Saturday, October 21, 2006

Iraq is not Vietnam

John Keegan reports.

Indeed, insofar as Tet was a defeat for the United States and for the South Vietnamese government, it was because the American media decided to represent it as such. It has become a cliché to say that Vietnam was a media war, but so it was. Much of the world media were hostile to American involvement from the start, particularly in France, which had fought and lost its own Vietnam war in 1946-54. The defeat of Dien Bien Phu rankled with the French and there were few who wanted to see the Americans win where they had failed.

It was, however, the American rather than the foreign media who decided on the verdict. The American media had begun by supporting the war. As it dragged on, however, without any end in sight and with the promised military victory constantly postponed, American newspapers and — critically — the evening television programmes began to treat war news as a bad story.

The media were extremely influential, particularly at such places as university campuses and the firesides of American families whose sons had been conscripted for service. When casualties of 150 a week began to be reported, the war began to be increasingly unpopular. President Johnson, who was temperamentally oversensitive to criticism, believed that one particular broadcast by Walter Cronkite in February 1968, just after Tet, lost him Middle America. "If I've lost Kronkite," he said to his staff, "I have lost the war."

President Bush must now expect that America's television anchormen will be looking for a similar opportunity to damage him. If they find it, the blame will be the President's alone.

The communist North Vietnamese admitted that the Tet was a disaster but didn't surrender thanks to the left and the left wing media.

Even Giap admitted in his memoirs that news media reporting of the war and the anti-war demonstrations that ensued in America surprised him. Instead of negotiating what he called a conditional surrender, Giap said they would now go the limit because America's resolve was weakening and the possibility of complete victory was within Hanoi's grasp.

The North admit that the left and left wing media were vital to their war strategy.

Bui Tin, who served on the general staff of the North Vietnamese army, received South Vietnam's unconditional surrender on April 30, 1975. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal after his retirement, he made clear the anti-war movement in the United States, which led to the collapse of political will in Washington, was "essential to our strategy."

History is repeating itself insofar as the left and left wing media are concerned.

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