Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cronkite, Vietnam and South Park


At the last Cable Ace award ceremony ever held, Paul Rugg and I encountered Walter Cronkite in the Men's Room. We passed within a yard of the famed newsman as he told a joke about a nun. We were on the move and missed the punch line, but, hey, that was Walter Cronkite!

In any case, Walter was really wrong about the whole Tet Offensive business.

On the Vietnamese Lunar Holiday (Tet) in January 1968 - after months of good news war stories, buffed to a mirror-like shine by the Johnson administration - the Viet Cong launched country-wide attacks throughout South Vietnam. (My cousin Danny landed in bullet-riddled Saigon the second day of the assaults. As ranking naval officer on his flight, he had to deliver orders to a headquarters across the city from the airport, negotiating his way past street fighting and wondering how the rest of his 365 days would shape up.) In any case, there was a sense by the American media that the U.S. was involved in a stalemate. After a trip to South Vietnam, Walter gave a famous speech in which he said our only way out was to negotiate.

As it turns out, the enemy was guilty of pumping sunshine up their army's ass. Viet Cong troops were told they'd be welcomed by a grateful population, the South Vietnamese army would crack like a fortune cookie, and the Americans would be chased to their big coastal bases where they'd drink beer and grumble. Instead, elite Viet Cong cadre attacked and were chewed up by U.S. firepower. The population played it cagey and the South Vietnamese army fought. The Viet Cong were demoralized and, except locally, never a nation-wide factor again. North Vietnam shouldered the brunt of the war. (After they finally won in 1975, the North Vietnamese refused to allow any Viet Cong units to march in the victory parade. A cynic might think the VC were set up to be decimated.)

In any case, Walter Cronkite got a little jumpy and traded on his good name to make policy pronouncements. Maybe he should've waited to see how the fighting shook out, instead of punching his own team in the neck during a tough go.

As to the 1997 Cable Ace awards, that night, Freakazoid lost out to some trendy, limited animation thing called South Park. Paul and I laughed. How long would that show last?

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