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  1. #1
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default Vietnam War Collection: books plus

    Folks,

    You can download the report at http://www.nsa.gov/vietnam/releases/relea00012.pdf

    Good read

    Best
    Tom

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    Default Feedback on William Colby's Lost Victory

    Looking for some feedback on former CIA Director William Colby's Lost Victory. I finished the book about 3 weeks ago and found it to be among the most informative and optimistic books on the Vietnam War with respect to understanding the U.S. role in the war, our many mistakes, and probably most important, how we eventually learned from these mistakes in developing a joint-pacification effort that some say led to the war being all but won by 1971-1972.

    I'm not a Vietnam expert by any stretch, but did find this book, as well as Lewis Sorley's A Better War convincing in describing what could have been had we not completely pulled out militarily and cut off funding. Both books paint a very different picture of the war than others that generally focus on all things during and before the Tet Offensive.

    Colby made an interesting point about how the Easter Offensive validated our success (and that of the South Vietnamese Government) because the North Vietnamese were left with little choice but to attack conventionally because the communist infrastracture in South Vietnam had been mostly destroyed by 1972. He argues this was even more the case after all three NVA conventional thrusts were defeated or fought to a stalemate during the Easter Offensive. He goes on to say that things in South Vietnam would have turned out very differently had the U.S., in 1972-1973, guaranteed the country's security from conventional external threats, much like we did when signing security alliances with South Korea and Japan.


    Anybody out there with experience on the ground in Vietnam or Vietnam history experts in general that can shed some light on Colby's book?

    I'm particularly interested because I see many parallels between how he describes Vietnam in 1968-1969 and where we're at in Iraq today (i.e., just now seriously embracing a pacification effort, making progress on inter-agency cooperation, really trying counterinsurgency, etc. all with decreasing political support on the homefront).
    Last edited by Maximus; 04-16-2007 at 04:33 AM.

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    Default Colby's Lost Victory

    I would also recommend what seems to be the closest thing to a definitive after action report on CORDS, Pacification by Richard A. Hunt, Westview Press, 1995. The jacket, incidentally, has Colby's endorsement of this work. The author was a CORDS captain, apparently assigned to MACV HQ. As for Lost Victory, definitely a worthwhile read, and I concur in the conclusion, basically as you have put it. Concur as well in Sorely, which puts the Colby/CORDS story in context. I worked in a number of MR III provinces as a civilian in CORDS and its successor outfit, the Embassy's SAA/FO (Special Asst. to the Amb. for Field Operations) Program 1971 to April 1975. All my former colleagues who were there when I was and, to whom I have spoken since, consider, as do I, that by mid-1970 the turning point had been reached in our favor. To all of us, every stage of the pulling of the plug was an outrage. My quick and (very) dirty take on CORDS is that our advisory effort was laudably successful in ensuring the needed US and GVN focus on recruiting, training and equiping the Territorial Forces (RF/PF) and recognizing their key role in pacification--(falls under the rubric of organizing the population in its own self defense). I'll not dwell on recurring problems such as enemy penetration, but overall, to me the vindication of the program came in the 1972 PAVN offensive when US observers were able to comment in a number of situations that RF units had performed measurably better than ARVN. To me, progress with RF/PF alone more than justified the CORDS enterprise.

