Ten years ago tomorrow, President Bill Clinton became the first US head of state to visit Vietnam since the war’s end in 1975. Shortly before his visit, he said, “In our national memory Vietnam was a war, but Vietnam is also a country.” Despite Clinton’s high approval ratings, public opinion surrounding the visit, both in the US and Vietnam, was mixed.
Clinton, who is known for his pragmatism and diplomatic approach to communication, articulated his intention to further the process of reconciliation between the US and Vietnam. He honored those American soldiers who fought during the war and raised the issue of human rights. Pete Peterson, America’s ambassador to Vietnam at the time, described the trip as a “huge success.” According to an article in BBC News , one eyewitness even described Clinton’s visit as a “festival…everyone was applauding him and trying to get his autograph.”
Media consumption and its impact on public opinion have changed significantly since 2000; however, this year marked a shift toward what we now describe as “social media.” Clinton’s visit to Vietnam created a conversation in emerging new media outlets. According to BBC News, “Internet chat-rooms devoted to Vietnam issues are filled with messages from veterans and others who want to see the message of reconciliation carried by somebody other than a man who went to such great lengths to avoid being drafted to Vietnam.”
Both positive and negative feedback circulated throughout the web—proving that the one-way communication found in traditional media outlets (i.e. television, radio and print publications) were slowly dwindling. The American public was able to openly debate in interactive forums on the World Wide Web. This event just ten years ago, created a thirst for conversation. Although many journalists infused subjective commentary into their newscast, it was the words directly from fellow Americans that helped shape public opinion.
This post is also featured in the National Constitution Center’s blog “Constitution Daily”: http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/ncc/featured/how-bill-clinton-and-vietnam-changed-the-web/