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On the Frontlines of the Television War: A Legendary War Cameraman in Vietnam Hardcover – March 17, 2017
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Vietnam Veterans of America Book Reviews 2 April 17, 2017
In On the Frontlines of the Television War: A Legendary War Cameraman in Vietnam (Casemate, 304 pp., $32.95; $9.99, Kindle), Yasutsune "Tony" Hirashiki describes his experience in the Vietnam War from 1966 to the communist takeover in 1975 working behind the camera for ABC News. The eyewitness accounts of the many phases of the war in this memoir bring events to life as if they had happened yesterday.
In his quest "to become as good as [the famed photojournalist] Robert Capa," Hirashiki chose to cover the most dangerous assignments in the war. "Many of us dreamed that war reporting would find us fame and recognition within our profession," he says. For Hirashiki, the dream materialized in the form of a forty-year career with ABC News. ...The book's importance lies in its neutrality. Many people have criticized Vietnam War correspondents, especially television reporters, for promoting antiwar sentiments. On the Frontlines of the Television War, which was edited by Terry Irving, contradicts that opinion by telling the story of a closely knit group of professionals who strove to report what they saw as accurately as possible. In other words, any distortion in television reporting did not originate in the field.
"Sometimes a book comes out that astounds the reader, and I believe this is one of them... This is a riveting read. 5 stars."
Books monthly.UK 2017
There is a tendency as we approach 2020 for us to assume that everything that occurs on our planet will be recorded for us for instant replay via television or social media. It's an aspect of the modern world that was forecast in children's SF comic strips back in the 1950s, along with regular spaceflights to and from the moon and Mars, which clearly didn't happen but may now be just around the corner... This superb book looks at how we reached this point in TV reporting, and is well worth a few hours of your time.
About the Author
Yasutsune "Tony" Hirashiki was an ABC News cameraman from 1966 to 2006. In those four decades he became legendary, consistently known as the best cameraman in the company and certainly the guy you wanted next to you if you were walking into danger. During his time in Vietnam, he was present at virtually every major event. Since then he has worked in danger zones around the world.
Terry Irving probably carried some of Tony's newsfilm in the early 1970s when he was a motorcycle courier for ABC News. He then went into a career in TV news, spending four decades covering news in war zones like Beirut, South Africa, and El Salvador; tragic disasters from Indonesia to New Orleans; and political stories across the US. He has earned a number of awards including: 4 National Emmy Awards, 3 Peabody Awards for Significant and Meritorious Achievement, and 4 Columbia University DuPont Awards (including the first ever gold baton awarded.)
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I encourage journalism students to read this book.
The answer is plenty. Yasutsune Hrashiki was a combat cameraman in Southeast Asia, and this is his story. It is nominally about war, but is really about people, trust, friendship, dedication, struggle, triumph and sadness.
=== The Good Stuff ===
* From the moment he shows up in Saigon with a note saying that he is a good photographer, Hrashiki lives an incredible life as a combat photographer. He was one of a troop of dedicated journalists who brought, for better or worse, the Vietnam war directly into our living rooms. And although he is fluent in neither English or Vietnamese, the author turns out to be a remarkable observer and reporter of both the war and the struggles of those who covered it.
* Hrashiki has worked with many reporters who went on to be very familiar to US television viewers, and he is honest about working with them. But it is not a typical “tell-all” full of nasty stories. The author has been described as being very likeable, and that comes out in his writings. He admires the bravery and talent of others, and manages to find the brighter side of nearly everything.
* Combat photographer is an inherently dangerous occupation, but it can be much riskier or safer depending on specific actions. The best footage is obviously found at the front, but so is the most danger. Stay too safe, and you risk losing your coveted job. Get too risky, and you risk losing your life. The author struggles with his own behavior and emotions, and ends up feeling responsibility for the deaths of other journalists. It is almost a Shakespearean plot line.
* While Hrashiki professes to be only a photographer, and never claims any great fluency in English, he is a remarkable storyteller. The book was originally written in Japanese, but it is a credit to both the author and the English-language editor, Terry Irving, that the language seems so natural and even flowing. The pages flew by, starting with the author showing up in sneakers and a white shirt for his first combat mission and ending with a combat-hardened veteran keeping newly arrived journalists alive. I was genuinely disappointed when the book came to an end---quite literally with the “last flight out”.
=== The Not-So-Good Stuff ===
* In his opening notes, Terry Irving states that the book is a memoir, and not a history. While I respect that, there were so many “dead-ends” in the book that I wished it was more of a history. For example, the book begins with a diary captured from a dead North Vietnamese soldier. The diary was only summarized, but it was a fantastic story on its own, especially as you realize its owner was just a typical young man, worried about his family, friends and future. I wanted to read more.
* The book avoids the larger issues of the war. It would have been interesting to hear more on the author’s opinions about the effect of televised coverage on the war itself. Or perhaps what he thought about the more limited and controlled role of photographers in later US wars such as Desert Storm. I realize that is specifically beyond the scope of the book, but the author is such a perceptive observer that I would have welcomed his thoughts.
=== Summary ===
This was a great book to read, even if the events chronicled were less than pleasant. I enjoyed the author’s observations and the writing styles of everyone involved-including the excerpts from other journalists. My only real criticisms of the book were that I wished it contained more details and an expanded scope.
The book obviously appeals to military history buffs, but the writings would appeal to almost anyone interested in human interactions, especially in stressful situations.
=== Disclaimer ===
I was able to read an advance copy through the courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.