Defeating the Vietnam Syndrome
The Military, the Media, and the Gulf War
Andrew T. Parasiliti
Such was the lingering impact of the Vietnam War that the Persian Gulf conflict at times appeared as much a struggle with its ghosts as with Saddam Hussein's Iraq."
George C. Herring, "America and Vietnam."1
On 16 January 1991, the day the air war against Iraq began, President George Bush promised the American people that "this will not be another Vietnam." During the Gulf War, the Bush administration formulated its policies toward the media based on the assumption that critical reporting undermines U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. Department of Defense devised a media containment policy to avoid the perceived negative effects of "another Vietnam." The media's response to this policy was schizophrenic and ambiguous, reflecting in part its own battles with the ghosts of Vietnam.
Some leading news organizations and reporters challenged the Pentagon's restrictions. In general, however, media coverage of the Gulf War, especially network television, accepted the containment policies. The result was a public relations landslide for the Bush administration and a relatively uncritical view of U.S. participation in the Gulf War presented to the American people. The media's Gulf War performance has forced it to reconsider its role in covering U.S. military operations.
Military-media relations are by nature ambiguous, especially during war. The press' desire for independent coverage inevitably clashes