Vietnam has been called the Television War because 60 percent of Americans received their information about it primarily from television. Television correspondents were enjoined to deliver “good footage,” and the ever-present television cameras brought into American living rooms horrors previously reserved for the nightmares of veterans. Good footage usually meant “boom-boom”—journalistic jargon for firefights, artillery barrages, and air strikes—film clips that would make a strong emotional impact.

Critics of the Television War charge that the coverage was high on emotion but woefully short on substance. Viewers were barraged with images of death and destruction, but television’s limitations and short segments punctuated by commercials kept viewers from understanding the complexities of the war. Millions tuned in every night, but few seemed to know what the war was about. The Vietnamese themselves were relegated to the background while American politicians, generals, and antiwar acitivists argued about what was happening and what it all meant.

Telling It Like It Was

But while television’s appetite for the war was insatiable, the movie industry was unsure what to do with it. Hollywood first tested the waters in 1969 with John Wayne’s The Green Berets. Later Vietnam movies focused on the anguish of the returning veteran (Coming Home, The Deer Hunter) or the fantasy that a few good Americans like Chuck Norris (Missing in Action) or Sylvester Stallone (Rambo) could have won had only the politicians untied their hands. Veterans complained that the films portrayed them as psychotic misfits, trained killers who might go berserk at any moment.

Not until 15 years after the troops ...

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