Modern US History

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Introduction to War and Media

Media is a multifaceted tool that a person or group can use to create the different opinions surrounding different topics. The device of media can be used by both press and government and in recent years the general public due to the introduction of social media. While media has been influential in many ways, it has been especially instrumental in regards to war due to media being the US public’s primary source for understanding war. Exploring how media has shifted in regards to war from the Spanish-American War to the War on terror, There have been significant changes as well as overarching themes that have and will continue to define the relationship between media and war. In regards to what this can demonstrate about American History from 1877 onward, it is clear that how a war was presented in the media directly influenced the public’s opinion on wartime actions which would ultimately affect the foreign policy within the US government



The US government heavily impacted influence of media in a war, while the freedom is of the press is technically protected by the US constitution the guidelines of what should be public knowledge are quite stringent and often changing. In world war I the US government censored radio and photography. The wars following World War I only increased in control as the espionage and sedition acts passed and the military office of censorship was created. The censorship changed significantly during the Vietnam war also known as the “Uncensored War” as the media coverage was widespread. However, More recently the Department of Defense released the Law of War Manual (2015) that stated that reporters working independently of the US government could be considered potential spies while this was remedied in the 2017 Law of War manual it provides an example of how strenuous the rules and regulations for media access during wartime. Viewing the sources below with government influence in mind is integral to understanding the potential bias. The sources exhibited below contain media from the US government as well as independent media as it was used to influence public opinions about the war.


Another aspect of changing dynamics to be considered is technology, from having radio and photography in the Spanish-American war to having live video reporting the war on terror. The development of new technologies most dramatically changed the response time to wartime actions whereas a photo from the Spanish-American war may take weeks many Americans watch the twin towers collapse in real time. The shift in lag time has impacted the media’s ability to filter certain things whereas photographs and videos could be edited in advance, and still can be, live reporting cannot be and therefore loses some of the censorship possibilities previously mentioned. A technology that has grown in ease of use is polling which allows for ease to collect information on public opinion whereas in the Vietnam war the media had much more trouble collecting this data during the Iraq war newspapers were able to use charts to show the public’s opinion on controversial actions. The ease of collection of information allows the media to represent the opinions of the public and

 will enable that influence the opinions of other citizens.  

A transition that occurs from the Spanish-American war to Vietnam is the depiction of the real horrors of war. While earlier wars you do not see the harsh reality for anyone but soldiers in Vietnam there are distinct images that show the harmful effects to civilians. The honest depiction continues to the modern wars as we now see a more dynamic range of photographs of both soldiers and civilians. However, one could argue that the better treatment of civilians heavily influenced by previous mistakes in the Vietnam war that was furthered by the intense media presence and therefore presentation to the American public.

The topic of media within a war is increasingly important to US history since 1877 as the war was so defining within not only America’s society but America’s course of history as the media’s ability to influence the public opinion and the public’s ability to change political actions contributes significantly to the direction of US history. This contribution only furthered as America enters the information age in which the public demands more transparency within controversial issues and war are at the helm of this. This project also inadvertently highlights the change from America being isolationist to being the “World Police” and how the media presented that shift. It is important to note that while this project is quite hefty in nature, it will focus mainly on the transformation of government control of media as well as the change of technology to show the transformation of media in regards to war, Overall, this project represents a transformation within US history that has played an integral role since 1877 and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

The Spanish-American War

The daily Kentuckian, a newspaper in Kentucky, was headlined with “the Maine is avenged”  on May 3, 1898, in response to the actions taken by the US military in response to the attack on the U.S.S. Maine. The article goes to explain the further military actions that will be made to invade Cuba. The media’s response to the sinking of the U.S.S Maine provides an example of yellow journalism where the media exaggerated what happened to sell more papers. The US was on the verge of war with Cuba, and this sensationalism seen in the papers cause a public outrage pushing the US into war with Cuba. The media influence seen here is similar to that of the Vietnam War where the information reported caused a public outcry. However, in this instance, there was a crude exaggeration.

The early representation of video seen in this source depicts a group of men riding in the direction of the camera. These men were known as “Roosevelt’s rough riders” the only group of men to see action during the Spanish-American war. The video is low resolution and depicts the men in a heroic manner. The video is a representation of the media that was typical regarding American soldiers and presenting them In a positive and heroic light as seen throughout most wars. The positive imagery surrounding was natural at first and then pushed by the US government through censorship.

