If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967
The U.S. became polarized over the war. Many supporters of U.S. involvement argued for what was known as the domino theory, a theory that believed if one country fell to communism, then the bordering countries would be sure to fall as well, much like falling dominoes. This theory was largely held due to the fall of eastern Europe to communism and the Soviet sphere of influence following World War II. However, military critics of the war pointed out that the Vietnam War was political and that the military mission lacked any clear idea of how to achieve its objectives. Civilian critics of the war argued that the government of South Vietnam lacked political legitimacy, or that support for the war was completely immoral.
The media also played a substantial role in the polarization of American opinion regarding the Vietnam War. For example, In 1965 a majority of the media attention focused on military tactics with very little discussion about the necessity for a full scale intervention in Southeast Asia. After 1965, the media covered the dissent and domestic controversy that existed within the United States, but mostly excluded the actual view of dissidents and resisters.
The media established a sphere of public discourse surrounding the Hawk versus Dove debate. The Dove was a liberal and a critic of the war. Doves claimed that the war was well–intentioned but a disastrously wrong mistake in an otherwise benign foreign policy. It is important to note the Doves did not question the U.S. intentions in intervening in Vietnam, nor did they question the morality or legality of the U.S. intervention. Rather, they made pragmatic claims that the war was a mistake. Contrarily, the Hawks argued that the war was legitimate and winnable and a part of the benign U.S. foreign policy. The Hawks claimed that the one-sided criticism of the media contributed to the decline of public support for the war and ultimately helped the U.S. lose the war. Author William F. Buckley repeatedly wrote about his approval for the war and suggested that “The United States has been timid, if not cowardly, in refusing to seek ‘victory’ in Vietnam.” The hawks claimed that the liberal media was responsible for the growing popular disenchantment with the war and blamed the western media for losing the war in Southeast Asia.