    On another important initiative, Colby is overly sanguin, however, viz., Phoenix. After all, this was his baby. And this is why to me the CORDS advisory effort was the house half finished. Sorely quotes Abrams putting it better: there was "still a lot of work to do." Most VCI were killed not through Phoenix but by RF during the course of their normal operations. This is because many VCI (including the senior ones) resided and travelled with the enemy combatant units in the bush, not within the population. And PRU, an effective anti-VCI strike force, diminished very significantly in effectiveness once it was Vietnamized. Despite undeniably serious attrition in their ranks, the VCI were still around when CORDS ended in Feb 1973, and despite smaller numbers, able to keep their fellow villagers in a state of terror in certain areas. Communist enforcers continued to assasinate, the guides were still there to lead PAVN conbatants, and in the waning year of 1974, political agitators were unabashedly vocal. (The GVN in MR III did not demonstrate seriousness of intent in neutralizing the legal cadre--the ones living within the population. Keep in mind that CORDS was strictly advisory--if the GVN didn't do it, it wasn't done.) Conspicuously absent from Colby's account was any discussion of the thriving Shadow Supply System of local procurement for the enemy forces--an important VCI undertaking. The whole question of accommodation with the enemy was a perennial problem with which the advisers struggled, but unfortunately, as our force drawdown accellerated, the Vietnamese, no longer convinced of US commitment (the key!) were driven to increasing collaboration with the enemy.

    In conclusion, I'd assess CORDS as a real success in regard to the RF/PF. But recent accounts of the successes of Phoenix (at best spotty, but overall, wanting) leave me incredulous. Some months ago, Council Member Slapout (if memory serves) suggested that I do an evaluation of CORDS, which I refrained from attempting since I am not qualified. The foregoing will confirm that judgement.

    Cheers,
    Mike.
    Last edited by Mike in Hilo; 04-16-2007 at 06:54 AM. Reason: Add examples of VCI activity.

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    Let's not forget that the Easter Offensive in 1972, while an utter failure and disaster for the North Vietnamese in their attempt to take urban centers and destroy South Vietnam, did manage to successfully overrun and keep the Central Highlands. While not a major population center, it provided an excellent safe zone within the South for resupply and rebuilding. Note as well that without American advisors, FACs, and pilots, ARVN would have utterly collapsed in 1972.

    Also focusing exclusively on successes in the counterinsurgency battle ignores a critical aspect of Maoist revolutionary warfare, which prescribes transitioning to conventional forces as soon as possible. The Communists in China didn't win due to guerrilla uprisings in Nanking --- they crushed the Nationalists in the major force-on-force battles, where guerrillas acted primarily as guides, supply, and political mobilization rather than playing a significant military role. The same thing happened in Vietnam, except when the major conventional campaign occurred South Vietnam fell far faster than the KMT in China.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Hi Mike, thanks for the post on CORDS, yes that was me with a request for an evaluation of CORDS. I disagree with you on your qualifications, seems like you are exactly the right person as your post proves. I am at my day job but will post more later.

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    Default CORDS and Phoenix

    After the war the communist said that the Phoenix program was very successful.

    The communist insurgency in Vietnam was beaten many times. In Mark Moyars' Triumph Forsaken he notes that in 1959 the Diem regime had reduced the communist forces down to just 6,000 men.

    After the north started sending more troops down, they were defeated again in the early '60's. What helped them in 1963 was their infiltration of the Buddhist movement creating what appeared to be a sectarian strife.

    The US fell for the ruse and started putting pressure on Diem to make concessions to the Buddhist leaders who kept moving the goal post. State Department people began back a coup against Diem and were assisted in that effort by Ambassador Lodge and some reporters in Vietnam who later received Pulitzer Prizes for their efforts. The coup caused the South Vietnamese to lose momentum in their war against the communist, and President Johnson's weak response to provocations encouraged them to send more troops south.

    If you are interested in counterinsurgency warfare, you will want to read Moyar's book. It only goes through 1965, so you will probably have to wait for the next volume to read about the CORDS program from his perspective.

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Vietnam: How to Lose a War

    Council member Merv Benson reviews Triumph Forsaken, The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 by Mark Moyer on his PrairiePundit blog - How to Lose a War.

    Mark Moyar's Triumph Forsaken, The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, gives the history of the conflict up to the day Johnson ordered US ground troops to Vietnam to prevent a communist victory in 1965. This is a book that should be required reading for all those who think they know what caused the war and how it was lost. If they follow the tale told by the winners of the Pulitzer Prizes, they will be very wrong...

