[ Audiobooks ] DispatchesAuthor Michael Herr – Circuitwiringdiagram.co

Written on the front lines in Vietnam, Dispatches became an immediate classic of war reportage when it was published in From its terrifying opening pages to its final eloquent words, Dispatches makes us see, in unforgettable and unflinching detail, the chaos and fervor of the war and the surreal insanity of life in that singular combat zone Michael Herr s unsparing, unorthodox retellings of the day to day events in Vietnam take on the force of poetry, rendering clarity from one of the most incomprehensible and nightmarish events of our time Dispatches is among the most blistering and compassionate accounts of war in our literature


10 thoughts on “Dispatches

  1. Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey Keeten says:

    Flip religion, it was so far out, you couldn t blame anybody for believing anything Guys stuck the ace of spades in their helmet bands, they picked relics off of an enemy they d killed, a little transfer of power they carried around five pound Bibles from home, crosses, St Christophers, mezuzahs, locks of hair, girlfriends underwear, snaps of their families, their wives, their dogs, their cows, their cars, pictures of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton, the Pope, C Flip religion, it was so far out, you couldn t blame anybody for believing anything Guys stuck the ace of spades in their helmet bands, they picked relics off of an enemy they d killed, a little transfer of power they carried around five pound Bibles from home, crosses, St Christophers, mezuzahs, locks of hair, girlfriends underwear, snaps of their families, their wives, their dogs, their cows, their cars, pictures of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton, the Pope, Che Guevara, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, wiggier than cargo cultists One man was carrying an oatmeal cookie through his tour, wrapped up in foil and plastic and three pair of socks He took a lot of shit about it When you go to sleep we re gonna eat your fucking cookie , but his wife had baked it and mailed it to him, he wasn t kidding Michael Herr was a war correspondent for Esquire Magazine from 1967 1969 I pulled up a list of journalists that were killed during the Vietnam Conflict The list has almost 70 names including Australians, Japanese, South Vietnamese, French and Americans The list also shows how they died and they died the same way that combat soldiers died They were captured and executed They were blown apart by Bouncing Bettys, clays, and mortar fire They were shot by friendly fire They crashed in helicopters and planes Two of Herr s best friends, Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, were captured while riding their motorcycles down Highway One by the Khmer Rouge They were believed to have been executed a few months later, but their bodies were never found If the name Flynn conjures up images of Captain Blood there is a good reason for that He was the son of Errol Flynn Jeffrey Keeten before he is to shipped out foroh waitdamn I always get us mixed up This is Sean Flynn, actor and soon to be war correspondent The soldiers could not take their eyes of off him either out of repressed homosexual tendencies or because he looks so familiar Sean Flynn and Dana StoneThe point I m trying to make is that war correspondents were at as much risk as the combat soldiers they were there to write about The soldiers were in awe of them because it was beyond comprehension to a drafted marine to think that anyone would want to be in this hell by choiceTwo Marines that I hadn t even met before nightfall had gone out on the scrounge and come back with a new stretcher for me to sleep on They were always doing things like that for you, the way Mayhew had tried to give me his mattress, the way grunts in Hue one day had tried to give me their helmets and flak jackets because I had turned up without my own If you tore your fatigues on the wire or trying to crawl for cover, you d have new or at least fresh ones within minutes and never know where they came from They always took care of you General William Westland devised a plan to draw enemy combatants to the Americans He built a