In her article, Tangled Memories, Marita Sturken analyzes the effect of the media on wars. There are a lot of different opinions regarding the media’s involvement in wars. It can either help the cause or hinder it. Media in wars can be a good thing depending on when and how it is used. The camera has been such an advantage to American society and is described as “a device for constructing cultural memory and history and as a device for waging warfare” (131). It should seem logical that the next step with the camera and media was to take it into warfare to provide a front row view of what was going on.
Marita Sturken uses the effect of the media on wars to contrast two different wars: the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War. In the Vietnam War, the media had no restrictions and its result was devastating to the American public. Contrasting this idea, is the Persian Gulf War. In this war, the military controlled the media and it had a vastly different effect on the American public. Although there can be advantages to using media in wars, Sturken uses these wars to provide insight of the disadvantages of media and its lasting effects on America.
The Vietnam War proved to be a rather graphic war. The media was allowed to provide full coverage of the war and although the images took a few days to get back to the United States, they still had their effects. As we were discussing in class, there are images in American history that are iconic and everlasting. The Vietnam War provided many images that showed the graphic nature of this war. For example, the little girl running naked from napalm, the shooting of a Vietcong suspect, and the victims of the My Lai massacre, which were all images we viewed in class.
In describing the Vietnam War, Sturken focuses on the topic of the Vietnam syndrome, which she defines as “the national ‘malaise’ that fueled popular sentiment against interventions with American troops in foreign conflicts” (123). Vietnam syndrome is also described as “a ‘disease’ that prevented the government from displaying strength” (123). She continues to explain and give examples that media usage in wars does not display America’s strengths. A separate example that Sturken gives aside from the Vietnam War is the Iran hostage crisis. Sturken argues that it “left America impotent, unable to wield it’s might” (123).
The Persian Gulf War is one that remained mysterious for so long. What is confusing about the Persian Gulf War is that it was the first actual television war, yet so much remained unknown for years afterward. Through the years, the events of this six-week war were pieced together. But why is this? Because the military began to control and limit what the media could produce from the war. After the Vietnam War, the military learned to have better control over the media because of the disastrous consequences the media had on America’s public image. Sturken describes the media coverage of the Persian Gulf War as “military censorship kept reporters and their cameras where they often had access only to distant images of bombers taking off and weapons in the sky” (132). What was captured of the Persian Gulf War, was selectively shown to the United States public by the media.
Whereas the Vietnam War was one that provided images of human beings, the Persian Gulf War had images of machines, tanks, bombs, helicopters, and planes. This is due to the intense media coverage of the Persian Gulf War mentioned in the previous paragraph. The Vietnam War is so lasting in American’s minds because of the graphic nature of the images. Unless you were part of the military and actively fighting, you did not see images like the ones were produced. The Vietnam War contrasted with the Persian Gulf War, set the stage for media coverage for wars to come.
- Is media usage during wars really as bad as Sturkin makes it sound? If not, what could be some advantages?
2. Since media coverage of wars is controlled by the media, how do we know that what we are being shown is actually true?