I was a pretty young kid when the Vietnam War was going on—but old enough, at least by the end, to know something about what was going on.
I did watch the TV news. My parents were “news hounds” in a way. We always got at least one, sometimes two, morning newspapers and an afternoon paper. In Clinton, it was the Quad City Times, the Des Moines Register and The Clinton Herald.
But the papers were for mom and dad. I didn’t tune into them much, other than following “Peanuts” daily.
I did see Vietnam on TV.
It has the reputation of being the first “living room” war, one brought to a nation nightly in living color. That is said to have had a huge impact.
And I’m sure it did. Although I don’t think we always understand what kind of impact. For one thing, we recall the most shocking and grim images of that time period now—but the typical nightly news report would not have been that grim. It frequently would have used rather bland footage supplied by the Defense Department. Dead bodies or true horror were very rare.
And while it was broadcast in living color—many millions of Americans would have been it in black and white. That’s how I experienced TV in my youth—I did not routinely see color TV until my wife and I purchased our first color set in 1982. I was very disappointed to see the original “Star Trek” in color—1960s sci fi, frankly, looks better in black and white.
Television was very influential in our culture back in the 1960s, but most people still read newspapers and probably got more “facts” from their reading than from their viewing. That’s at odds with what surveys say—when asked, most people in the 1960s said they got their information about Vietnam from TV. But asking someone where he or she gets information is not the same as studying where that data actually does come from—and lots of studies have shown we retain and recall facts we read rather than the data that washes over us in our zen sleep state we exist in while vegging in front of TV.
Anyway, I spoke last week during Mount Mercy’s ongoing Vietnam series about the war on TV. It was fun to research the topic and fun to relive my own early TV memories.
If you missed it, check it out sometime from Busse Library. They videotaped it. So you can watch it.