War News = Fake News


A decisive battle in the Vietnam War occurred on January 2, 1963. This was the Battle of Ấp Bắc and it had important consequences for the Southern forces (‘ARVN’) and their American backers. After that the ARVN 4th Mechanized Rifle Squadron was deployed to rescue the South Vietnamese soldiers that were trapped with US aircrews (more advisors of course). The commander of the Southern forces was reluctant to try the heavier equipment the Americans had supplied and it made little difference. Instead the northern National Liberation Front (‘NLF’) a coalition of northern forces led by the Communists, stood its ground and killed more than a dozen South Vietnamese M113 crew members. Even when the ARVN 8th airborne Battalion was dropped down they also got pinned down. Finally under cover of darkness the Việt Cộng withdrew from battle, having won their first major victory of the war. More importantly, they had learned that the South Vietnamese forces were far from invincible, even with substantial American support. They learned that the South Vietnamese were reluctant to attack.

Oddly, the Americans treated this battle as a victory. However John Paul Vann who had been there to observe the battle, told reporters Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam the truth. He told them that the ARVN forces would not listen or obey orders to attack. According to Vann, it was a debacle not a victory at all. The reporters and Americans were being lied to. As Vann said, “It was a miserable performance. The ARVN won’t listen, they make the same mistakes over and over again.”

Amazingly, American General Paul Harkin declared victory. He said that Việt Cộng objectives had been thwarted and suffered heavier losses than the ARVN. Halberstam and Sheehan, much to his dismay, reported that the battle was a defeat. The Pacific Commander denied it and instead urged reports to get ‘back on the team,” suggesting that reporters should be cheerleaders for the team rather than objective truth tellers. I guess he wanted fake news.

John Musgrave one of the American soldiers Burns and Novick relied on heavily to tell the story of the Vietnam War quickly lost his innocence in that war. Like most soldiers he joined when he was young. When he left the Marines he was no longer young—at least he was no longer naïve. As he said, “We were probably the last generation of American kids that thought our government would never lie to us.”

The soldiers had learned, even if the American public had not, that war news is often fake news. Many Americans made the decision to support the war in Vietnam and enlisted or encouraged their children to enlist, on the basis of fake news. That is not something to be proud of. Actually that is pretty disgusting when you think about it.

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