Introduction to War and Media

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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.