During the Vietnam War, the American military performed a series of secret military campaigns over Cambodia, dropping more than 2 million tons of bombs. But, according to a new article by Brian Creech, assistant professor of journalism, the American public didn’t know much about it because of the way mainstream media, specifically Time magazine, covered the war.
“A sense of mystery surrounded mainstream American reporting from the country,” Creech writes in “The Rising Tide of War: Discourses of American Military Power in Time,” which was published in Communication Review. “Officials denied military operations and cast a fog of uncertainty upon the military operations there that journalists tried to penetrate at their own peril.”
As a combined result of the government’s unwillingness to open up, and some media outlets’ unwillingness to dig deeper, “the mainstream American press, as exemplified by Time, served as a field of discourse whose conventions and practices shrouded military operations in a continued secrecy that prevented a sustained critique against U.S. military power from emerging,” Creech writes in the article.
Creech first became interested in Cambodia while working in the country as a teaching and program assistant for a University of Georgia travel-writing course.
“When in Cambodia, you can’t help but be struck by the way in which violence and war have impacted the culture, politics and daily life of that country,” he says. “Tourism is the main economic driver of the country now, and a significant portion of that tourism is dedicated to sites like killing fields, secret prisons and memorials dedicated to mine victims.”
He wondered how these bombings were portrayed in the American press and if they continued because the American people didn’t truly understand what was happening.
“For contemporary journalists, Cambodia is an important cautionary tale, where government obfuscation and a focus on military tactics obscured the scale and possible long-term consequences of the bombing,” Creech says. “For war reporters and international correspondents alike, transparency about the news-gathering process shifts public knowledge and debate around military intervention, allowing for more nuanced and careful analysis than what Time was writing about Cambodia.”
-Jeff Cronin, SMC Communications