The bombs at night on the sofa
When the conflict exploded, TV was the big technological innovation. In the USA, one of the fighting parties, already 96 percent of homes have television and the news highlight the war. However, objectivity and the unbalance in the exposition of the different battlefronts come to feed outrage feelings in the American people.
THE RUMBLE OF EXPLOSIONS BEFORE THE DECLARATION OF WAR
The World War II was still awaken in people’s mind, but the world was already facing new conflict of distressing dimensions – The Vietnam War.
José da Câmara Leme, reporter of Diário Popular, reported the war that just started from his hotel room in Saigon: «The noise of the airplanes and helicopters and the rumble of explosions has been uninterrupted. Everything happens around the city, which will be, this way, surrounded by a circle of fire and iron». The only Portuguese special envoy present in this conflict faced, upon his arrival, a critical scenario.
With the breaking of World War II, Japan invaded Indochina. Part of that territory, formed by Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, lived under French domination, but already looked forward to independency. Ho Chi Minh, who founded the Communist Party of Indochina, led the process of protest about foreign domination. The world conflict came to weaken the French, who ended up escaping the territory when confronted with Japanese troops.
However, in 1945, with the end of World War II, France (supported by the USA and by the USSR), decides to recover the lost territory. Ho Chi Minh, who led the League for Vietnam’s Independence (commonly known as Viet Minh), declared war to the invaders.
Later his cause would be military supported by China and by the Soviet Union. The events of the year 1950 would drag the USA to the conflict.
With the break of the Korean War, the USA considerer that the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, was just one more pawn for Soviet’s Union advance, and decided to militarily help the French. A big miscalculation by France would end in its huge defeat in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. In 1954, the French occupied the village, thinking that it would end in the cut of the guerrilla’s supplying routes. However, Viet Mihn’s tactical hability would win. French presence at Indochina had ended.
With the defeat, the French were forced to accept the independence of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia at the Geneva Conference.
It was equally defined that Vietnam would be divided in two part: Northern Vietnam, communist, ruled by Ho Chin Minh, and Southern Vietnam, dependent of France, ruled by Bao Dai. But Vietnam’s independence resorting to elections wouldn’t be so easy. The north-Americans, afraid of the victory of the communist Ho Chin Minh and the progress of the Soviet Union, planed a military coup in Saigon. Bao Dai was dismissed and the power was handed to the catholic leader Ngo Dinh Diem, committed with the USA.
From 1957, the north-Vietnamese started to reactivate their illegal networks in Southern Vietnam, and first violence signs against the American authorities appeared. Ngo Dinh Diem creates the expression “Viet Cong”, a pejorative abbreviation of «Vietnamese Communists», to name the guerrilla fighters.
In 1959, the Viet Cong would come to take control over significant rural areas of Southern Vietnam. With this progress, John F. Kennedy commands the troops’ reinforcement in the region. At the same time, the White House starts to doubt of Diem’s government.
WHEN THE USA ENTER THE WAR
When Lyndon Johnson rises to power, the conditions for the massive entrance of the USA in the conflict were created. Diem’s government, corrupt and violent, quickly turns the southern population against the regime. In the end of 1960, a military coup against Diem causes the death of many civilians. The media, that until now showed little interest in the war, saw in the event a high news attractiveness. Shortly after, The New York Times sent its first reporter to Saigon, following several journalists from Reuters, Agence France-Presse(AFP) and The Times.
In August of 1964, a shooting between north-Vietnamese and American ships in the Tonkin gulf triggered the beginning of the USA bombings to the northern-Vietnam.
However, the Viet Cong didn’t hold back and hardened their position with several retaliations. As they got closer of the American air and naval base of Da Nang, Washington decided to send two Marine battalions to protect the base. The USA were openly involved in the conflict. The number of press corps in the South of Vietnam increased from 40, in 1964, to 419 in the following year.
The Government had increasing difficulty in controlling the news coverage, since the media became the primary source of news about the conflict, surpassing the White House’s official media.
