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The word out of Hollywood is that Steven Spielberg plans to direct a film about famed television commentator Walter Cronkite. According to Variety, it will highlight Cronkite’s protest against the War in Vietnam—especially “the role that he played in turning public opinion against the increasingly un-winnable conflict.”

walter cronkite vietnam

Walter Cronkite Opposed the Vietnam War Because It Was Unwinnable—John Marciano

Cronkite, anchor for the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981, reported on such historic events as the assassination of President Kennedy and the Watergate scandal. Variety claims, however, “it was as a reporter on—and a campaigner against—US involvement in Vietnam that he was best known and the most passionately engaged. He regularly called into question the US government’s assertion that the war in Vietnam was winnable and helped inspire a public outcry against the conflict.” His “inspiration,” however, came only after years of conflict, death, and devastation there.

In early 1968, Cronkite traveled to Vietnam near the end of the Tet Offensive. He came home and, on February 27, 1968, offered “a personal commentary in which he voiced his strong belief that the war would end in stalemate.” Variety claims that his editorial on the conflict was “a critical” indication of public views on the war.

In reality, Cronkite never opposed the war itself; rather, he only came to question it after the Tet Offensive made it clear that the U.S. policy in Vietnam was not working.

So goes the myth. In reality, Cronkite never opposed the war itself; rather, he only came to question it after the Tet Offensive made it clear that the U.S. policy in Vietnam was not working. As historian Chester Pach writes, “Like a majority of Americans, Cronkite had supported U.S. policies in Vietnam when President Johnson committed the first U.S. combat forces.”

During a visit to Vietnam in July 1965, he flew on a combat mission and was embarrassed by “skeptical, younger reporters” who questioned official reports on the war’s progress. Contrary to the reported film version that would portray him as protesting the war, he argued in his historic broadcast that “the only rational way out, then, will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who … did the best they could.”

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Cronkite did not come to “protest” the war, however, because it was a moral outrage and a violation of international law—an act of mind-numbing and staggering horror. It was simply not working out as planned; honor and pledges to defend democracy had nothing to do with it. In the Orwellian rewriting of the conflict, Steven Spielberg is apparently going to create a false picture of the influential Cronkite, claiming that he was a prominent opponent of the carnage that destroyed so much Vietnamese life and land.

In Cronkite’s view, the war was a Noble Cause, fought by an “honorable” U.S. that, according to his editorial, had “[pledged] to defend democracy [in Vietnam].” This view is the essential premise of the official Vietnam Commemoration. Announced in May 2012 by President Barack Obama and the Pentagon, it will continue through 2025, fifty years after the conflict’s end. The Commemoration’s objectives include thanking and honoring veterans of the war and their families for their service and sacrifices; and highlighting “advances in technology, science, and medicine related to military research” that was conducted during the war. The Commemoration will sponsor thousands of activities that support the U.S. war against the Vietnamese people. It is an Orwellian rewriting of the conflict designed to deepen the public’s historical amnesia about it. It is within the context of the Commemoration, therefore, that Spielberg’s film will unfold.

We must recall that citizens had turned against the war before Cronkite made his famous February 1968 broadcast. As Pach points out, as early as January 1967 opinion polls revealed that critics of U.S. policy outnumbered those who supported it; and by August, Johnson’s “approval rating” on the war was down to 32 percent. Most Americans “were discontented” because the conflict continued to grow and became deadlier, “with no end in sight.” By mid-summer 1967, some reporters there had begun to call the conflict “a stalemate.” According to Pach, therefore, Cronkite did not “inspire” a shift in public opinion on the war since Americans “had turned against LBJ’s policies more than a year earlier.” Tet “only deepened” the disillusionment that was already in place.

To portray Cronkite as someone who protested the American War in Vietnam is a myth, merely one example of a deeper fundamental truth: The Corporate Media Didn’t Oppose the War—Only How It Was Fought. They only sharpened their criticism after the Tet Offensive. Cronkite and the corporate media did not challenge the Noble Cause premises of Washington’s actions in Vietnam, nor U.S. interventionist foreign policies around the world.

The essence of their doctrinaire response to the War in Vietnam is similar to what CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather said about the bombing of Yugoslavia at the end of the 20th century. “I’m an American, and I’m an American reporter. And yes, when there’s combat involving Americans, you can criticize me if you must, damn me if you must, but I’m always pulling for us to win.” This is what is what passes for media objectivity.

john marciano

John Marciano