National Archives News

Journalists Share Vietnam Experiences

By Kerri Lawrence  |  National Archives News

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2017 — The National Archives and Records Administration recently hosted a panel discussion on the role of the television journalist during the Vietnam War and how it influenced subsequent conflicts.  Journalist and former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel, ABC News cameraman Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki, and journalist Barrie Dunsmore joined producer and author Terry Irving for the program held at the National Archives.

The newsmen shared stories about their decades-long working relationships and ensuing friendships. The panel was brought together to discuss Hirashiki’s new book, On the Frontlines of the Television War: A Legendary War Cameraman in Vietnam.

Hirashiki, who worked for more than 40 years as an ABC News cameraman, originally wrote and published the book in Japanese—his native language—to share his perspective on the war he covered for nearly a decade. At Hirashiki’s request, Irving rewrote the book in English.

“Tony’s book won the best nonfiction book the year award in Japan,” Koppel said. “[it’s]...a wonderful book with a unique perspective of what happened in Vietnam because it was written by someone who was not an American.”

Koppel went on to explain that he believed the American news business had a bias of covering the war from the American perspective.

“He understood that there was a country with a local population,” Koppel said. “What we get from him is a sense of what the Vietnamese were thinking and feeling at the time. It troubles me these days we seem to make the same mistakes again…we view everything through our own narrow prism.”  

During the program, the journalists discussed numerous memories on the Vietnam war, including lost comrades, the limited role women were able to play covering Vietnam, and the differing viewpoints of the news industry executives back home from those who actually covered it. They discussed details of danger in Cambodia, censorship, and their use of code to get information for their stories.

“We used references to American comic heroes…when over the course of about 20 minutes we [actually] held a conversation with all of the details that happened in this massacre,” Koppel explained. 

Hirashiki told of his sense that he was abandoning the people of Vietnam when the war ended and he could go home. He said that, for many of his eight years there, he had some distance, some neutrality—simply covering it behind the camera lens.  

“When I lost my best friend by ambush, suddenly I felt anyone who killed my friend was the enemy,” Hirashiki explained.  “, this war became my war. [It is] very difficult to be neutral to cover a war.”

The program was one of several held in conjunction with the November opening of “Remembering Vietnam,” an exhibit at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C., which presents both iconic and recently discovered National Archives records related to 12 critical episodes in the Vietnam War. It traces the policies and decisions made by the architects of the conflict and helps untangle why the United States became involved in Vietnam, why it went on so long, and why it was so divisive for American society. The exhibit will remain open through January 6, 2019.  

The National Archives has a wealth of records and information documenting the U.S. experience in the Vietnam conflict. These include photographs, textual and electronic records, audiovisual recordings, exhibits, educational resources, articles, blog posts, lectures, and events.