Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Did Walter's Loose Lips Sink Our Vietnam Ship?

Andrew, in the comments to Ara's A New Meme: The Press As Killers post, replys to my comments as follows:
Regarding Vietnam - Sloppy reporting such as telling the bare bone facts and showing the pictures? is that what you mean? If there are those still saying sloppy reportign contributed to the American failure they are in pure and hate-filled denial.

A country is the will of the people and we don't have a fucking king and royal court.

And I always ask this question - should journalists not report these facts. Is the job we're doing more important than American lives?

Lastly, I thought reporting on Iraqi civilian casualities was also going to sap American will. As also happened in Vietnam.

It comes full circle and you should sit and spin -- and think. (he says in the nicest possible way).
OK, Andrew, I thought about it, although without any actual spinning, and my number one problem with reporting in Vietnam was that they failed to report the Tet offensive as an American victory. But could they have done so? Perhaps not.

The North Vietnamese General Staff knew that the Viet Cong were finished as an effective fighting force. But I have no information to lead me to believe that the American General Staff knew that the Viet Cong had been destroyed. How could the press? Without this information, could the press have known enough about guerilla warfare to realize that Tet was an American victory? Maybe not. NVA/VC casualties were 45,000 dead and 7000 captured, with the number of wounded unknown. US/ARVN casualties were 4300 dead, 16,000 wounded and 1000 MIA. See here for my source.

So, even though the NVA/VC had surprised the US/AVRN, they had lost 10 soldiers for every one they killed. Westmoreland thought it was a victory, the North Vietnamese knew that their plans had failed, but Walter Cronkite and Lyndon Johnson lost their will to win.

I think they both messed up. In this, Johnson carries by far the greater burden, since he was the President. Lincoln, FDR and Truman would not have lost their will to win. But Cronkite was a uniquely powerful opinion leader, to whom there is no current analog. His stalemate broadcast completely failed to note the hard fought victory our soldiers had won at great cost. I think he, and the rest of the press, let America down.

All judgement calls, by someone who is well outside his area of expertise, your mileage will certainly vary.

I really appreciated Andrew's nicest possible way remark. I would have taken the spinning comment much more negatively than he meant.

Here is some more Vietnam wisdom from Jerry Pournelle's blog. See also Jerry's opinion that JFK messed up badly by killing Diem. And also, scroll down to see Jerry rebut some Colonel who compared Iraq to Vietnam improperly. I have a great deal of respect for Jerry, whose advice, with that of Stephan Possony, helped Reagan win the Cold War.