When Government Promotes War


Dr. David Klope at faculty Vietnam forum on selling and unselling the Vietnam War.

Dr. David Klope at faculty Vietnam forum on selling and unselling the Vietnam War.

“The machine can be derailed,” asserted Dr. David Klope, associate professor of communication, as he wrapped up his portion of a presentation on government and anti-government propaganda during the Vietnam War.

The machine is the government’s enormous resources for communication. One point Klope made was the extent and diversity of the government’s and Pentagon’s communication efforts during the Vietnam era.

The primary message being sent by the Johnson White House was: “We can win in Vietnam.” Meanwhile, the Pentagon was interested in maintaining American support for the military.

Their combined efforts ran into trouble early in 1968 during the Tet Offensive—a military defeat for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, but a PR coup because it caused many Americans to more forcefully question government policy.

I think Klope and his co-presenter, Brendan Murphy, assistant professor of marketing, were correct in calling that a key turning point. It was at the time of Tet that Walter Cronkite, the most popular network TV journalist of his day, famously declared that the war needed a negotiated settlement.

Brendan Murphy during his portion of the presentation Wednesday.

Brendan Murphy during his portion of the presentation Wednesday.

Not that the country turned completely against the war. As there were more anti-war protests, and those protests turned more violent, there was also a tendency to rally around the government and an anti-protester reaction. After all, the country did elect a conservative Republican president after President Johnson decided not to see a second full term, and then re-elected Richard Nixon by a landslide in 1972.

Still, the presentation last night has me thinking ahead to my own upcoming speech. I will focus on TV news and the impact it had at the time of Vietnam. It’s a slightly weird topic for me, because it’s a history I partially recall. I think we watched Huntley-Brinkley as often as Walter Cronkite, but I certainly was exposed to both.

Anyway, besides the next forum in our Vietnam series last night, today I attended wrap-up meeting of the group that helped plan the visit of the Moving Wall to Mount Mercy.

There were lots of operational issues identified that may help the university in 20 years when it brings the wall back—but overall, the visit went very well. The setting in front of Warde Hall was ideal, and thousands of people were attracted to see the monument in a peaceful, parklike setting.

Mount Mercy University's logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

Mount Mercy University’s logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

And now I’m looking forward to next week. Dr. Mohammed Chaichian will describe his postwar visit to Vietnam, and a gallery exhibit about the war will open. Tonight, as I write this, I’m also copying .jpg files to a flash drive—my own wall images might be included in a slideshow at the gallery.

We had about 50 people attend the “selling” forum Wednesday night. That’s a pretty good turnout for this kind of event—but smaller than some of the earlier event. Of course, we’re not going to get thousands of visitors to a free lecture given by a faculty member, but I hope the momentum of this Vietnam series again picks up.

You come on down. There’ s too much that’s too interesting to miss on a topic that continues to be too important for our culture to forget. So I hope to see you next Monday at Dr. Chaichian’s lecture, or Tuesday at the art gallery.

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