Vietnam: Search for the Truth

1954–1975

The shock of the Tet Offensive, the revelation of the My Lai massacre, and Walter Cronkite’s sober assessment that the war couldn’t be won gradually changed many people’s minds about America’s involvement. How did journalism help to tell the story of what was happening in Vietnam?

Black smoke covers areas of Saigon, and fire trucks rush to the scenes of fires set during attacks by the Viet Cong during the festive Tet holiday period in 1968.
 
Black smoke covers areas of Saigon, and fire trucks rush to the scenes of fires set during attacks by the Viet Cong during the festive Tet holiday period in 1968. National Archives

Outcomes

By the late 1960s, Americans had taken to the streets in protest, Congress began investigations into the administration’s military strategy, and the 1968 election went to Republican Richard Nixon, who promised to bring “peace with honor.” It would take another six years for US forces to withdraw from Vietnam. During that time, graphic images in print and on television night after night helped convince some of the American public and policymakers that the war was unsustainable.

Coverage of the toll on American youth helped lead to policy change. After the war ended, Congress ended the military draft, replacing it with an all-volunteer army. The voting age was reduced from twenty-one to eighteen through the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, and Congress passed the War Powers Act in 1973, which restricted the president’s power to send American troops into combat without Congressional approval.

The Nixon administration tried to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers, claiming national security would be threatened. In 1971, in the case of New York Times Company v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the publication of the papers was constitutional and the government’s attempt to keep them secret infringed upon the First Amendment. The revelations further fueled the public’s opposition to the war and spurred Congress to pass legislation curbing the power of the Executive Branch.

 

Discuss the following questions:

  1. Why did it seem to many Americans that President Nixon’s promise to bring “peace with honor” in Vietnam was just another empty promise?
  2. Review the changes that came after the war ended. How do these changes impact who fights in a war and who makes the decisions during a war?
  3. Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the publication of the Pentagon Papers? Why or why not? Do you think the government has a right to suppress information about how it is conducting a war? Explain.

Create Your Own Story—Final Activity

In this final activity, you will have the opportunity to create your own front-page news story in response to the role journalism played during the Vietnam War.

Directions:

  1. Choose one of the images from the carousel to use in response to the following question: How did journalism help tell the story of the Vietnam War?
  2. Read two or three articles online about your topic (using reliable news sources that you have used in class or your teacher recommends) that will support your argument.
  3. Write a short summary in response to the question based on your research and other ideas you have learned about in this case study.
  4. Don’t forget to tie your argument back to the image from the carousel—be creative!

As you write your article, keep the following in mind:

  1. Length: 2–3 paragraphs.
  2. Include basic facts (who, what, where, when, why, how).
  3. Tie your piece back to a specific idea from one of the images provided in the carousel below.
  4. Decide which news format you would like to use, newspaper or website.
  5. Give your article a title and add a headline (a good headline catches the reader’s attention in some way).

Create Your Own Story

Quick recap: Choose your news format and a primary source from the carousel. Insert your copy, including title and subheading. Download and share with your classmates.


Please select your media type.

Volume IIV
October 21, 2020
Issue 001

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