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    Default Moyar's Book

    Merv deserves thanks for an absolutely top notch review of this important book.

    Some others have supported the same thesis, but, as Merv has pointed out, notably not the well known journalist historians. Colby, for one, recorded his shock and dismay over Diem's death in his two autobiographical works. Others who come to mind are historian Ellen Hammer, and Dennis Duncanson, whose landmark history of VN by a long time COIN practitioner, Government and Revolution in Viet Nam, has unfortunately been out of print for some time, but is likewise an essential read. ("The highest ratio of talent to numbers seen in Viet Nam previously or since," from Colby's Honorable Men, My Life in the CIA, is Colby's asessment of Sir Robert Thompson and his cohorts in the British Advisory Mission to VN, Desmond Palmer and Dennis Duncanson.)

    But as Merv points out, Moyar adds lots of new material. Of great interest is the fresh analysis of the much discussed Battle of Ap Bac.

    By the way, I clicked on SWJED's link to Amazon and checked out the reviews of this book that Amazon has posted, and noted that one of those is by Council Member Meara.

    Cheers,
    Mike.
    Last edited by Mike in Hilo; 04-28-2007 at 12:20 AM.

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default I agree...

    ... Merv did a great job reviewing this book. I work (day job) in the same building as Dr. Moyer - plan on doing a drive-by next week to say hey and let him know about the review.

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    Default Moyar, Sorley and Vietnam Revisionism

    I'm not normally a fan of The Nation, but found it tough to disagree with this take on revisionist history of the Vietnam War:

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071015/perlstein

    And here's the remarkable thing: Out of his determination--or desperation--to stay on message, Owens overlooks fundamental contradictions between these two books. Moyar's hero is William Westmoreland. He is a hero because he rejected the idea of flexible, small, counterinsurgency patrols in favor of "using large conventional forces to search for and engage the Communists." Sorley despises Westmoreland. Indeed, A Better War was all but written to drive home this single idea: that using large conventional forces to search for and engage the Communists was what almost lost us the war. Sorley's heroes are heroes because they understand that a key to victory was to monitor and improve the political quality of the South Vietnamese government from top to bottom, the better to abet "their efforts to carry out--carry through--a social revolution." Moyar's Triumph Forsaken was all but written to excoriate such people, whose insistence on monitoring and improving the political quality of the South Vietnamese government almost lost us the war.
    Thoughts?

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    It's a shame that the author seemed so bitter about a new wave of revisionism reacting against the "reliable" products that came out in the 1960s...

    Seriously, I always find it interesting when one side of the political spectrum comes out guns-blazing against the opposite side when it comes to historical writing. One could almost smell the torches being kindled to burn two "witches" at the stake for going against conventional liberal wisdom regarding Vietnam. Not that I agree with Sorley and Moyar and their positions on Vietnam...I tend after many years of study to come closer to the view that all we were doing was postponing the inevitable...and the question was more a matter of how much time we were buying our client state in the process. Hard-core liberals have the same cut and paste function when it comes to history...witness the efforts on the part of some of them to claim that Kennedy would have pulled out of Vietnam...ignoring his own personal ties to Diem and general lack of foreign policy success. He was too afraid of "losing" Vietnam...a fear he passed on to Johnson who had even less foreign policy experience and knowledge.

    Like most historical events, the "truth" of Vietnam lies somewhere in the middle. It's very much a mix of misperceptions, colored by Cold War thinking and worldviews that need to be considered when writing about the subject. We might have bought the South more breathing room had we gone with an Abrams strategy in the early 1960s as opposed to the big war/Korea theory, but at the end of the day it would have been just that...buying time.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    It's a shame that the author seemed so bitter about a new wave of revisionism reacting against the "reliable" products that came out in the 1960s...
    Definitely agree, I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum politically from The Nation, but I take his larger point about a revisionist history of Vietnam being used as an important rhetorical point in the debate on Iraq. Like Malaya, which Steve Metz for one has noted as being so exceptional, how we see Vietnam has a lot of relevance to how we see the entire viability of counterinsurgency.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Granite_State View Post
    Definitely agree, I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum politically from The Nation, but I take his larger point about a revisionist history of Vietnam being used as an important rhetorical point in the debate on Iraq. Like Malaya, which Steve Metz for one has noted as being so exceptional, how we see Vietnam has a lot of relevance to how we see the entire viability of counterinsurgency.
    I agree to a degree, but also consider that political types will pull out anything they can find to make their "historical" points.

