"On 1 February, during the third day of chaos in Saigon, South Vietnamese police chief Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan pulled his revolver from its holster, held it to the temple of a Vietcong suspect and summarily executed him in full view of both Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams and South Vietnamese cameraman Vo Suu who worked for NBC. The still image was seen first by the world, as it could be transmitted quicker. The NBC film was sent to Tokyo for processing, where it was edited before being sent by satellite to NBC in New York where it was twice further cut before transmission, for reasons of taste. How much of the horror of the event viewers were to see was clearly crucial...In the space of a few days the American public saw both that the war was not progressing as they had been told and that young Americans were dying in support of a violent and corrupt regime.
Live, Direct and Biased? Making Television News in the Satellite Age
Reporting inTelevision was indeed one of the greatest weapons of the Vietnam War as it effectively helped to shoot down American public opinion on all fronts as the war progressed. Vietnam and the Korean War were the first major American military conflicts to be televised extensively -- in fact these wars became known by the public through their television images brought straight to their homes. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Professor William Wood declared, "The Korean War and later the Vietnam conflict, were to be known as "television wars." (Wood: 13) Academics nationwide have acknowledged that as the media and their cameras ventured into the Vietnamese and Cambodian theaters, they brought back the actual images of the war to thrust in the faces of Americans -- Americans did not see the victorious images of the World War II successes or grand battleships and great armies; instead they saw burning victims, screaming children, violent explosions and the overall great losses of American forces and carnage of the Vietnamese civilians. They did not just read about them -- they saw them every night on their television screens in their living rooms. Americans began to realize this was a war that was being lost at the expense of great casualties.
Images from the fronts dominated the public perception of the war. Television recreated the war at home in America. In Vietnam Protest Theatre Nora Alter argues that "...the United States had become by far the most visually organized country in the history of the world ... it was by the 1960s that the dominant visual media had become, in their turn, dominated by television so as to turn the Vietnam War into arguably the first (not the last) televison war." (Alter: xiii) No amount of print alone could create the powerful effects of the violent images the public became used to seeing on the evening news every night from their living room couches. The television coverage of the Vietnam War placed the average American as close to the front battle lines as was humanly possible without actually being there. People could no longer create their own images of war in their minds one way or the other -- now the actual moving pictures and images of the war were actually before their eyes in the film of television. This had the effect of bringing Americans closer to the brutality of the war -- the horrible images of blood and carnage that existed in Vietnam.
The use of televesion media consequently revolutionized the way Americans perceived war -- and the revolution was definitely toward the negative. The heroic assumptions were gone. Now there were mainly just the dominating images of death and destruction that discouraged and horrified the American people. In Inventing Vietnam Michael Anderegg emphasized this change: "One-day relay of film and other forms of rapid dissemination gave much of what Americans watched on the evening news an immediacy and intensity that was new and that forever shaped America's experience of warfare." (Anderegg: 2) The recreation for the homefront created video and sound-bytes of the war and the violence of the war -- the ultimate failure of any of the vague initiatives the U.S. government had for the forces in Vietnam. While in World War II, Americans primarily read heroic accounts of battles for democracy, battles to protect the world from dictatorship, they saw no inspired initiative in the Vietnam conflict -- they saw only the brutal images of violence and failure. The effects of this new medium directly helped to cause the mass protest movement against the war as they presented horrific images of death and destruction to an increasingly aware and concerned public of the New Left. Atler referred to the "televised images of the war" and declared "The often revolting, almost always disturbing, nature of those images formed a major source of the global protest movement." (Atler: xiii)
The intense imagery of the war truly became the biggest weapon in helping the U.S. to "lose" the war in Vietnam. According to a survey done by Time magazine, 42% of students polled before the Cambodian invasion participated in antiwar demonstrations -- more than twice as many as had participated in the Civil Rights movement. (Time: 53) The warfront imagery presented by the media inspired one of the greatest demonstrative movements of American history -- especially in the student population. To those who watched the war on television every night, the war simply became unacceptable. The images were constantly pounding the impressionable public and constantly therefore molding their "public opinions." The force of the images and the reporting from the front in Vietnam helped bring public support for the war to a halt and inspire a war protest movement like none the nation had ever seen before.
As one of the first "television wars" Vietnam took on an entirely different tone than other wars before it. It became a constantly watched war of violent moving pictures that in turn helped to create the movement of college students and other protesters of the New Left against the war -- it was a war of televised media and public opinion. The televised images had a direct and notable impact on the protest against the war. While in previous conflicts like World War I and even most of World War II, the public had only been shown mostly neutral or celebratory picutres of the war or newpaper and magazine articles that simply told a story and allowed the person to create the actual image. But in Vietnam, cameras went to the battle lines and the suffering villages and the public was horrified -- and in this way the images helped bring the war down.