Lesson 10 - Vietnam War
The Vietnam War is considered to be the first 'television war'. Just as William Russell's telegraph reports for the Times of London enabled a critical public to read about the Crimean war in the 1850s, so American television crews were able for the first time in the 1960s to report direct from the battlefield for the evening news.
In the 1850s it was the telegraph, new printing techniques and a newly literate public that made William Russell's reports possible. In the 1960s it was the development of satellite communications, light hand-held film cameras and sale of televisions that put the Vietnam war directly into every American home. In the 1960s, as in 1850s, the news reporter was free to report - uncensored - about all that they saw. On both occasions, in the Crimea and in Vietnam, it was the last time a government would allow such freedom. The American military would ultimately blame the media for their defeat in Vietnam, the daily news reports gradually undermined public support for the war. Since Vietnam no democracy has allowed its media to report uncensored on a war that it fights, thus confirming the old adage that 'the first casualty of war is the truth'.
Despite the fact that the Vietnam was is considered to be the first television war it is the still photographs of the war that people remember. The Vietnam War produced some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. When the USA entered the war in 1964 the military were happy to use the media to help explain why the war was important to the American public. The news reporters and photographers were given privileges and freedoms to help tell the story. The US military did not expect the war to be as difficult as it turned out. These difficulties would be amplified every evening on the daily news.
1. Choose two photographs from the 10 above that feature in the documentary. Make a copy and put it in your OneNote. Consider the values and limitations of war photography as historical sources using evidence from the photographs you have chosen. Click on the link to my old website opposite for further help.
2. ‘The Vietnam War is called the first televised war, but it is the photographs we remember’. How far do you agree with the assertion that still images are more powerful than moving film?
Support and extension
You may get some ideas from the answers of one of my previous students who also did this activity. And if this topic has interested you, consider having a look at this illustrated essay on war photography.
Vietnam: The Real War – in pictures - Photo essay from the Guardian in 2015