    Vietnam is a hard one to consider because in the pure Maoist sense there were two wars going on at the same time, IMO. You had the insurgency, which was a real threat in parts of the country and not so much in others, and the conventional force element that was being pumped into the South by the North. The Vietnamese genius here was the willingness (and ability) to shift back and forth between the two styles of war almost at will. Note that this was not without some internal problems (with Tet being the best example of this...although the VCI losses during Tet DID solve one major problem for the North: it removed any local leadership competition from the field), but at the end of the day they were willing to outlast us and the government of the South (which did more harm than good to its own cause).

    For many years both the Right and Left held up Vietnam as an almost isolationist banner to keep the US from getting involved in anything beyond its borders, and for the same reason: both sides argued (from their own reasoning bases) that you couldn't defeat an insurgency. As always this ignored the complex nature of both our reasons for getting into Vietnam, the situation we encountered there, and the aftermath. So in a sense Vietnam for political individuals is more a symbol than a historical reality. I've argued before that the best comparison between Vietnam and Iraq can be found in the responses of our own military and governmental institutions to the situation...not on the battlefield.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Default Who Owns the Vietnam War?

    Found this at The Belmont Club. Arthur Herman at Commentarymagazine.com
    . . . the press had presented the Tet offensive as a stunning Communist success and a signal that there was no light at the end of the tunnel. The suddenness of the attack had caught not only the American military by surprise, but also the American media. After the war, one of their own, the Washington Post’s Saigon bureau chief Peter Braestrup, documented exactly how the major media proceeded to turn the reality of American victory into an image of American and South Vietnamese defeat.1 Basing themselves on that image, Walter Cronkite and others clearly felt they now had definitive grounds for mistrusting their government’s word and for concluding that, just as the antiwar movement had declared, victory in Vietnam was not and never had been a possibility.

    Others went beyond this conclusion. In March 1969, the executive producer of ABC News told his Saigon bureau: “I think the time has come to shift our focus from the battlefield . . . to themes and stories under the general heading, ‘We are on our way out of Vietnam.’” One of those “stories” would be the massacre at My Lai, which took place in the aftermath of Tet but became a news event only a year later. The steady coverage of isolated but sensational episodes like My Lai, deaths by “friendly fire,” and the like had the effect of convincing many Americans that such extraordinary occurrences reflected the ordinary situation on the ground and were destroying their country’s moral standing. Seizing the opportunity, a weakened Hanoi tried to turn it to its advantage. As Mark Woodruff writes in Unheralded Victory: The Defeat of the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army (1999), Hanoi “increasingly shifted its [own] efforts toward the American media and the antiwar movement and soon sought American casualties as [its] main objective.” Indirectly, then, the press’s willful misreading of the meaning of Tet and its harping on the idea that “we are on our way out” would increase the cost of the war in American blood.
    <snip by SWCAdmin>


    It generally seems to take about a generation and half for the truth to come out. Associated Press, Reuters, CNN et al tried to Tet us in Iraq. Didn't work so well this time.
    Last edited by SWCAdmin; 12-16-2007 at 10:51 PM. Reason: Reduce quote. Out of respect for the author and Belmont Club, please read the rest there. Thanks for the original link.

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    Cannoneer,

    I recommend that you find William Hammond's "The Press in Vietnam as Agent of Defeat: A Critical Examination." It provides a look at the argument that the media was responsible for a major portion of our defeat in Vietnam and decouples causation.

