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Once Upon a Distant War: David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett--Young War Correspondents and Their Early Vietnam Battles Paperback – August 27, 1996

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Once Upon a Distant War: David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett--Young War Correspondents and Their  Early Vietnam Battles + Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1959-1975 (Library of America)
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Prochnau's book is an illuminating account of the early years of American involvement in Vietnam, and of the war correspondents who made it their beat. "In the beginning," Prochnau writes, "it was such a nice little war," an exotic campaign of spies and intrigue that brought out the Hemingway in a small army of reporters eager to make their names---among them present-day CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, New York Times correspondent David Halberstam, and wire reporter Neil Sheehan, author of A Bright Shining Lie. When that nice little war turned ugly, many of these reporters became firm opponents of American involvement in Vietnam, disillusioned by official lies and delusions. Prochnau's anecdote-rich account of the work of these brave men and women, which often reads like something straight out of Graham Greene, is altogether fascinating. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Prochnau tells of the young and skeptical correspondents who helped focus attention on Vietnam during the early years of America's military involvement there.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679772650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679772651
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #844,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Prochnau, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and award-winning journalist, is the author of six books including the highly acclaimed "Once Upon a Distant War." His latest work, "Miracle on the Hudson," is co-authored with his wife, Laura Parker, and the survivors of U.S. Airways Flight 1549. Miracle is an aviation drama unlike few before it, written like a fast-paced adventure novel but true to the last detail of courage and fear as told by the survivors of what seemed an almost certainly doomed flight. Prochnau has written both fiction and nonfiction. He has had two movies made from his work, including "Proof of Life" with Russell Crowe. Widely known as a commentator on journalism, daily newspapers and the media, the former Washington Post national reporter is perhaps best known for his book "Once Upon a Distant War," a heralded work on war correspondents still in print after 15 years.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Graham Phillips on May 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Once Upon a Distant War," is a highly readable history of the various journalists covering America's involvement in the early years (1961-63) of Vietnam. Prochnau has produced an intriguing popular history that has some flaws, but on the whole is quite a good book.
The strength of the book is the fact that the material itself is so fascinating. Saigon, circa 1963, was an extremely exciting place for a foreign journalist. America had begun a huge build-up of forces in South Vietnam, the Diem regime was at its most oppressive, and the Vietcong were making huge gains in the rural countryside. Into this mix were thrown men like David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett, and Malcolm Brown: relatively young, idealistic reporters who were determined to get the real story. But the US officials in South Vietnam were less than willing to assist the "green" correspondents, who they claimed were not "on the team." Lied to and rebuffed by the official channels, the reporters sought out contacts in the middle of the action: South Vietnamese officers and American field advisors like John Paul Vann who were willing to tell the ugly truth. The result was a constant battle between the Saigon correspondents and the Kennedy administration, other journalists, and even their own publishers. The only people who hated the journalists more were President Diem, his brother Nhu, and most vociferously, South Vietnam's First Lady, Madame Nhu. For two years the correspondents fought for every story and risked everything, including their lives, to get what they believed was the truth about Vietnam out to the American public.
Prochnau is clearly in awe of his protagonists, but I think he still manages to give a fair account.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 5, 1996
Format: Hardcover
This book has been widely praised as a rich, well-plotted
story of the exploits of American war correspondants in the
early days of the Vietnam war. But, for students of government
and the media, it's much more: it's an illuminating story of
how the government uses and seeks to control the press, and
how the press seeks to maintain its own autonomy.

The theme running throughout the book is how the U.S. government
lied to the press and to itself about the progress of the early
war. The accounts of wildly inflated body counts, surrealistic
assessments of battlefield success, and obvious ignorance of
the situation outside Saigon by the American brass is well-
known, but worth reviewing. But the book also shatters the post-gulf
war myth that journalists had easy access to the story in Vietnam, and
were cut out of the story in Iraq when the Pentagon "learned
from Vietnam" how to control the press. Clearly, as Prochnau
tells us, the government was seeking to control the press
in Vietnam, by denying access to critical reporters while
giving favored journalists, such as Joe Alsop, the V.I.P. tour
of the war, complete with the same distorted statistics and
outright falsehoods. The military eventually failed in Vietnam,
but not for lack of trying: they failed because the war failed,
and too many journalists, from too many mainstream news organizations--AP, UPI,
the New York Times--showed that the war was, in David Halberstam's
words, a "quagmire."

This book would be a fine addition to a college course on
the Vietnam war, journalism, or media and politics. I recommend
it highly to my students, and to anyone interested in this
period of our history.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on May 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is a great companion piece to the more popular "A Bright Shining Lie" by Neil Sheehan. Sheehan (along with David Halberstam and others) and his experiences in Vietnam during the advisor period (1962-64) are the subjects of this book. With it you gain perspective of how Sheehan and the others fought an incompotent and deceiptful American and South Vietnamese government establishment that fought efforts to get the truth (that the war was being lost) to the American people. The relationship between the young reporters and Lt. Colonel John Paul Vann (the subject odf Sheehan's book) also features prominently. The accounts are harrowing and sometimes enraging. This book serves as an effective reminder that the press are not always the bad guys.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Doepke on September 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
Behind Vietnam's shadowy fire-fights of 1961-1963 another kind of combat was taking place, one just as important to the war's outcome. It was a war of words and Prochnau's narrative follows this journalistic battle between a battery of triuth-seeking reporters (Halberstam, NY Times; Sheehan, UPI; Browne, API) and party-line higherups eager to conceal failures in the war's progress. All in all, it's a gripping account.
Prochnau avoids comparing press attitudes from earlier wars to Vietnam, yet a comparison is very revealing. In Korea, cover-ups and propaganda pitches went largely unchallenged for two reasons. Most correspondants reporting from there had earlier reported from WWII, a popular patriotic war that had enlisted everyone on the same team. That team spirit carried over to Korea even when the clarities of the fight against Nazi-ism did not. However, by the early 60's, a new generation of correspondants - a young man's job according to Prochnau - had taken over. Steeped neither in team spirit nor in a tradition of placing press objectives below military ones, they were a new breed of journalists unimpressed with the briefings of big-brass officers. Contributing also to the rise of independent reportage was the scale of official deception, which expanded exponentially from Korea to Vietnam. The inflated body counts, Saigon's fishbowl of corruption, and a host of other calamities, all combined to override official deception much more effectively than anything from the early 1950's.
Prochnau makes clear that these early reporters - including the trend-setting Homer Bigert - had no basic quarrel with US objectives in Vietnam. Like most observers, they believed intervention was necessary to preserve democracy against the communist menace.
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