base at Khe Sanh that was close enough to Laos that patrols could harass the enemy there and it was located far enough north that the NVA would be forced to engage The Battle lasted five months and the whole time the Marines were under a constant barrage of enemy fire This base made Herr think about the jar in a Wallace Steven s poem Anecdote of a Jar I placed a jar in Tennessee,And round it was, upon a hill.It made the slovenly wildernessSurround that hill.The wilderness rose up to it,And sprawled around, no longer wild.The jar was round upon the groundAnd tall and of a port in air.It took dominion everywhere.The jar was gray and bare.It did not give of bird or bush,Like nothing else in Tennessee. Wallace StevensThe battle was considered a victory by both sides With the American commanders claiming a x10 ratio for kills they could estimate 10,000 to 16,000 KIA off of 1,602 bodies actually found The Americans lost 2,016 killed and 8,079 wounded after the battle the American blew up the base and moved out The NVA swarmed in to take over the area You might ask yourself what was accomplishedWe used what was at hand, dropping the greatest volume of explosives in the history of warfare over the terrain within the thirty mile sector which fanned out from Khe Sanh Employing saturation bombing techniques, we deliveredthan 110,000 tons of bombs to those hills during the eleven week containment of Khe Sanh the smaller foothills were often quite literally turned inside out, the streeper of them were made faceless and drawless, and the bigger hills were left with scars and craters of such proportions that an observer from some remote culture might see in them the obsessiveness and ritual regularity of religious symbols, the blackness at the deep center pouring out rays of bright, overturned earth all the way to the circumference forms like Aztec sun figures, suggesting that their makers had been men who held Nature in an awesome reverence There s something happening here,What it is ain t exactly clear.There s a man with a gun over there,Tellin me I ve got to beware.I think it s time we stopped, children,What s that sound Everybody look what s goin downThe men who came back from Vietnam have minds filled with dark places, shards of pain, and trapped screams Night sweats, twisted sheets, bruises from wrestling demons, and fear parched throats haunt their nights long after they return homeI ve been having this dream, the major said I ve had it two times now I m in a big examination room back at Quantico They re handing out questionnaires for an aptitude test I take one and look at it, and the first question says, How many kinds of animals can you kill with your hands After the first tour, I d have the goddamndest nightmares You know, the works Bloody stuff, bad fights, guys dying, me dyingI thought they were the worst, he said, But I sort of miss them now Michael Herr s dreams are a melted series of images, sounds, and smellsIn the months after i got back the hundreds of helicopters I d flown in began to draw together until they d formed a collective meta chopper, and in my mind it was the sexiest thing going saver destroyer, provider waster, right hand left hand, nimble, fluent, canny, and human hot steel, grease, jungle saturated canvas webbing, sweat cooling and warming up again, cassette rock and roll in one ear and door gun fire in the other, fuel, heat, vitality and death, death itself, hardly an intruderThe writing in this book is superb The words are dropped on you out of the bays of planes with bombs that explode around your ears and rattle your spinal cord The dialogue is the crackle of gunfire coming at you through the elephant grass, zip, vip, zip The stories will bring you so close to the action that spent ordinance will be hailing on your helmet as it falls through the canopy Herr helped with the screenplays for the movies Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now Whether he receives credit or not this book has influenced every Vietnam movie ever made or that will ever be made This is best read from a foxhole with a shaker full of vodka and the smell of moist earth in your nostrils If you wish to seeof my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at