    A more recent look at war and the media can be found in a not too old article in Parameters, http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usawc/P...mer/darley.pdf. I've excerpted a portion of the article that addresses a small portion of Hammond's argument.

    William Hammond, regarded by many as the premier authority on military and media relations during the VietnamWar, also concluded that there was little evidence to support a causal relationship between the tone of editorial reporting and the general public opinion. However, he does suggest that there was evidence to support a causal relationship between the factual content of information communicated through the media and shifts in public opinion, often in ways critics of the media might not expect. For example, he notes the following with regard to public opinion polls taken during and immediately following the Tet Offensive in January 1968, widely and wrongly asserted by many to have been a decisive turning point marking the final irrevocable downturn in public support for continuation of the war:

    Whatever the pessimism of the press, however, the majority of Americans went their own way. Queried by the Gallup Poll on whether they considered the war a mistake, 45 percent responded “yes,” the same percentage as in December 1965; 43 percent said “no,” a drop of 3 points; and 12 percent had no opinion. Even more telling, the number of those who considered themselves “hawks” on the war rose 4 percentage points between December and February, while those who saw themselves as “doves” fell by the same percentage. The number of those expressing confidence in the government’s military policies in South Vietnam rose from 61 to 74 percent. Queried by Louis Harris on whether a bombing halt would hasten the chances for peace, 71 percent of respondents favored continuing the bombing, a rise of 8 points over the previous October, while the number of those favoring a halt fell from 26 to 18 percent.3
    Thus, if Hammond’s interpretation of polling is a correct analysis of US domestic public opinion through the first part of 1968, the factual content
    of media reports, in most cases accompanied by editorial content opposing
    the war, evoked in a significant segment of the US public a desire for
    more—not less—aggressive and decisive action to finish the war on terms favorable to the United States. Hammond goes on to note the following:

    If Americans were unwilling to repudiate the war, they nonetheless appearedincreasingly dissatisfied with their President. Willing to back any decision he made, they saw little forward motion on his part. . . . The air of indecision that hung about his policies as a result took a toll on his standing in the polls, where disapproval of his handling of the war rose from 47 to 63 percent by the end of February. . . . If the gloomy reporting of the press had little effect on American public opinion, it nonetheless reinforced doubts already circulating within the Johnson Administration.

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    Hammond: If Americans were unwilling to repudiate the war, they nonetheless appearedincreasingly dissatisfied with their President. Willing to back any decision he made, they saw little forward motion on his part. . . . The air of indecision that hung about his policies as a result took a toll on his standing in the polls, where disapproval of his handling of the war rose from 47 to 63 percent by the end of February. . . . If the gloomy reporting of the press had little effect on American public opinion, it nonetheless reinforced doubts already circulating within the Johnson Administration.
    I think therein lies something like the truth about the effect that the media had upon the political conduct of the Vietnam War. The political leadership is, needless to say, somewhat isolated from the views of most ordinary people; and into this gap steps the media. The media are able to create perceptions, perhaps not entirely accurate ones, of how things are in reality, and these perceptions have their effects upon the thinking of political leaders and their active supporters. The potential for the media to manipulate the communication divide between ordinary people and their political leaders afforded by said divide, in turn allows the media to exert an undue influence upon political leaders and decision-makers, somewhat isolated as they are from "reality".

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Good point...

    Quote Originally Posted by Norfolk View Post
    I think therein lies something like the truth about the effect that the media had upon the political conduct of the Vietnam War. The political leadership is, needless to say, somewhat isolated from the views of most ordinary people; and into this gap steps the media. The media are able to create perceptions, perhaps not entirely accurate ones, of how things are in reality, and these perceptions have their effects upon the thinking of political leaders and their active supporters. The potential for the media to manipulate the communication divide between ordinary people and their political leaders afforded by said divide, in turn allows the media to exert an undue influence upon political leaders and decision-makers, somewhat isolated as they are from "reality".
    however, I think the great unwashed turned around on Viet Nam due to perceived lack of progress -- that and Nixon's campaign promise to get out.

