The film starts with US helicopters preparing the mission and scouting ahead. We then see US tanks and troop carriers heading off on patrol. There is then a break and we move to a scene in which dead Viet Cong fighters are pulled from tunnels. An American officer goes on to tell the camera how difficult it was to get the fighters out, losing at least one US soldier.
This is a British news clip from 1969. Thousands of reports were sent back to homes in Britain, the USA and the rest of the world during the war. It was the first time that the details of war were seen so clearly by ordinary people. This clip was fairly typical of what was shown. In many ways it is balanced and fair, in that it shows the realities of war. However, media coverage was criticised by the military and politicians as being anti-war. A major reason for this was probably that past wars had been covered in a very positive way, ignoring defeats, disasters and also the sheer brutality of war. This particular clip follows ‘Operation Twinkletoes’. This was a search and destroy mission in the area around the Sang Be river. Search and Destroy Missions were meant to locate Viet Cong strongholds and destroy them. They were often ineffective because it was impossible to tell the difference between Viet Cong settlements and ordinary villages. Many villages were both. The result was that many innocent civilians had their homes destroyed or were killed. The worst example was the My Lai massacre of 300-400 civilians in March 1968. It is easy to see how these disasters occurred. Viet Cong tactics were terrifying and they did generally have the support of many of the peasants. This made the countryside a dangerous place for US troops who tended to shoot first and ask questions later.
Interesting or important points about the film
There is so much of interest to the historian in this clip. For example, were the Americans using the right equipment for the terrain? Secondly, the American officer’s comment about using grenades first and then interpreters suggests they were not winning hearts and minds. Finally, there is the look of dismay on the part of the US officer as he explains how hard it is to beat the Viet Cong. All of these add up to a valuable source on why the US was unable to achieve victory in Vietnam.