  2. BlackOxford BlackOxford says:

    War is Forever Evil is not an absence of the good as proposed by theologians It is a positive force precisely proportionate to the coercive technological power employed Power kills people people don t kill people technology does War is unlimited power or power limited only by the technology available but certainly not by morality, that is to say, people Herr saw this at close quartersOur machine was devastating And versatile It could do everything but stopNo one who had power unde War is Forever Evil is not an absence of the good as proposed by theologians It is a positive force precisely proportionate to the coercive technological power employed Power kills people people don t kill people technology does War is unlimited power or power limited only by the technology available but certainly not by morality, that is to say, people Herr saw this at close quartersOur machine was devastating And versatile It could do everything but stopNo one who had power understood that the technological machine was impotent to achieve anything other than coercion and its logical extreme, deathThey killed a lot of Communists, but that was all they did, because the number of Communist dead meant nothing, changed nothing The opposite of war is not peace but justice, the access to judgments of equity that mitigate coercion Essentially war is unfairness made the norm,a psychotic vaudevilleWar is unfair because there is no human recourse to the random exercise of power The unfairness of war affects everyone even those, especially those, exercising the power The further out on the tendrils of power, as these tendrils encounter victims, theunfairness, thecoercion, exists At that zero distance, coercion is unremittingly uglyDisgust doesn t begin to describe what they made me feel, they threw people out of helicopters, tied people up and put the dogs on them Brutality was just a word in my mouth before thatIs there any other word than de humanizationWell, you know what we do to animalskill em and hurt em and beat on em so s we can train em Shit, we don t treat the Dinks no different than that,says one young soldier with neither apparent irony nor shame.Those with less power merely die those withpower often die but all those exercising power and those upon whom it is exercised suffer a lifetime of an absence of recourse to power, a bodily reaction to coercion Who can judge who is most defiled, the soldier coerced by his superiors or the soldier s victim coerced by him All suffer through either grief or memory Herr knows thisVarieties of religious experience, good news and bad news a lot of men found their compassion in the war, some found it and couldn t live with it, war washed shutdown of feeling, like who gives a fuck People retreated into positions of hard irony, cynicism, despair, some saw the action and declared for it, only heavy killing could make them feel so alive Every time there was combat you had a licence to go maniac, everyone snapped over the line at least once there and nobody noticed, they hardly noticed if you forgot to snap back again The effects of the unfairness of war are cumulative and gestational They ripen and metastasizeAnd some just went insane, followed the black light arrow around the bend and took possession of the madness that had been waiting there in trust for them for eighteen or twenty five or fifty years it took the war to teach it, that you were as responsible for everything you saw as you were for everything you did The problem was that you didn t always know what you were seeing until later, maybe years later, that a lot of it never made it in at all, it just stayed stored there in your eyes They d say I d ask that they didn t remember their dreams either when they were in the zone, but on R R or in the hospital their dreaming would be constant, open, violent and clear, Despite the unfairness of all wars, each war is qualitatively different This one changed an entire country, the one with the most power Nothing, everyone learned, could be trusted from government, from media, from experts, from one s neighbor The military was the exception because it could be trusted for consistent incompetence and deceitthe Marine Corps came to be called by many the finest instrument ever devised for the killing of young AmericansThis was a new, highly infectious disease that evolved in the jungles and rice fields and was imported in a dormant state on the flights homeA despair set in among members of the battalion that the older ones, the veterans of two other wars, had never seen beforeThis was the war from which that country has never recovered, and perhaps never will It sanctioned death as unimportant by turning it into a measure of progressthey talked as though killing a man was nothingthan depriving him of his vigourAnd for those leaders not at the far ends of power but at its source, power became an idol demanding sacred acts through which they would achieve salvationThey believed that God was going to thank them for it There is good reason to believe that the country s present psychosis is its refusal to recognize the injustice it has imposed on the worldYears of thinking this or that about what happens to you when you pursue a fantasy until it becomes experience, and then afterwards you can t handle the experienceI don t know if Herr is a spiritual person but he provides some splendid spiritual adviceGoing crazy was built into the tour, the best you could hope for was that it didn t happen around you, the kind of crazy that made men empty clips into strangers or fix grenades on latrine doors That was really crazy anything less was almost standard, as standard as the vague prolonged stares and involuntary smiles, common as ponchos or 16s or any other piece of war issue If you wanted someone to know you d gone insane you really had to sound off like you had a pair, Scream a lot, and all the time No ideal was left unmolested No injustice was left un trivialized No confession of guilt was ever offered without rationalization Perhaps this is a national characteristic to hide profound immorality behind a shield of up beat concernIt was a characteristic of a lot of Americans in Vietnam to have no idea of when they were being obsceneBut injustice will not lie quiet The effects of war are genetic they are passed on as a dismal legacy of power and its unfairness The country tried to forget and dug itself deeper, coerced itself, into violence that it now performs on itself at the armed hands of its children to the consternation of their parents The country does seem to be screaming now But no one is really listening No one cares if they annihilate themselves in their undeclared civil war If only they would tweet about it less


  3. Gene Gene says:

    Having been in VietNam and having been in some of the Marine Units that Michael Herr writes about in Dispatches is the best depiction of war in general and VietNam in particular that I have ever read It started me on the path to healing that I had kept hidden since I came back from Nam Thank You Michael.