World War I

          The New York Times was a popular newspaper at the time of World War I and was distributed throughout much of the country. This article on World War I imparticular presents the War in a positive light and presents the facts in a neutral tone. The neutrality and positivity of this piece could have been due to fear of censorship of print media as the government had already begun censoring radio and photography. In comparison to newspaper articles during Vietnam, this source remains relatively unopinionated whereas previous, and future sources such as with the USS Maine created turmoil around wartime decisions.

This picture depicts a group of soldiers walking information under victory arch after the end of world war I.  World War I was controversial as many did not want the US to get involved the neutral and positive presentation in media helped to influence the American public. The style of photography seen here was ubiquitous during world war I and represented the censorship seen in photos during world war I. The style represented soldiers in a professional and heroic manner often leaving out the more horrific parts of war. This photo is similar to the images seen in the Spanish-American war that primarily show the soldiers in a positive light.

World War II

The poster depicted above shows a quote from President Roosevelt and statistics about what military items were made in 1942. The poster was created by the US government and is used to encourage Americans to participate in the military industry. The US attempted to stay out of world war II and rather than direct involvement provided military materials to the allied forces. Due to the US not being on the continent in which the war was occurring it became a significant producer for wartime materials. This source is unlike the previous sources as it was created by the government to encourage Americans to participate in the production process. However, it shows the government acknowledging the power of media using it for their own purposes.

This photo shows a soldier being given blood plasma in an attempt to save his life while the civilians look on. World war II was a war that was relatively supported by the American public, and therefore the media gained slightly more traction to print different photos. The photo shows the beginning of a shift in photography style where soldiers are depicted in a weekend state. The picture depicted for World War I shows the rigidity of the photos taken whereas this image shows the working soldier in a real battle situation. The style seen here is closer to what is seen in Vietnam.

Korean War

The photo above depicts US soldiers in Korea digging a defensive perimeter. The Korean war was a conflict between north and south Korea that was a product of the Cold War. The style of photography depicted above was representative of the style of much of the photography from the period of the Korean War. The photo shows soldiers actively working; a style developed from world war I style. The image contributes to the overarching shift seen from photos that rigidly depict soldiers to showing them actively working and is comparable to the image used to represent the media from World War II.

The video represented by the screen grab above shows a series of clips created by the US army. The clips include American soldiers battling the cold, evacuations of injured soldiers, and display of new military technology. The presentation of the US military as strong despite the tactical challenges was carefully crafted by the US army to bolster support. This video in comparison to the video from the Spanish-American war shows the vast improvement of video technology. This video is also similar to that of the poster seen in World War II which was an attempt to gain support for the efforts in the US. Overall, this video is representative of how the US military wanted the American public to view soldiers.


Vietnam War

The Newspaper article (not depicted above) created by the New York Times described the public response to the Vietnam war in August of 1965. The Vietnam war was a hotly contested war in which the fear of communism eventually becoming the dominant government strategy was used to justify US intervention.The article presents a relatively negative view on the president’s policy towards Vietnam claiming that while the president thought he had support in actuality, he severely lacked public support. The publicized disapproval of the presidents decisions shows the change from a censored media to a media that earned the titled of the “uncensored war”. 



This photograph depicts a woman sobbing over her husband who is not fully dressed, deceased and covered in sand. This photo is indicative of the style of photography used during the Vietnam war, precisely the willingness of photographers to take pictures that represented the pain of both parties fighting the war. This photo differs from what we have seen in any previous war as it indeed shows the horrors of the War for both parties fighting. The former wars  focused on showing the hardship of US troops as seen in the photos from all the wars above.

The Gulf War

“television hide death very successfully”

The Article describes the relationship media and the Gulf War had regarding the censorship surrounding video and photography on the ground. The Gulf War occurred when Iraq invaded Kuwait.  The relationship between the media and war was heavily influenced by the prevention of independent videographers and photographers. This style of journalism is unique as it directly addresses the issues of media censorship. While this source is similar to some of the newspaper articles previously seen in organization, it provides a new insight into reporters sharing thoughts on government proceedings.

