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How Public Opinion Changed During the Vietnam War (Research Paper Sample)


How Public Opinion Changed During the Vietnam War


How Public Opinion Changed During the Vietnam War
How Public Opinion Changed During the Vietnam War
By the mid 1960's, television was considered as the most important source of news for the American public, and presumably, the most powerful influence on the public opinion. Therefore, as the Vietnam War dragged on, more and more Americans turned to television as their primary source of news. This paper explores how public opinion changed during the Vietnam War, especially during the trial and conviction of LT Calley.[Anderson, David L. 2005. The Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.]
The Vietnam War was fought between 1957-1975 in South Vietnam, and in some parts of Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam. The war led to approximately 60,000 American deaths and nearly 2- 4 million Vietnamese deaths. At first, many American citizens were not aware of America's involvement in the Vietnam War. This is because the initial involvement was in form of financial support and military advisors. The public remained in the dark until 1964 when the US military involvement escalated drawing public attention. At first, the US citizens had strong faith in the president and they supported his policies. However, after three years, most citizens believed that the US military involvement in the Vietnam War was a great mistake because it did not bring forth any remarkable results. This did not mean that the public opinion was to have the US army draw back. In fact in 1967, most people wanted more force on the army so that the war can end. After sometime, it became clear that the war would not come to a quick end, as many citizens had hoped. As a result, from November 1968, the war started to have less support.[Barr, Roger. 1991. The Vietnam War. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books.] [Landers, James. 2004. The weekly war newsmagazines and Vietnam. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.]
One of the worst incidences that happened during the Vietnam War was the My Lai massacre. It happened in the year 1968, after Charlie company led by captain, Earnest Medina planned to attack a village known as My Lai in south Vietnam. My Lai inhabitants were considered as sympathizers of the Vietnamese. However, this was not the case as they consisted mostly of children, women, and seniors. When the villagers tried to run for their safety, Lieutenant William Calley gave a shoot to kill order. As the soldiers hesitated to take the order, he shot several to set an example.[Allison, William Thomas. 2012. My Lai: an American atrocity in the Vietnam War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.]
By the end of the attack, the soldiers had murdered, raped and mutilated approximately 504 people, while never being fired on. It took sometime before the real story of My Lai reached the public. At first, attempts were made to cover up what happened. However, Ron Ridenhour decided to take action after hearing the truth about My Lai from some of his friends who were involved in the massacre. As a result, he wrote several letters to politicians explaining what had taken place at My Lai, thereby paving way for a formal investigation. In 1969 September, Lieutenant Calley was charged with six specifications of murder, which involved a deliberate shooting of approximately 109 civilians. This story did not hit the media until Seymour Hersh openly broke the news on November making My Lai a public debate in various media houses.[PBS. "The My Lai Massacre." PBS. /wgbh/amex/vietnam/trenches/my_lai.html (accessed November 21, 2013).]
Later on, it was declared that four officers and nine enlisted men were to face the law of which Lieutenant Calley was the only one found guilty. In March 1971, Lieutenant Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment with extremely hard labor. However, his punishment was reduced multiple times. The action taken by the court-martial process created public attention causing people to starting questioning an already unpopular war. Before the My Lai incident, the public had developed anti-war feelings because of the various shocking photos and videos of what happened at the battlefield. As a result, one would expect that the public had a feeling of sympathy towards the Vietnamese, and indignation towards the soldiers causing the mass killing. However, this was not the case as the public were against the military court for giving Lieutenant Calley a life sentence. They argued that the soldiers at My Lai were just following orders from top officials, and LT Calley had been singled out unfairly.
LT Calley did not have any criminal record. He had dropped out of college, and secured a chance in the army in 1966. Initially, he worked as a filing clerk, but he later received training as an infantry Lieutenant at Fort Benning, Ga. He attended an Officer Candidate School for about 6 months. He graduated and was sent to Hawaii. There, he joined Captain Ernest Medina of the Charlie Company, and in the end of 1967, he was one of the American soldiers at Vietnam.[Rosenberg, Jennifer . "Vietnam War." 20th Century History. (accessed November 21, 2013).]