  4. Maciek Maciek says:

    Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can t say that we have made a mistake Someone has to die so that President Nixon won t be, and these are his words, the first President to lose a war We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam How do Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can t say that we have made a mistake Someone has to die so that President Nixon won t be, and these are his words, the first President to lose a war We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistakeVietnam Veterans Against the War Statement by John Kerry to the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations, April 23, 1971 Full Metal Jacket Apocalypse Now Platoon The Deer Hunter First BloodThese are just some of the American movies which depict the war in Vietnam, which has served as inspiration for dozens of other films, novels and video games The conflict in Vietnam has been written about extensively, and Michael Herr s Dispatches is one of the first books to present an intimate, closeup picture of the war to the wider public The first two movies owe a lot to Dispatches Michael Herr co wrote the narration for Apocalypse Now, which is partially inspired by this book, and wrote the screenplay for Full Metal Jacket together with Stanley Kubrick.Herr was a correspondent for the Esquire magazine, who arrived in Vietnam in 1967, when he was just 27 years old just before the Tet Offensive, one of the largest assault campaigns of the North Vietnamese army against targets in the South Herr mingled freely with the soldiers, journeying with them, talking with them, observing them he left Vietnam and returned to his home in New York in 1969, and spent the next 18 months working on Dispatches, his memoir from the war However, the war caught up with him he experienced a breakdown and could not write anything between 1971 and 1975 Herr eventually recovered and finished the book, which was published in 1977 two years after the fall of Saigon, long after the United States army and personel withdrew from the country.The average age of American soldiers fighting in Vietnam was 22 These were young men, millions of miles away from home, stuck in a scorching and unforgiving climate, surrounded by jungles full of people they could not see And for whatI keep thinking about all the kids who got wiped out by 17 years of war movies before coming to Vietnam and getting wiped out for good , he writes in one chapter, while quoting one of the soldier he talks to in anotherAll that s just a load, man We re here to kill gooks PeriodMost of these soldiers these who survive will be forever robbed of their youth the book is full of physical descriptions of young men looking incredibly old and tired, being incredibly old and tired at the age of 23 This is not something that you can leave behind you when you leave the battlefield like old age it seeps into you and refuses to go, reflecting your old skin and the thousand yard stare from the bathroom mirror 58,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam thousand veterans suffering from PTSD took their own lives after returning home.This is a book written in retrospection, though it loses none of its intensity while reading it we see a man who acts as if he has just emerged from the war, like it was yesterdayI went to cover the war and the war covered me , Herr writes near the end and admits that it isan old story , though in his case very true This explains the tone of his book very chaotic and disorganized, full of personal interjections Herr writes as much about himself as he does about the soldiers and the war He rejects the role of an impartial observer, and is an active participant in the events that he writes about, focusing on personal emotions and moods his own and that of the soldiers rather than tactical and military aspects of the war What is most prominent is the absolute lack of safety and certainty for anyone, in a country where the invisible enemy hid in the hostile, unwelcoming climate, and despite being completely outnumbered and outgunned and killed always ready to attack and strike back again and again and againYou could be in the most protected space in Vietnam and still know that your safety was provisional, that early death, blindness, loss of legs, arms or balls, major and lasting disfigurement the whole rotten deal could come in on the freakyfluky as easily as in the so called expected ways, you heard so many of those stories it was a wonder anyone was left alive to die in firefights and mortar rocket attacks Sean Flynn, photographer and connoisseur of the Vietnam War, told me that he once stood on the vantage of a firebase up there with a battalion commander It was at dusk, those ghastly mists were fuming out of the valley floor, ingesting light The colonel squinted at the distance for a long time Then he swept his hand very slowly along the line of jungle, across the hills and ridges running into Cambodia the Sanctuary Flynn, he said Somewhere out there is the entire First NVA Division How do you defeat an enemy whom you can t see and sometimes even recognize, and whom you keep shooting and killing, and who keeps coming back to kill you from underground tunnels, from bushes, from caves You don t Conventional journalism could noreveal this war than conventional firepower could win it, Herr writes near the end of his memoir he was repeatedly asked by the press for interviews about Vietnam, and to write another book about it aside from his work on two films he never returned to it, and published only a few other books throughout the years, none of which had the impact of Dispatches He died last year, after a lengthy illness, in Upstate New York According to his daughter, Claudia, he came to resent his celebrity and no longer wrote converting to Buddhism in his last years I hope that he finally found peace