The Vietnam War was the first conflict to be televised, and its coverage would assume unprecedented contours. At the time, the journalistic autonomy in war coverage was limited: it was unthinkable for a reporter to work behind enemy lines, since it would be considered treason. The Vietnam War would come to break this rule.
In January of 1967, the north-Vietnamese planned the attack to more than 100 cities in Southern-Vietnam, during the holiday of the Chinese new lunar year. This offensive marked the moment when the north-American realized the brutality of war.
Meanwhile, the commander of the American troops stated that «there was light at the end of the tunnel».
THE TELEVISION COVERAGE
In ten days, the north-Americans repelled the Viet Cong, with exception of the imperial capital of Hue. Despite the tactical and military triumph of the Americans, the media focused their stories in the Hue battle and the attack to the north-American embassy, and quickly the public opinion awaken against Washington’s thesis that the Viet Cong were near to the defeat. From that moment, the media coverage about the war started to assume a more negative and sensationalist tone.
In October of 1967, 90 percent of the night news were dedicated to the war. It is estimated that about 50 million people assisted to these news on television every night. The iconic journalist Walter Cronkite was of the names responsible for this coverage, being known as “the most trusted man in America”.
In 1968, after returning from Vietnam where he covered the Tet attack, he shared with the public his perspective on the war.
“It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”
After the emission, the president Johnson had, allegedly, said: “If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America.”
The populations, and their life conditions, started to be part of the coverage. The media coverage of the fights, including the failures, with raw images of the victims and a report faithful to the war terror, it is pointed as the cause of the decreasing support by the north-Americans of the war.
Documentary The Quiet Mutiny, Charles Denton
Following the fall of the public trust, the president Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election.
The journalists didn’t held back in giving news coverage of the protests on a national level, illustrating how the war was being experienced in the United States. On April 4th of 1967, precisely a year before his death, Martin Luther King utter is famous speech “Beyond Vietnam”.
Also John Lennon was a worldwide renowned activist. His songs Give Peace a Chance and Imagine were use as anti-war hymns.
In 1968, the Portuguese reporter José da Câmara Leme testified the intensification of war. But the journalists wasn’t convinced regarding the efficiency of the American troops on the ground.
«What seemed really important to me was the character of the thing denounced that the entire movement coated of (…). I don’t even speak of the very-lights that projected on us in gigantic shadows. I mainly recall the artillery’s action» - Diário Popular, May 15th of 1968.
THE ESCALATION OF PROTESTS
On the 15th of October, 1969, millions of people protested against the war in Vietnam, an initiative that was known as Peace Moratorium and was followed, a month after, of the Moratorium March. Walter Cronkite called it “historic in its scope. Never before had so many demonstrated their hope for peace”. The new president, Richard Nixon, decides to increase the bombings in Northern-Vietnam.
The protest in the American streets intensified and it is created the impression that the USA didn’t had the political conditions to extend the war. After many advances and retreats, the peace agreement was finally signed in Paris on January 23rd of 1973. However, the war between the two Vietnams would continue.
A STALEMATE UNTIL THE END
In 1974, the Northern-Vietnam launches a limited attack, testing the American reaction. Despite the USA’s critic about the violation of the peace agreement, the world potency wouldn’t intervene. Hanoi authorities command the last offensive in March of 1975, and on April 30th of the same year the north-Vietnamese forces enter Saigon. The war had finally ended.
Nevertheless, several years after, this war would continue to be present in the minds of the north-American population.
The Vietnam War and its stories gave origin to more than 750 novels and 250 movies.
One of the most relevant factors of the Vietnam War was the journalistic coverage, without any type of censorship. If there wasn’t still the possibility of making live reports, the appearance of satellites, in 1967, made possible for reporters to send the information in less time from Southeast Asia to the televisions of the American homes. 300 to 400 reporters from several points in the world, were registered, but only 30 to 40 followed each day the combat units. It was also a war that killed 63 journalists.
The conflict in Vietnam divided the nation of the USA, shaping the population’s social mind and altering the public opinion about institutions, the government, the army and, mostly, about the media. In 1964, there were 49 press corps in Vietnam. In August of 1965, there were 419.