Revisiting Vietnam American RadioWorks
  Vietnam Scrapbook

Paul Alper
Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA

The Voice of America
For a good part of the Vietnam War, The Voice of America was my constant and consistent companion. Constantly and consistently wrong. In 1964 I was a post-doctoral fellow living in Trondheim, Norway when the government put over its con job regarding the Gulf of Tonkin "attack" giving LBJ the opportunity to sanctimoniously escalate the war. Five years later I came back to Trondheim as a visiting professor and for two years had the opportunity to hear The Voice of America continue its blatant lies. Memorable were the times when the broadcast would inform us down to the last enemy killed, but only vaguely refer to American casualties. Then there were the reports of the precise number of sorties successfully dropped on a bridge made of twine which was then -without any trace of irony-deemed "virtually" destroyed.
Through it all, my Norwegian friends remained loyal to the U.S., looking upon it as a kind of big brother. In between my stays in Norway I lived in other foreign countries and could augment The Voice of America with non-jingoistic media but even on the BBC there were always Dean Rusk and Robert McNamara assuring us about "winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese" with the "light at the end of the tunnel" and the "turning of the corner." The Voice of America was unrelenting in its eagerness to justify the increase in troops, to excuse the necessity of napalm and to defend the succession of the various dictators in the South.
All over the short-wave band, even in exotic languages hardly anyone in the States is familiar with, The Voice of America had its distinct signature tune-"Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean"-and its particular, identifiable background hiss. Time and again it would recount the recapture of a supposedly vital hilltop or a presumably strategic hamlet that never was reported as being lost in the first place. Despite the best efforts of The Voice of America, the war came to an eventual end when, as Ralph Nader observed, white, middle-class males were drafted and subsequently returned in body bags.
Although it is not allowed to broadcast for reception within the United States, The Voice of America is now fully available on the Web. Fortunately, we aren't currently at war with anyone. Make that, "yet." Since Vietnam, we have sent troops to Panama, Grenada, Haiti, Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosavo. You can be sure that The Voice of America will not be far behind on the next "incursion,"-as Eugene McCarthy has pointed out-a noun, unlike "invasion," chosen because it lacks an incendiary verb.


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