  5. Chadwick Chadwick says:

    This is war reportage as heartbreaking poetry One of the roughest pieces of writing I have ever encountered Beautiful, angular and harsh stylistically There is a wonderfully and terrifyingly immersive quality to this book.


  6. Darwin8u Darwin8u says:

    I could say this is one of the best memoirs I ve read I could also say it is one of the most brilliant books on war I ve ever read It would probably be easier, however, for me to just acknowledge I haven t read many books that have the power, the poetry, the intensity, the vividness, the bathos and the pathos that Herr pushes through every single page of this amazing book This is a book that haunts you hard while you read it and resonates both the horror of war and the surreal qualities of wa I could say this is one of the best memoirs I ve read I could also say it is one of the most brilliant books on war I ve ever read It would probably be easier, however, for me to just acknowledge I haven t read many books that have the power, the poetry, the intensity, the vividness, the bathos and the pathos that Herr pushes through every single page of this amazing book This is a book that haunts you hard while you read it and resonates both the horror of war and the surreal qualities of war and the men who fight it


  7. Mike Mike says:

    Where had he been to get his language is a question Herr asks himself in passing about a soldier he meets, but I think it s the implication in the question that explains why this is one of my favorite books There areinformative books about Vietnam, speaking in traditional historical terms, but it s the language in this book that has stayed with me I can open it up, turn to just about any page, and the store of English, with its almost limitless possibility and nuance, feels very temp Where had he been to get his language is a question Herr asks himself in passing about a soldier he meets, but I think it s the implication in the question that explains why this is one of my favorite books There areinformative books about Vietnam, speaking in traditional historical terms, but it s the language in this book that has stayed with me I can open it up, turn to just about any page, and the store of English, with its almost limitless possibility and nuance, feels very temporarily replenished in me Perception becomes less stifling and habitual, and opens upever so briefly Language might seem like a strange thing to praise in a book about the Vietnam War after all, it would seem that the most important aspect of the book would be essence, the war itself, while language is mere style But this book reminds me that the two are not mutually exclusive It may be that for a writer language and experience sit on opposite ends of a pendulum, and the farther you go in one direction, the farther you can swing back in the other The war was unlike anything Herr had experienced before, and it forced him to develop a new vocabulary to describe it Music also has the power to alter perception Throughout the book, Herr describes hearing Roy Orbison, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones in Vietnam, for the first time, The Doors and their distant, icy sound It seemed like such wintry music and The Beatles And in my head, sounding over and over, were the incredibly sinister words of the song we d all heard for the first time only days before The Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away , it promised, Coming to take you away, dy ing to take you away That was a song about Khe Sanh we knew it then, and it still seems soBut the emphasis on music isn t just idle description Herr discovers that the desire for transcendence that music may have seemed like an answer to, that desire that he felt as a writer and human being, was also capable of being answered by Vietnam, and that pushed far enough it was the same answer On the street , he writes of being back in America, I couldn t tell the Vietnam veterans from the rock n roll veteransrock stars started falling like second lieutenantswhat I d thought of as two obsessions were really only one, I