was leery of going in no holds barred like Bush did.
Filtering what images America is allowed to see during a foreign war is a good idea and should be done. This was done during the Gulf War but not the Vietnam Conflict. Morale for each of these wars was at opposite ends of the spectrum and it is believed that this morale is what wan and lost these respective wars.