May 04, 2005

Waging PR Wars

It occurs to me that a big factor in the US losing in Vietnam is negative coverage of Tet - even though the US overwhelmingly won that conflict after a few days and from then on the Viet Cong were virtually eliminated. Vietnam had many other problems, but media coverage affects how we view the war and how the enemy views us. So what if the Army managed that war, not by manipulating or lying to the media, but by picking and choosing conflicts to make it appear to media, observers and the enmy that the US was winning?

One such strategy could be to emphasis confrontation in the first month of a conflict, then to start avoiding minor conflicts. Send patrols of shorter duration and keep the troops closer to bases. Gradually reducing the number of confrontations would create the impression that the conflict in general was lessening. Eventually the insurgents might defect or desert, swayed by coverage and a general feeling that the fight was dying down.

I don't think it would work, but certainly the media is pretty ignorant of how the military works. They're trained to be writers, not subject-matter experts. Their expertise is at first entirely borrowed from the subjects they quote, so the media could be easy to lead along for a little while.

But in this case I don't think it could work, because then the insurgents would control large swaths of territory. In the end the gamble would cost many lives, both civilians caught or harassed by the insurgents and then in soldiers killed by a better-emplaced opposition. It's probably best that the Army continue to focus on fighting good tactics first and then limit its media strategy to maintaing embeds and relations, rather than tailoring a whole strategy towards creating an appearance of victory. Still, I find the subject interesting if only because it is how the insurgents tend to work.

They don't have to fight well, they only have to fight a little bit and give reporters enough pseudo-evidence to claim that there's "another Vietnam" going on. Maybe media-intensive strategies will work for weak insurgencies but I suppose the USA will just have to settle for kicking some serious ass.


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