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Study: Vietnam dramatically changed our views on soldiers, honor and war

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tags: Vietnam War, war



Richard Lachmann, Professor of Sociology, University at Albany, State University of New York

When Americans think of being at war, they might think of images of their fellow citizens suffering.

We count the dead and wounded. We follow veterans on their difficult journey of recovery from physical injuries and post-traumatic stress. We watch families grieve and mourn their dead.

But it was not always this way.

In fact, newspapers during Vietnam and earlier wars gave little space to portraying individual American soldiers. Journalists almost never spoke with grieving relatives. I learned this by researching depictions of American war dead in newspapers and textbooks.

Today, as the U.S. again escalates its 16-year war in Afghanistan, it is important to understand how Vietnam set a pattern for finding honor in inconclusive or lost wars.

I found that from 1965 to 1975, The New York Times mentioned the names of only 726 of the 58,267 American soldiers killed in Vietnam. Reading through every New York Times article from those years with the word “Vietnam” in it, I found biographical information was included about only 16 dead soldiers, and photos of 14.

There are just five references to the reactions of the families of the dead, and only two articles mention the suffering of injured American soldiers. Two other articles discuss the funerals or burials of the dead. This restrained coverage is far different from that of The New York Times or any other media outlet during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The U.S. military encouraged this change. As the Vietnam War dragged on there were mounting casualties, ever less prospect of victory and ever more reports of atrocities committed by American soldiers. In response, U.S. commanders searched for new ways to find honor in their soldiers’ struggles.

Read entire article at The Conversation


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