Browse Exhibits (5 total)

Life in the United States During the Vietnam War


The Vietnam War was one of the longest military conflicts in the history of the United States. Thousands died fighting thousands of miles from home. Life in the United States during the Vietnam War was tumultuous. The timing of the War coincided with some of the most impactful movements in American history. What was it like to live in the United States during this time? How did people's perceptions of the war change with the president, news coverage, or other events? 

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Agent Orange in the Vietnam War

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Throughout the Vietnam war there were many things that caused devastation on both sides of the battlefield. The Viet Cong and the NVA were masters of guerilla warfare and were able to kills thousands of US soldiers using primitive traps like punji sticks and keepsake traps that allowed them to attack us without being seen. There ability to hide and maneuver around the Vietnam landscape without being seen proved to be there most valuable asset during the war. Two or three men could seem like twenty as they fired random shots at US troops while in the cover of darkness.

It soon became clear to the United States government that if we were going to win the war, we would need to do something to make the enemy come out of hiding and face our soldiers on a more even battle ground and after months of deliberation they came up with a simple yet deadly idea. The easiest way to bring the enemy out into the open so we could fight them head on was to remove the cover they were using to hide, the vegetation in Vietnam. And thus, Agent Orange was introduced in Vietnam. With the ability to level an entire acre of jungle in mere minutes Agent Orange proved to be an effective tool and could accomplish the task we needed it to do but not without dire consequences. Agent Orange continues and forever will be one of the most devastating results of the Vietnam War.


Film and Propaganda

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Film and Propaganda had a major effect during the Vietnam War. It was in every ones daily lives in forms of magazines, posters, commercials, and other forms of media. Propaganda is used to promote a point of view or political stance but can sometimes can be misleading. Interpreting propaganda can be a dangerous thing because it isn’t always truthful and can sway the viewer into a bias point of view. The propaganda that influenced the Vietnam War the most were in forms of movies, magazine articles and posters.

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The Draft in the Vietnam War, 1964-1973

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The draft has become one of the most contentious aspects of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Re-established in 1948 after the end of World War II, the draft was often lauded as a hallmark of American democracy until military involvement in Southeast Asia escalated in 1964 and 1965. With the advent of a desegregated military and affordable mass communication devices such as televisions, problems familiar only to the top brass of the military became topics of discussion in many civilian homes. Even though the U.S. military during the Vietnam conflict was overall the best-educated military in history up to that point, men of lower intelligence, disproportionately minorities, often were overrepresented in combat positions due to various reasons.

With a poor understanding of the reasons for being in Vietnam and mounting casualties for little tangible gain, American public opinion turned against the war and the draft. Symbolic burnings of draft registration cards and attacks on draft boards in an attempt to destroy records and impede operations became commonplace beginning in the late 1960s. In 1968, presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon ran on a promise to end the draft altogether and return to an all-volunteer military. Accusations that the draft targeted the poor, minorities, and those of lower educational status led to a modification of the draft procedure beginning in 1969. A commission appointed by President Nixon found that it would be economically and militarily viable to return to an all-volunteer military, and so the bill which gave the government the authority to conduct a draft was allowed to expire in 1973 and not renewed.

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Media Bias During the Vietnam Era

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During the 1960s and 1970s, while the Vietnam War was raging in Southeast Asia, the news media in the United States experienced an extreme shift in both power and in how it reported the doings of the government. Gone were the days of complacent reporting, replaced instead with biting indictments of the government.  But was this the case universally?

As in every other facet of American society, there were deep divides in the media when it came to the war in Vietnam.  There existed a multitude of news orginizations that enthusiastically supported the efforts of the U.S. forces in Vietnam.  Reporters vehemently defended the actions of the nation as anti-communist and the best course of action to take during the Cold War.  However, the mainstream argument of growing media resentment toward U.S. behavior in Vietnam is the common view for a reason.  Media agencies seemed to shift from a more detached view of simply reporting events to a much more intense view that depicts the United States in a... less than favorable light.

For the most part, newspapers in particular seem to be interested in reporting the facts without a lot of spin during the early part of the conflict, but the media companies all experience a growing cynicism and lack of respect for the United States' mission in Vietnam as the war drags on.

There are multiple events in the Vietnam conflict that media focuses in on.  The Strategic Hamlet Program, The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, The Tet Offensive, The My Lai Massacre, and the release of the Pentagon Papers display the change of media reporting in the newspapers as time goes on, showcasing the media's growing contempt for United States administration and handling of the events in Vietnam. 

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident highlights the media still believing the government about happenings in Vietnam.  The reports in the newspapers are largely the same as the official story.

The Strategic Hamlet Program shows the media beginning to take more of an interest in Vietnam as the American government does the same.  The stories published begin to talk about the general incompetence of the program's implementation, but avoid Americans as a topic of discussion.

The Tet Offensive is where media really begins to break with the government over Vietnam.  It had become obvious by this time that hte government was not telling the whole truth at the very least, and the media had gottne sick of it.  The stories run at the time reflect this ire.

The My Lai Massacre was the vindication of the reports of government mishandling of the situation in Vietnam.  Reporters jumped on the opportunity to call out the men who had committed this vile act, as well as the people who had allowed it to occur at all.

Finally, the Pentagon Papers would pit the government against the media in a very public fashion, with the American people caught in the middle.  The American media had finally gotten something concrete on the government and the utter debacle that was policy regarding South Vietnam.