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Dispatches Paperback – August 6, 1991
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Michael Herr, who wrote about the Vietnam War for Esquire magazine, gathered his years of notes from his front-line reporting and turned them into what many people consider the best account of the war to date, when published in 1977. He captured the feel of the war and how it differed from any theater of combat ever fought, as well as the flavor of the time and the essence of the people who were there. Since Dispatches was published, other excellent books have appeared on the war--may we suggest The Things They Carried, The Sorrow of War, We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young--but Herr's book was the first to hit the target head-on and remains a classic.
From Publishers Weekly
American correspondent Herr's documentary recalls the heavy combat he witnessed in Vietnam as well as the obscene speech, private fears and nightmares of the soldiers. "Herr captures the almost hallucinatory madness of the war," said PW. "This is a compelling, truth-telling book with a visceral impact, its images stuck in the mind like shards from a pineapple bomb."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
I first read Dispatches in the late 70s and I've gone through several copies and 8 or 10 readings in the intervening years. I finally got a clue and bought the book on Kindle today so I don't have to go looking for it or buy yet another copy when I feel the urge to read this prose that can still give me chills almost four decades after I first found it.
Rest in Peace, Michael, and thank you.
Herr does an exquisite job of describing the grunts (he spent most of his time with the Marines). Of a 19 year old Marine he says "He had one of those faces, I saw that face at least a thousand times at a hundred bases and camps, all the youth sucked out of the eyes, the color drawn from the skin, cold white lips, you knew he wouldn't wait for any of it to come back. Life had made him old, he'd live it out old". (p 16)
Herr, writing in the 60s and 70s, is extremely critical of the war and the way it was waged (but then weren't most people?). He knew that "A lot of people knew that the country could never be won, only destroyed, and they locked into that with breathtaking concentration." (p 59). He discusses some of the difference between the Army and Marine approach to the war: "That belief [that one Marine was worth 10 dead Vietnamese] was undying, but the grunt was not, and the Corps came to be called by many the finest instrument ever devised for the killing of young Americans." (p102)
It was interesting to read this after having read Gregg Jones' "Last Stand at Khe Sanh: The U.S. Marines Finest Hour in Vietnam." Jones does an excellent job of describing the tactics and flow of battle giving details based on interviews with survivors years later. Herr's story is much more immediate. While you don't get a sense of the ebb and flow of the stand, you get a gritty, realistic view of life in the mud of the bunkers and trenches.
I read this book back in the 70's and was glad I picked it up again. If we are going to put our young men and women through pain and misery that will last a lifetime, sometimes a very short lifetime, we should be damn well clear that it is worth it for us.