Submitted by Donna Silvey on May 19, 2011 – 12:57pm
Newfound Press, the online publishing house of the University of Tennessee Libraries, has published a new multimedia work on Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), the group of U.S. military veterans who worked to end American involvement in the Vietnam War.
In Found, Featured, then Forgotten: U.S. Network TV News and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, UT Knoxville journalism and electronic media professor Mark Harmon gives an account of the veterans’ protests against the war and their depiction in the American media. Through interviews with early VVAW leaders and an examination of network television news coverage from the Vietnam era, Harmon rescues the veterans’ story from what he terms “the inevitable historical revisionism” that befalls social movements over time.
The Vietnam War era marked the first time in American history that substantial numbers of veterans returned home to protest a war still in progress. The VVAW were part of a larger protest movement against U.S. involvement in Vietnam that included resistance to the draft, desertions from the military, and an extensive underground press. Many resisting GIs were court-martialed and given harsh sentences, sometimes for offenses as minor as gathering in groups to discuss the morality of the war.
Harmon writes that the VVAW was remarkably media savvy, staging compelling media events such as the demonstration dubbed Dewey Canyon III, during which hundreds of decorated soldiers threw away their war medals, flinging them onto the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. The VVAW also drew a distinction between themselves and other anti-war groups by shunning violence and preserving the credibility granted to them as returning veterans.
According to Harmon, the press’s understanding of the VVAW protests followed an almost predictable course.
“The movement initially was ignored by the media, was very briefly featured, then it was downplayed,” Harmon wrote. “Its message was distorted, then it was co-opted, the protests dismissed as no longer needed, and then finally forgotten.”
The Winter Soldier Investigations in January and February of 1971, when soldiers testified about their personal experience of war crimes, were largely ignored by the media, according to Harmon. But the Dewey Canyon protest of April 1971, which closely followed the court-martial of Lt. William Calley for his actions in the My Lai massacre, garnered significant network news attention. By the time of the Silent March on the Republican National Convention in August 1972, the media were declaring the wind-down of the war and the last gasp of the protest movement. Network television coverage of the VVAW presence at the Convention was scant to nonexistent. The full story of the Silent March and wheelchair-bound veterans interrupting Nixon’s acceptance speech with shouts of “Stop the bombing! Stop the war!” had to be reconstructed from the accounts of participants and alternative media.
Harmon’s retelling of the VVAW story is illustrated with audio and video clips of contemporaneous news reports and statements by participating veterans, making this multimedia work a dynamic resource for scholars of the Vietnam War, its veterans, and the news media during the Vietnam era.
Harmon has authored more than two dozen academic research articles and more than fifty refereed research presentations. He has been honored with the UT Knoxville College of Communication and Information’s outstanding research award as well as its outstanding teaching award and a Chancellor’s Citation for Extraordinary Community Service. The International Radio and Television Society honored him in 2004 as its Frank Stanton Fellow for distinguished contributions to electronic media education. His career includes stints as a television news producer and reporter, radio news reporter, and radio talk show host. He also has a political resume, having served as a Knox County (Tennessee) Commissioner, congressional candidate (Texas, 13th District), and Democratic Party county chairman (Lubbock, Texas).
UT Libraries’ Newfound Press publishes peer-reviewed content that merits wide dissemination but is unlikely to be published by a traditional press because of narrow focus or innovative format. Newfound Press titles are freely available online at http://newfoundpress.utk.edu/.