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Hayley Graves
Professor Sotirakopulos
English 1102
25 September 2015
Vietnam in America: What Was The Real Truth?
All relatives born prior to the 1970s remember some parts of the Vietnam War, but how
accurate were all of the facts that they were presented with at the time? Is what they were being
told consistent with what was actually happening at the time? Many sources agree that the way
that information was presented to American citizens was not accurate, but Americans were not
questioning what they were told in the beginning. Despite the common understanding that
information about the war was mispresented to the American public, there are varying degrees to
which scholars agree. Every student learns that the reason America got involved was to prevent
communism from spreading, or the domino effect. But was that really why we got involved or
was that just a clever excuse crafted at a time of high suspicion of communists? Is not only the
older generations experiences from the war that is a stretch of the truth or is Americas youth still
learning these false accounts? One way or another, looking at the American governments
presentation of the war back then can help citizens look at modern wars differently. It can help
Americans question whether or not they should take everything they hear from the government at
face-value; does the government really have to tell the truth?
In A Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn, Zinn defines the truth from
examining differing viewpoints and different sources. Zinn presents one of his most influential
facts in the beginning of the chapter stating that in early August 1964, President Johnson used a
murky set of events in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of North Vietnam, to launch full scale
war on Vietnam (Zinn 475). Already the reader sees the use of the word murky to signal to the
readers how ambiguous the event that took place was. President Johnson and Secretary of

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Defense Robert McNamara stated to Americans that there was an attack by North Vietnamese
torpedo boats on American destroyers (Zinn 476). Zinn cites McNamaras statement, While on
patrol in international waters the U.S. destroyer Maddox underwent an unprovoked attack
(Zinn 475). Zinn goes on to demonstrate how this was a false story made up by the government;
facts also place the Maddox in Vietnamese territory on an electronic spying mission where there
were absolutely no torpedoes that were fired at the Maddox (Zinn 475). It seems like the Gulf of
Tonkin incident was used to rally the government and the American public to be able to accept
the war similarly to how President Roosevelt used Pearl Harbor to gain support for the war
during World War II; this of course was not a fabricated story unlike the Gulf of Tonkin. Zinn
goes on to describe how eventually people began to disagree with the war and see through the
lies of the government, but that did not begin until a couple of years into the war.
After looking at how the American government presented the war to the public, it is
important to look at the motives the government had to present it this way. The online article
Vietnam Propaganda seeks to answer many of the questions behind the governments
motivation. As stated in the article, the first goal of the government was that the war had to be
perceived as a threat to national security, which was difficult due to the distance between the
United States and Vietnam (Vietnam Propaganda). This goal connects easily with the second
one of Public support [needing] to be sustained. Which was difficult because the American
way of life was virtually uninterrupted by the conflict (Vietnam Propaganda). These two
motives would explain why it was essential for there to be an incident like the Gulf of Tonkin
because this served as a threat to national security and this would interrupt the American way of
life because Americans would feel targeted by the Vietnamese.
Looking at Americas motives for the beginning of the war the other propaganda that
followed the lies was also as filled with falsehoods and motives as the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

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The paper An Analysis of American Propaganda in World War II and the Vietnam War by Conner
Foley seeks to demonstrate some other forms of propaganda that was used. When the media
would go over to Vietnam and interview soldiers on the war, the soldiers were often unfiltered
and strained the relationship between the media and the government. To prevent anything
negative, but often true, from being said about the war, the American government launched
Operation Maximum Candor which was essentially focused on the controlled flow of
information from the American military leadership in Vietnam to the reporters stationed among
the troops (Foley 44). From this relationship the news was able to gather information to present
to the public, but America was able to control what information the news was releasing. The
censoring became a major propaganda tool for [America]. The government was able to
monopolize the information to focus attention on the positives while downplaying the
negatives (Foley 45). Operation Maximum Candor was ultimately counterproductive for the
American government because it caused tension between the public and the government since
people began to realize how filtered the news they were presented with was.
The movie industry played a large part in presenting the North Vietnamese as the villains
in the early 1960s. Jon Cowens in his article A Deepening Disbelief: The American Movie
Hero in Vietnam, 1958-1968 talks about the movie The Green Berets, which focuses on the war
in Vietnam and its production. The Defense Department cooperated in making it. This
cooperation and the changes the military demanded for its cooperation helped convince many
that this was a propaganda film (Cowens 240). The reviews cited the movie as a failure of
propaganda. In the words of Time, the film was strictly for the [war] hawks and would change
no ones opinion (Cowen 343).
Looking at how the war was presented back in the 1960s is important to understand why
things happened the way they did, but it is also important to look at how the Vietnam War is

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perceived now in society. The way the it is taught in classrooms differs depending on the teacher;
there are some teachers who refuse to let their students read biased textbooks to learn about
Vietnam, instead giving them a different source that presents the truth (as my U.S. history
teacher did), while other teachers present the Vietnam War in a way that does not implicate the
American government. James W. Loewen in his book Lies My Teacher Told Me presents the
impact that the false recollections of the Vietnam War that is presented in textbooks has on
students to this day. [American] Adventure devotes just two sentences to why we fought in
Vietnam. Newer textbooks simply rely on anticommunism to explain U.S. involvement
(Loewen 255). This is not good for Americas youth because many adults already know that the
Vietnam War was not a good time in American history because they lived through the lies, but
the younger generations will never learn about what actually happened since they did not live it
and are not taught the truth.
Knowing these truths help to demonstrate the complicated web of lies and half-truths that
the American public was told constantly by the government and media; they also show the
American reaction and how it still is portrayed. By acknowledging these lies and half-truths the
public can navigate through any kind of government news or propaganda since wars are
always inevitable. It is important to see these facts in order to see how much the government
isnt required to share with the public and how far they will go to protect their image. Now the
question is not how involved America was in Vietnam and how much did they lie to the
American public; the question is how much propaganda will you believe from the government?

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Works Cited
Cowans, Jon. A Deepening Disbelief: The American Movie Hero In Vietnam, 1958-1968. Journal Of
American-East Asian Relations 17.4 (2010): 324-351. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Oct.
Foley, Conner. "An Analysis of American Propaganda in World War II and the Vietnam War." BSU
Honors Program Theses and Projects. Bridgewater State University, 12 May 2015. Web. 29
Sept. 2015.
Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.
New York: New, 1995. Print.
"Vietnam Propaganda." Patterns in History. Mount Holyoke College, 12 Jan. 2012. Web. 29 Sept.
Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. Print.