don t know how to tell you how complicated that made my life It all happened so fast, as they say, as everyone who has ever been through it has always said we were sitting around listening to what we thought were Tet fireworks coming from the town, and then coming closer until we weren t stoned any, until the whole night had passed and I was looking at the empty clips around my feettelling myself that there would never be any way to know for sure I couldn t remember ever feeling so tired, so changed, so happy.for the next six years I saw them all, the ones I d really seen and the ones I d imagined, theirs and ours, friends I d loved and strangers, motionless figures in a dance, the old dance Years of thinking this or that about what happens to you when you pursue a fantasy until it becomes experience, and then afterward you can t handle the experience Until I felt that I was just a dancer too The first rule , Schopenhauer wrote, indeed by itself virtually a sufficient condition for good style, is to have something to say Herr, as a young writer, naturally wanted to have something to say, and was smart enough to understand that he didn t he was probably drawn to experience that would alter him, that would allow him to transcend himself and his writingto break on through to the other side, even And yet when we seek out experience we also give up control, and sometimes the experiences that might allow us to transcend ourselves are not clearly distinguishable from the experiences that can destroy us Sometimes they might be the same thing For someone like Hunter S Thompson, that was the thrill of it But for Herr, discovering that transcendence and violence were inextricable meant that life was never the same again, not only for himself but for the world.Maybe it was my twenties I was missing and not the Sixties, but I began missing them both before either had really been played out The year had been so hot that I think it shorted out the decade, what followed was mutation, some kind of awful 1969 X It wasn t just that I was growing older, I was leaking timeAnd yet one of the most striking and honest things about this book is the tone of nostalgia that runs through it He realized that war satisfied something in him, that he was not so different from his friends who stayed in California and went to Doors concerts As Herr puts it early in the book, somewhere all the mythic tracks intersected, from the lowest John Wayne wetdream to the most aggravated soldier poet fantasy, and where they did I believe everyone knew everything about everyone else, every one of us there a true volunteer Or, towards the end, A few extreme cases felt that the experience there had been a glorious one, while most of us felt that it had been merely wonderful I think Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods Maybe the lesson is that experience can t always be sought out, utilized, and then walked away from But what choice did Herr have, and what choice do any of us have Because maybe we are just dancers, too.I ve often wondered what the rest of Herr s life was like, and why he published almost nothing else One night a few months ago, half asleep, I heard his name, of all places, on the Bill Simmons podcast Simmons was interviewing Graydon Carter, the former editor of Vanity Fair magazine, and asked him to name the best writer he d ever pursued but couldn t get to write for him Carter responded,A writer I used to speak to, sometimes for almost three hours a day, for years and years, was Michael Herr He d written Dispatches, he was one of the great journalists of all time, and hebecame a Buddhist after VietnamMichael was a wonderful, peaceful person but in ten years of constant talking, I only got two pieces out of him I would have liked , but he said, I m done writing


  8. LA Brower LA Brower says:

    Not only is this the most engrossing piece of journalism, the most touching memoir, and the most illuminating book on war I ve ever read it s also written as if Herr was on fire and being chased by literature eating wolves I read it twice in a row and would do it again.


