The moral elements in war

The scientific and technical progress usually has a serious impact on society. Just because of technical progress the term “media” came into existence in the 19th century. The wide spread of radio communication had a substantial influence on the global history in the first half of the 20th century. One of most memorable use of radio was during the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Later on radio was used for communications between armies in World War I and World War II. Radio broadcasting became widespread during the first decade of the 20th century. Since the global communication networks had spread, media tried to cover all the global events and conflicts.  In it impossible to imagine the Cold War, the ideas war, in its essence, without the radio broadcasting. Radio was the most available informative source that time.  British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and the Voice of America broadcasting programs in Eastern Europe were the peaceful alternative to state-owned and party-dominated communist media.

The second half of the 20th century was the period of the rapid growth of TV networks. The Vietnam War was the first conflict where television played a significant role. Michael Arlen, British author, called it “the living-room war”, because it was the first time when the war came into every house. Daniel C. Hallin, Professor of Communication at the University of California, wrote that Vietnam war “is still surely the biggest story television news has ever covered” (Hallin, “Vietnam on television”). By 1965 TV news coverage in the USA had increased dramatically. Two of three main TV networks, CBS and NBC, broadcasted the half-hour daily news report from September 1963. ABC followed this news politics in early 1965. During the first few years of conflict the news report usually began with a battlefield roundup, then the policy story from Washington followed and finally short film report “from the field”. “As with most television news, the emphasis was on the visual and above all the personal” (Hallin, “Vietnam on television”).

Papers and magazines also took part at the Vietnam coverage, but the influence of TV increased every year. In 1966 56 percents of American consider TV as the main source of news, in 1972 this number grew to 64 against 54 and 36 percents  for papers and magazines correspondingly (Hallin, Uncensored War, p. 106)

By August 1966 the press corps in South Vietnam had jumped to 419, but only 110 were Americans. That time the TV crew included three men and 250-300 pounds of equipment. It was hard to reach the remote districts of the country to make the report. Thus, for the first years war news was rather upbeat. “The morale of American troops was very good when the war began, and most television coverage was filled with vignettes of brave soldiers and their powerful weaponry, which of course made wonderful visuals for TV.” (Hallin, “Living Room Wars: Vietnam vs. ”˜Desert” Storm)

Sure sometimes TV delivered the images of suffering and violence.  In August 1965 CBS aired a report from the village of Cam Ne. War reporter Morley Safer showed Marines lighting the thatched roofs  with Zippo lighters. This report provoked an avalanche of critical comments concerning the behaviour of the soldiers and their treatment to the villagers. However, this report was not typical, usually TV avoided showing blood and gore.

A contentious debate over the influence of the American media on the Vietnam War, its course and outcome, is still continuing. Some researchers declare that the TV coverage changed the public opinion and became the turning point for the Vietnam War. (Terence Smith 2000) Their opponents affirm that in 1968 Washington officials lost confidence and doubt the US forces can win the war. One way or Vietnam War coverage changed in 1968. It become more sober in general and film reports show more fights. Coverage became more emotional and put more attention to individuality. “On Thanksgiving Day 1970, for example, Ed Rabel of CBS reported on the death of one soldier killed by a mine, interviewing his buddies, who told their feelings about his death and about a war they considered senseless.” (Hallin, “Vietnam on television”) At the same time the USA began the withdrawal of its troops from Vietnam and anti-war protests rose at the “home front”.

Vietnam War coverage showed that media could play a decisive role in turning people against the war. Media reports reflected “divisions in the policy-making community and shifts in morale of American troops” (Hallin). That is why the coverage of all the following war conflicts was compared with Vietnam.

Present War on terrorism is a new “living-room war” because   it is heavily televised.  Fox news, MSNBC and CNN daily and weekly covered the beginning of Iraq campaign. It was easy because there was a great press corpse in Baghdad from the first Gulf War. However after the causalities among journalists US reporters started to live the Baghdad.  Now journalists call Iraq the most dangerous place on the Earth.

Perhaps Afghanistan will take this name after the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The news coverage of Afghanistan War is more complicated. During the Iraq campaign journalists based in Baghdad and other big cities because armed conflicts were concentrated around the cities.  The military conflict in Afghanistan went far beyond the cities and that made a serious difficulty to the representatives of the media to reach the destination in order to get the newest information.
Analysis of the war evolution coverage in the 20th-21st centuries shows serious technological changes. Current war conflicts are newer with its instantaneousness. New era of hi-tech, IT and satellite broadcasting gives us smaller, faster, easier means of communication.

The advantage of contemporary technology gives the possibility to research the war events in real time.  One study of National Bureau of Economic Research has compared the number of insurgent attacks in Iraq to the number of negative reports of the war in the US media.

The researchers found “emboldenment effect”. After increases in the number of negative statements of the war in the media the insurgent attacks spiked by 5 to 10%. The authors concluded that “insurgent groups respond rationally to expected probability of US withdrawal.” (Iyengar, Monten, 2008)

Such studies were not possible during the Vietnam war and they show the widening of media influence and interrelation of the news coverage and war events.

Leave a Reply