For some time, I have been gathering material for a book about the press in Vietnam. The “some time” has actually turned out to be years, a long journey. It started with an interest in the war photography of Robert Capa, gathered momentum with a new appreciation of other war photographers (David Douglas Duncan, Larry Burrows and so many others) and then, it seems inevitably, morphed into an investigation of the work of the reporters who elaborated on the story told in the photographs.
My research went backward before it went forward. The correspondents who covered the early years of American involvement were, in most cases, veterans of World War II and Korea. They approached the growing guerrilla war with a mindset that had been established in an environment very different from that which prevailed in South Vietnam in the late 1950s. The mainly younger reporters who arrived in the country in the early 1960s were no less anti-communist than these old hands. Because they approached it with fresh eyes, however, they were better equipped to see the ways in which the war differed from the more conventional conflicts that preceded it. They were certainly quicker to spot flaws in the way it was being conducted. And this led to sharp debate over what constituted accurate and appropriate reporting.
While the general outlines of this story are well known, I have uncovered documents and stories that provide, I think, fresh perspectives. The story becomes more complicated in the mid-1960s. The arguments among correspondents and between correspondents and the government took a different form as United States troops were committed to the conflict. They reached a kind of crescendo at the time of the Tet Offensive in early 1968. Some observers argue now, as they did all those years ago, that the correspondents in South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive contributed to America’s defeat.
In general, my posts under the rubric of “The Vietnam Project” reflect my reading and understanding of various texts dealing with the war. I welcome comments and suggestions from visitors with something to contribute.