  9. Drew Drew says:

    I d never heard Dispatches mentioned in speech or in print until I got a copy of it in a package sent to me from my uncle, who d died three or four days earlier Imagine my surprise when I found it was the basis for not only Full Metal Jacket but also, to some degree, Apocalypse Now It sor less what you d expect a war correspondent travels all around Vietnam for what seems to be several years I m not sure how long Herr was actually there , talking to the foot soldiers and the officers a I d never heard Dispatches mentioned in speech or in print until I got a copy of it in a package sent to me from my uncle, who d died three or four days earlier Imagine my surprise when I found it was the basis for not only Full Metal Jacket but also, to some degree, Apocalypse Now It sor less what you d expect a war correspondent travels all around Vietnam for what seems to be several years I m not sure how long Herr was actually there , talking to the foot soldiers and the officers and anybody else who s willing So you get to see all sorts of coping mechanisms and rationalizations and characters, including several who d go on, slightly modified, to be characters in Full Metal Jacket But the book brings up, mostly obliquely, two ideas that are very interesting to me.The first is that the grunts consistently call the correspondents crazy This makes sense at first the grunts are forced to be there, and, given the chance, most of them would leave instantly So it s a mystery to them why the correspondents don t feel roughly the same way And it s unclear whether Herr is conscious of the main difference between him and them, w r t leaving He can, which automatically makes it unnecessary Just the idea of being able to peace out when things get really nasty would have to be a pretty significant sleep aid And Herr makes himself look a little foolish every time he mentions how badass he feels, staying there, because he may know what it s like to be in Vietnam, but he has no idea what it might feel like to be stuck in Vietnam The second is the question of what exactly it is that makes Vietnam so muchrelentlessly horrifying to our soldiers than any other war we d fought up to that point and possibly any war since There are all the obvious answers they lacked widespread homefront support the Vietcong were indistinguishable from their allies success couldn t be measured because there was no clear front to show advances and retreats the climate and weather were hellish et cetera But Herr has made me think of it in terms of broader trends in American culture I m sure these answers are obvious to some, but I really don t know much of anything about the Vietnam War, or American history, for that matter mainly alienation of battle, and iconoclasm.Alienation of battle makes sense Before guns existed, you pretty much had to either kill your enemy face to face, or maybe shoot him with an arrow, but at any rate you had to be able to see him to kill him Even in World War II, you were pretty likely to be able to see the people you were trying to kill And the key thing there is that your enemy had to be able to see you in order to kill you So if you weren t at the front, you could be reasonably sure of not being suddenly murdered Vietnam was different You d fire into the jungle almost at random, wasting thousands of rounds of suppressive fire, and you d never even see who you were shooting at, until they were dead So if that s the M.O., you d have to admit to yourself that you could easily be killed without ever seeing your own killer Add that to the possibility read probability of ambushes, and the realities of guerrilla fighting, and you can see how American soldiers tended to be a wreck Not that soldiers from other wars came home perfectly well adjusted, but I think we can agree that the Vietnam War was a bit different.Then there s iconoclasm Anybody can defend his or her homeland defense is a cause in and of itself That s where the home team advantage comes from But if you re going to fight an offensive war, you ve got to have a cause Religion is a common one, as is acquisition of wealth Ours in Vietnam was a little shakier democracy, or anti communism That worked well for the Cold War, but not as well for its proxy wars If you have to come with something like the domino effect to explain your war, you re not going to get the kind of fanatical support that you need to win From the troops or the home front, I mean If you don t have a really compelling cause, you ve got to have some faith And, not that I know a lot about the 1960 s and 1970 s, but it seems to me that America s religious fervor was somewhat lacking compared to what it was during World War II and earlier Actually, I don t know why I ve been carrying on Herr puts it way better than I could you couldn t blame anybody for believing anythingGuys stuck the ace of spades in their helmet bands, they picked relics off of an enemy they d killed, a little transfer of power they carried around five pound Bibles from home, crosses, St Christophers, mezuzahs, locks of hair, girlfriends underwear, snaps of their families, their wives, their dogs, their cows, their cars, pictures of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton, the Pope, Che Guevara, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, wiggier than cargo cultists One man was carrying an oatmeal cookie through his tour, wrapped up in foil and plastic and three pairs of socks He took a lot of shit about it When you go to sleep we re gonna eat your fucking cookie , but his wife had baked it and mailed it to him, he wasn t kidding Something has to replace religion, and in this case it s superstition Come on, an oatmeal cookie People went crazy because they had nothing to fall back on, nothing to believe would save them Herr makes this abundantly clear, I think Recommended for anyone interested in the Vietnam War