The Image above depicts a group of soldiers walking with heavy machine guns and gas masks during the Gulf War. This photo is representative of a return to a similar style of photography as world war I. This style of photography Primarily focused on showing the strength of the US military forces. Photographers experienced censorships in the types of images they were allowed to share with newspapers and the American public. Overall, this photo represents a return to censorship and government control of how the war was viewed in the eyes of the American people.

The War on Terror

60 minutes,  a popular tv show for many Americans, did a segment dedicated to the 9/11 that highlighted the beginnings of the war on terror. This particular segment was the discussion of President Bush’s actions regarding 9/11 and the Iraq war, specifically in light of the fact he could have prevented 9/11 according to one of his advisors. 60 Minutes shines a new light on easily consumed information that makes up the majority of media the common American consumes. In relation to other sources this is similar to the yellow journalism seen regarding the U.S.S Maine as it was heavily dramatized. 

This newspaper article describes the polling data seen concerning President Bush’s policy towards the war. The polling is indicative of the next shift within the technology age which is the importance of reporting general public opinion rather than merely stating things to make the public respond a certain way. This piece also deals with the war on terror mostly legitimizing the war on terror by the response of the people considering it to be so important in regards to the Iraq war. It is important to note that this piece was written after 9/11 and deals with the feeling of the public towards what they consider most important concerning politics.  While in previous pieces such as the piece on public opinion regarding the Vietnam war, the data is not specific whereas today their is specific statistics.


Secondary Sources

Baum, Matthew A., and Philip B. K. Potter. War and Democratic Constraint: How the Public Influences Foreign Policy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.

Hallin, Daniel C. The “uncensored War” The Media and Vietnam. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2010.

Kamalipour, Yahya R. War, Media, and Propaganda: A Global Perspective. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.

Lewis, Jeff. Language Wars: The Role of Media and Culture in Global Terror and Political Violence. Pluto Press, 2005.

Rid, Thomas. War and Media Operations: The US Military and the Press from Vietnam to Iraq. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008.

Robinson, Piers, Robin Brown, Peter Goddard, and Katy Parry. “War and Media.” Media, Culture & Society 27, no. 6 (2005): 951-59.

Tumber, Howard, and Jerry Palmer. Media at War: The Iraq Crisis. London: Sage Publications, 2006.

Western, Jon W. Selling Intervention and War: The Presidency, the Media, and the American Public. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Primary Sources

“The Maine Is Avenged.” Daily Kentuckian (Hopkinsville, KY), May 3, 1898 (front page). From Library of Congress: Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

“Explosion of the Maine.” Chromolithograph. New York: Muller & Luchsinger, c. June 21, 1898. From Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Division.

Roosevelt, Theodore, John Campbell Greenway, American Mutoscope And Biograph Company, and Paper Print Collection. President Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. [United States: American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1898] Video.

By Charles, Willis T. “THE GREATEST WAR IN HISTORY.” New York Times (1857-1922), Jan 03, 1915, pp. 1.

“How Was Information Shared?” BBC. January 17, 2014. Accessed December 21, 2018.

Colonel Donovan and Staff of 165th Infantry, Passing under the Victory Arch, New York City.Series: American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917 – 1918

Record Group 165: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, 1860 – 1952.,

Food Is a Weapon : Don’t Waste It! : Buy Wisely, Cook Carefully, Eat It All. ; Don’t Waste It ; Buy Wisely, Cook Carefully, Eat It All. Accessed December 21, 2018.

“Korean War Soldiers in Defensive Line behind the Naktong River.” Truman Library: “The Decision for Peace”, Excerpt from Report of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey , Ca. June 1946. Elsey Papers, Harry S. Truman Administration. Japan, Surrender Of, August, 1945. Accessed December 21, 2018

“”Chinese Reds Enter the Korean War”.” DocsTeach. Accessed December 21, 2018.

By, LESTER MARKEL. “Public Opinion and the War in Vietnam.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Aug 08, 1965.

WALTER GOODMAN. “In the Gulf War, the Cameras Didn’t Catch it all.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Jan 14, 1994.

Hulse, Carl and Marjorie Connelly. “Poll shows a Shift in Opinion on Iraq War.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Aug 23, 2006.

Finnegan, Amanda. “The Most Iconic Photos from Sept. 11 and Its Aftermath.” The Washington Post. September 11, 2018. Accessed December 21, 2018.

“TIME Magazine Cover: World Trade Center Bombing – Mar. 8, 1993.” Time. Accessed December 21, 2018.


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