In 1955 a long and drawn out conflict began between the Communist North and the anti-communist South in Vietnam. While countless people fought and died, this entire conflict served as just a single battlefield for the greater proxy wars that happened throughout the Cold War.
After John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, he made the famous pledge to, "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty." True to his word the United States escalated their involvement in this conflict and thousands more US troops were deployed to Asia.
In 1962 Kennedy started the Department of the Army Special Photographic Office (DASPO) with the purpose to show the world an unbiased view of the conflict. This was the first time a concerted effort to broadcast a conflict had ever been done in the history of warfare. Over 200 enlisted men were a part of DASPO and were sent to war not to shoot bullets, but shoot photographs.
These men came to the battlefield with their issued cameras and sound equipment with the intention to capture the terrible beauty of war. With the Hueys and C-130s, they were deployed to the front lines, and produced some of the most iconic scenes from this conflict with their unprecedented on the ground access.
This new and much more direct way of viewing the war led to the average American receiving a daily dose of the Vietnam conflict. Each day there were photos printed in newspapers and later in the evening combat was broadcasted on the television. By 1967 only one in three Americans believed the Vietnam War was not a mistake. Public perception had radically shifted in five short years. The real horrors shown to the public and the prolonged nature of the conflict quickly led to public outcry in regards to the United States’ involvement.
With public opinion shifted new iconic images were captured of brave protestors. Marc Riboud captured this image in 1967. The protester, Jan Rose Kasmir, meets the National Guard with a flower. This stark contrast further pushed public opinion. As Riboud watched this unfold he mentioned, “She, [Jan Rose Kasmir], was just talking, trying to catch the eye of the soldiers, maybe try to have a dialogue with them, I had a feeling the soldiers were more afraid of her than she was of the bayonets.”
The brittle romanticized illusion of war had finally shattered. In 1973-75 the United States withdrew their troops from Vietnam. Even though the United States ended their involvement in Vietnam the proxy wars fought during the Cold War still continued.
While many people do not remember who was the man behind many of the photographs taken at Vietnam, they most certainly do remember the iconic images he captured. The legacy of DASPO shifted the war and led for increased political activism and involvement on the home front as well as a better understanding of the hardship the soldier had to endure.