  10. Lisa Lieberman Lisa Lieberman says:

    In two weeks I ll be flying to Hong Kong, setting sail for Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia to deliver a series of lectures on a luxury cruise ship The topic I chose, Asia Through Hollywood s Eyes, has exposed me to some wonderful films, a number of which I ve reviewed on my blog or written about in my column for 3 Quarks Daily And I ve immersed myself in bios of Pearl Buck, Anna Leonowns the real life Anna of The King and I , Anna May Wong, Pierre Boulle, Somerset Maugham, along with books In two weeks I ll be flying to Hong Kong, setting sail for Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia to deliver a series of lectures on a luxury cruise ship The topic I chose, Asia Through Hollywood s Eyes, has exposed me to some wonderful films, a number of which I ve reviewed on my blog or written about in my column for 3 Quarks Daily And I ve immersed myself in bios of Pearl Buck, Anna Leonowns the real life Anna of The King and I , Anna May Wong, Pierre Boulle, Somerset Maugham, along with books about classic films set in Asian locales Fu Manchu, Charlie Chan, Lost Horizon, Apocalypse Now many of which I ve reviewed here On top of that, I ve been working diligently to get my bridge game up to snuff .Mostly, I m aiming for a light touch with the material This is a cruise, after all Bob Hope s and Bing Crosby s good natured racism in The Road to Singapore is entertaining in its way, as is Charlie Chan s fortune cookie wisdom I can share Yunte Huang s insightful discussion of Yellowface from his marvelous book, Charlie Chan The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous With American History without driving my audience into the bar for an early drink, explore stereotypes of Chinamen through Disney cartoons and extravagant musical numbers featuring Rin Tin Tin, even Work in a little commentary on The Good Earth s Depression era message about the virtue of hard work on the land, illustrated with stills from the movie and comparing them to iconic photographs from the period.Luise Rainer and babies during the Chinese famineDorothea Lange s portrait of Migrant Mother in the dust bowl droughtSure, the Dust Bowl and the Chinese famine were tough times, but they re pretty remote Not so the Vietnam war My cousin Alan was a U.S Army sharpshooter in Vietnam He was ten years older than me, and I didn t really get to know him until long after his tour of duty I do remember him dropping by the house in the early 1980s to visit when our uncle was recuperating from a hit and run accident this uncle was a bachelor and the rest of the family took turns caring for him it was a terrible accident Alan was always reading about the Vietnam war, and he d talk about it to anyone who was willing to listen, but I had the impression that he was still trying to figure it out Why were we there Why was he asked to do the things he did Was it worth it, in the end Vietnam damaged my cousin irreparably He had a failed marriage behind him, troubled relationships with family members He made a decent living, working for the Post Office, but never seemed to have enough money, was seriously in debt In 2002, not long after the U.S invaded Afghanistan, Alan shot himself He had many problems, had cut himself from nearly everyone, but I can t help seeing a correlation.Michael Herr s book gave me a glimpse of what Alan lived through, during his time in Vietnam I read it to go along with Apocalypse Now Herr worked on the screenplay with Francis Ford Coppola and the film conveys his vision as well as Joseph Conrad s whom he references in Dispatches I ve read various accounts of the war over the years history, novels, memoirs by Vietnamese soldiers and civilians in the North and South I ve taught a course on French colonialism and studied the fall of Dien Bien Phu, and of course I ve watched countless films over the years But Herr s reporting brought me inside the war, inside the heads of the soldiers, in such an immediate way that reading it was unbearable I struggled to keep on reading, and it has taken a week for me to organize my thoughts for this review Tim O Brien writes exquisitely about his experience in The Things They Carried I recommend his book, and count it as a high point in my life as a reader, that I was able to hear him read from it and answer questions from an audience of students my son among them who were of draft age during the height of our involvement in Iraq He reconstructs the shattered lives of his dead companions with poignancy and restraint O Brien writes from a distance of years, however Herr writes from the thick of things and is unrestrained, angry, self hating and self pitying, filled with disgust and compassion, his reactions still raw, it felt to me in places I think that those people who used to say that they only wept for the Vietnamese never really wept for anyone at all if they couldn t squeeze out at least one for these men and boys when they died or had their lives cracked open for them.When our cruise ship docks in Vietnam and I disembark in Danang, or Saigon Ho Chi Minh City , I ll be seeing those places through my cousin Alan s eyes, thanks to Michael Herr