    The bad thing is that the media myth (and IMO, it is a myth) led them to believe they have far more influence than they really do. They honestly think the sway the public when all they actually do is sway the more gullible politicians and those political junkies among the public that believe the same things the media does.

    That is highly likely to have little or no connection with reality.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Norfolk View Post
    I think therein lies something like the truth about the effect that the media had upon the political conduct of the Vietnam War. The political leadership is, needless to say, somewhat isolated from the views of most ordinary people; and into this gap steps the media. The media are able to create perceptions, perhaps not entirely accurate ones, of how things are in reality, and these perceptions have their effects upon the thinking of political leaders and their active supporters. The potential for the media to manipulate the communication divide between ordinary people and their political leaders afforded by said divide, in turn allows the media to exert an undue influence upon political leaders and decision-makers, somewhat isolated as they are from "reality".
    Norfolk,

    Hammond's piece is up on JSTOR if you have access to it. In his piece, he specifically refers to this re:Vietnam, and cites Daniel Hallin's The Uncensored War, which states that post-Tet, coverage between for and against the war nearly balanced, with for the war maintaining a slim lead (prior to Tet, pro coverage dominated over coverage against the war 6:1). Of the coverage against the war, half of it came from government officials, while only 16% came from reporters or commentators themselves. Between this and some other evidence that he explores, his conclusion was not that the press was leading, but that it was following.

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    Default Read your Parameters piece. Thanks

    Quote Originally Posted by Shek View Post
    Cannoneer,
    A more recent look at war and the media can be found in a not too old article in Parameters, http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usawc/P...mer/darley.pdf. I've excerpted a portion of the article that addresses a small portion of Hammond's argument.
    This discussion is not intended to ignore or discount the influence of
    detractors in the media—especially in the global media age—who willfully
    misreport with the intent of undermining war policy and sowing doubt in the
    domestic populace. Intuitively one recognizes in such media reports a corrosive
    effect on national morale and public support for a war that is difficult to
    measure or counter.

    Having spent 12 of 14 pages not discussing tthe influence of detractors in the media, Darley finally got to the point I want made.

    What hostile media gets out in print hours or days after the event becomes the narrative that stands for decades until disinterested, objective historians analyze declassified information and publish what really happened for the benefit of the small audience who still cares after such a long time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 View Post
    This discussion is not intended to ignore or discount the influence of
    detractors in the media—especially in the global media age—who willfully
    misreport with the intent of undermining war policy and sowing doubt in the
    domestic populace. Intuitively one recognizes in such media reports a corrosive
    effect on national morale and public support for a war that is difficult to
    measure or counter.

    Having spent 12 of 14 pages not discussing tthe influence of detractors in the media, Darley finally got to the point I want made.

    What hostile media gets out in print hours or days after the event becomes the narrative that stands for decades until disinterested, objective historians analyze declassified information and publish what really happened for the benefit of the small audience who still cares after such a long time.
    The problem is that your Vietnam reference is off the mark - research by a "disinterested, objective historian" employed by the Center of Military History has shown that the popular myth that the media was a major cause of our losing Vietnam doesn't hold much weight. Sure, there was negative press out there, but it wasn't leading opinion, just following it.

    However, I don't dispute that information has a much greater impact in the current conflicts, but you are drawing from a false reference and seeing only what you want to see. You saw 12 pages as wasted space because it didn't make the point you want made, despite the fact that it provides evidence that your historical reference is questionable and/or invalid.

    EDIT: One of the big points that Hammonds makes is that most people in Vietnam weren't influenced by the media anyways - they saw what they wanted to see for the most part. I think the same holds true today for the domestic audience by and large.
    Last edited by Shek; 12-17-2007 at 03:42 AM.

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