Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stop the Press! (unless you are spinning it my way)

So one thing always begets another.  Which if you like eclectic stuff, is fun to dive into.  My last post was about General Patrick Brady's assertion that he was going to film a documentary whereby Gen. Vo Nguyan Giap, supreme communist commander during the Vietnam war "agreed to declare Tet the communist calamity it was."

Now that did not sound anything near what a General would ever say, so I went looking and found nothing to support that declaration except an urban myth exuding the same thing.  But a two star General, Vietnam vet, medal of valor winner was stating this as true!  And then I thought, you mean the same one who, just a couple of days ago, had been called out in the San Antonio Express News for giving "demonstrably false information to the public?"  Yeah, that same one.  What to think...what to think.

So in the process of trying to figure out what to accept as a truth, I come across a lot of really poor information.  But in and amongst the dung are some diamonds.

Now one site I stumbled upon takes the position that the Vietnam war was lost due to antiwar sentiment brought about, provided, and perpetuated by the news media.  This is a common explanation of why were not outrightly victorious in Vietnam used by those who consider themselves hawks or believe in the United State as a military superpower and hegemon.

And within this explanation - the press lost it for us - one must ask, is that so?  Had we been kept in the dark, would the war have proceeded differently?  Yes.  Would we have been victorious in all our effort?  Maybe.  Could it have been much worse for us had we not known what was going on?  Maybe as well.

So my question is this: Does our government have the right to keep from us all information that might sway our opinion on a topic that directly affects us?  Looking at it another way, does an 18 year old male have a right to know what is happening in a foreign land where he will be sent and possibly killed?  Do the parents and wives and children need to be told the good, bad, and ugly so that they can decide if it is worth their blood and treasure that someone else has decided they are willing to expend?

So when Steven F. Hayward, the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an adjunct fellow of the Ashbrook Center, writes:
The Cronkite broadcast opened the floodgates for the media to offer their judgments, as opposed to their reporting, about the war.
 I am left to ponder, what good is reporting something if the context is left out?  Or how it is interconnected with something else is not described?  How am I to draw a conclusion on just looking at a raw fact?

For example, lets say I live near a large vacant lot and the newspaper reports that a new business is being built on that lot and it will employee 100 people.  As the building is going up the newspaper reports the number of walls, the number of nails, the cubic yards of concrete poured, but it never tells me the purpose of the building until it is built.  And because I am downwind from it, I get to endure the smell of fish, that had I been told at the very beginning was the purpose of the building, I may have been able to stop it from being built.

In a round about way, that is what is being offered as acceptable, especially in times of war.  If you just let us do what it takes to win, we will win.  Lets look at another example of how Hayward sees the dangers posed by guys like Walter Cronkite sticking their two-cents in.  Here is what Hayward says in his piece:
On the morning of January 31, the first full day of the Tet attack, Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams and a Vietnamese TV cameraman employed by NBC were wandering around Saigon getting photos and footage of the battle damage when they noticed a small contingent of South Vietnamese troops with a captive dressed in a checked shirt. From the other direction came Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of South Vietnam’s national police. As Adams and the NBC cameraman aimed their cameras, Loan calmly raised his sidearm and shot the prisoner—a Viet Cong officer—in the head.

Now without any context other than the facts presented in the above description and the fact you can visually see in the photo, should comment be offered, or should only the photo be displayed with just the facts?  Some folks would argue that the photo should never have been shown, that war is ugly and that's just what happens.

Hayward writes:
Most news accounts of the photo ignored this context; the drama of the picture was just too irresistible for most news organizations to try to put it in any kind of balanced context.
In other words, had you known the context - the connectivness to something else - the judgement as to the what and why he was being shot - you would look at this picture differently.  Hayward offers:
Loan walked over to Adams and said in English: "They killed many Americans and many of my men." (It was not reported at the time that the prisoner had also taunted his captors, saying "Now you must treat me as a prisoner of war," and had been identified as the assassin of a South Vietnamese army officer’s entire family.)
So when does offering context cross the line into judgement?  My answer is when you don't like what the judgment is.  The fact that Hayward may find the assassination of a prisoner in handcuffs acceptable based on his value system, others (including myself) may not.  And in a democracy, if more of us disagree with one model we have the right to say change it.

You can blame Cronkite for loosing the Vietnam war, but all he did was point out the context that we were being manipulated by our government and General Westmoreland into thinking all was good, the end was nigh!  Tet may have been mis-characterized as a communist victory by the media, but it was correctly analyzed - in my opinion - by Walter Cronkite on February 27, 1968: (see note)
We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may be right, that Hanoi's winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would also require our realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations must be that -- negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms. For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.
What did Cronkite base this on?  Context.  Look at what Westmoreland said to the National Press Club on November 21, 1967:
[t]he communists were "unable to mount a major offensive...I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing...We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view."
Two months later, Tet.  Now the argument is made by some, such as General Brady, that with reference to what happened after Tet:
Unbelievably, there was no military follow-up. Gen. Vo Nguyan Giap, supreme communist commander, would marvel at the mess we made of our victory. His force was devastated. Yet our dishonest media had presented Tet to the American politicians and people as a great communist victory and many people still believe that.
Brady's contention is, that because we were victorious at Tet and had we pushed, we would have won the war decisively and no peace talks or withdraw in 1972 would have tarnished our military reputation and the men & woman who participated.  Maybe.  Or maybe we would still be there like in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting an enemy we do not respect for their resolve.  The fact of the matter is, we do not know what turn the war would have taken had the American people been kept in the dark and men like General Brady given carte blanch to just "get er' done,"

Note: Walter Cronkite also said in that same piece: "[t]he use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster." Nukes and cosmic disaster did not manifest itself.

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