Saturday, January 29, 2005

Iraqi Elections: Another Tet-Style Media Debacle in the Making?

In 1968 the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched a massive attack against US and South Vietnamese forces known as "the Tet Offensive". It resulted in a crushing military defeat for the Communists, particularly the Viet Cong, who were virtually destroyed as a military force.

Although the ferocity and size of the Tet Offensive caught US and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) troops by surprise, they responded well, destroying over half of the attacking forces. In fact, the VC never recovered from Tet, and thus no counterbalance moderated the North’s eventual subjugation of the South. The inaccurate and hysterical reporting from the scene emboldened the US anti-war movement and created the perception of a humiliating defeat for the American and ARVN forces.

In The Myth of a Liberation, Truong Nhu Tang, former Justice Minister of the VC provisional government writes:
I asked the four-star general standing next to me where were the famous Viet Cong divisions 1, 5, 7, and 9. The general, Van Tien Dung, commander-in-chief of the North Vietnamese army, answered coldly that the armed forces were now “unified”. At that moment I began to understand my fate and that of the NLF [National Liberation Front - the political wing of the Viet Cong]. In Vietnam we often said: “Take the juice of the lemon and throw away the peel.” On that dais the years of communist promises and assurances revealed themselves for the propaganda they were. Victory Day celebrated no victory for the NLF, or for the South.
Icons of American journalism, including Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, et. al., have never publicly acknowledged their abysmal performance during the war in general, and especially in the frenzy of Tet. Who can blame them? No one has held their feet to the fire and few people indeed care to dwell upon the failures of their youth.

But they remained silent as the myths were created in the wake of Vietnam: that VC in black pajamas defeated the US military; that a true, representative coalition government rules there today; that the war was unwinnable; that Vietnamization couldn't work...

Thus we saw the massacres in the killing fields largely ignored, the plight of the "boat people" refugees ignored, the abandonment of our faithful Hmong allies ignored. American journalists closed ranks and turned their backs on the consequences of their incompetence and complicity.

Now they are applying the Vietnam media tradition to the War in Iraq - Iraq as a "quagmire"; Fallujah as Tet; Abu Ghraib as My Lai...the drumbeat is incessant, first in support of the media's preferred Presidential candidate, now, who knows? Perhaps more simple incompetence and hysteria, perhaps simply to shore up the myths of their sordid past.