Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cronkite and Vietnam

We've been reminded in recent days of Walter Cronkite's broadcast of Feb. 27, 1968, when he declared, after having traveled to Vietnam in the wake of the Tet Offensive, that the war was going to end in a stalemate and the U.S. should embark on negotiations.

Kathleen Parker, in an appreciative column about Cronkite, notes that his critics say the Tet Offensive was a defeat for the Viet Cong (the NLF) and that his famous broadcast ushered in an era of supposed media bias. (Actually Parker refers to the North Vietnamese not the NLF, but it was mainly an NLF operation.) In truth, the Tet Offensive was both a defeat and a victory for the NLF: in strictly military terms it was a defeat, but in psychological terms it was a victory. It showed that the NLF, after several years of being subjected to American air power and
fighting American ground soldiers, was capable of launching and carrying out a sustained operation against a large number of population centers in the South, and the NLF's penetration of the U.S. embassy in Saigon was a major propaganda coup. Cronkite's reaction was entirely understandable in view of the official American assurances that the war was being won and that the enemy was on the run.

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