A letter send to Congressman Moss by one of the American citizens read, "I, too, am deeply moved by the Calley trial. However, I am not opposed to the juror's decision. When I heard of the verdict, I felt it was a good one. Justice had come through. I felt proud of the jurors for backing up the justice and ignoring the cries of the nation's people”, from the letter, it is clear that the public was against Calley's trial. According to the Author, only few citizens supported the juror's decision. For instance, a citizen who was against the trial came to the author's home asking for a quarter to send a telegram to Nixon protesting the Calley verdict. Initially, people's opinion entailed justice for My Lai because of the atrocious acts that took place there. However, after the court gave its verdict, their opinion took another turn.["Judgment at Fort Benning”. Newsweek. April 12, 1971] ["Judgment at Fort Benning”. Newsweek. April 12, 1971]
According to Newsweek paper, most of American citizens argued that Calley was a scapegoat for war crimes at higher levels of military and civilian authority. LT Calley was referred to as a martyr thrown to the wolves. Moreover, flags flapped at half-staff-spontaneously in many areas, following an order given by governor in Indiana. Free-calley resolutions dropped into hoppers in at least nine state legislatures. Local groups backed pro-Calley petitions, staged pro-calley marches, and held pro-calley rallies. In addition, anti-war Viet vets showed their solidarity by trying to get themselves arrested. One of the gun dealers put a sign that read, "Free Calley or Try Truman”. In one of the NEWSWEEK polls, Americans disapproved the verdict and the sentence by about 8 to 1. Only few citizens doubted what happened at My Lai was a crime.[Nguyen, Viet Thanh. "After The Massacre: Commemoration And Consolation In Ha My And My Lai (review)." Journal of Asian American Studies 10, no. 2 (2007): 215-218.]
According to one of Saigon papers, the immediate reaction of many American servicemen after the LT Calley trial was an indignation. Most of the servicemen including those who had witnessed combat they said that LT Calley was being used as a scapegoat in the massacre of civilians at My Lai. Some explained that LT Calley was just another victim of war that nobody wanted to fight. Various South Vietnamese politicians privately attacked President Nguyen Van Thieu for his silence during the disclosure of the massacre and during the trial. South Vietnam's large anti-war Buddhist faction that is said to have had majority of rural South Vietnamese conveyed a message to the military court at Fort Benning Ga., requesting it to spare LT Calley if he was to be sentenced to death.[Nguyen, Viet Thanh. "After The Massacre: Commemoration And Consolation In Ha My And My Lai (review)." Journal of Asian American Studies 10, no. 2 (2007): 215-218.]
In Georgia, all the five members of the selective service systems local board in Athens resigned under the lead of Chairperson George Pugh, who referred Lt Calley verdict as unacceptable. Pugh said, "Our Conscience will not allow us to continue when our men are treated like that." Various political leaders claimed that what LT Calley had done was wrong, but he did not deserve to be punished alone. They argued that the jury should have considered the fact that the soldiers were just following orders.[Burstein, Paul, and William Freudenburg. "Changing Public Policy: The Impact Of Public Opinion, Antiwar Demonstrations, And War Costs On Senate Voting On Vietnam War Motions." American Journal of Sociology 84, no. 1 (1978): 99.]
Much controversy prevailed around the LT Calley court-martial even before it started. LT Calley was not the only person charged for the atrocious acts at My Lai, but his trial is the only trial, which occurred. Most of the members of the Charlie Company had already left the army. As a result, they could no longer face their charges, and this led to dismissal of 24 out of 25cases. Calley's verdict angered many Americans, as they termed him as a hero and his verdict was injustice. Both doves and hawks disagreed with the court's final decision, but for different reasons. Hawks thought that the court's verdict insulted all the American Soldiers involved in the Vietnam War. In their point of view, Calley was facing charges because of attempting to win a war and execute his duty as required by the law. Doves believed that Calley was just a victim in an immoral war, and those who were supposed to face the law should be the generals and some key politicians. According to their point of view, My Lai was just a tragedy.[Gitlin, Marty. 2010. U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Edina, Minn: ABDO P...
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