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Once Upon a Distant War: David Halberstam,…
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Once Upon a Distant War: David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter…

by William Prochnau

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Read this book in conjunction with Neil Sheehan's A Bright and Shining Lie. Both are extraordinary.

It didn't take long for the relationship between the press and the United States government to go sour in Vietnam. Already by the early sixties, reporters could easily see the discrepancy between what officialswanted everyone to believe and the obvious reality of what was happening.
One egregious example was the arrival of the Coor, an escort carrier that sailed up the river for 45miles to moor near Saigon. U.S. sailors and many helicopters were easily visible on deck to anyonewatching from the riverbank. The army newspaper Stars and Stripes had announced the Coor's
departure from San Francisco, even delineating what units were going. When reporters based in Vietnam mentioned the arrival in their dispatches, official Washington demanded to know where the leakwas. They thought all they had to do was pretend something wasn't true and it wouldn't be so.
Vietnam mentioned the arrival in their dispatches, official Washington demanded to know where the leak was. They thought all they had to do was pretend something wasn't true and it wouldn't be so. Reporters who simply noted the obvious were somehow considered unpatriotic.

The Diem family considered by those who knew them to be "bizarre," loved U.S. billions in aid but hated the reporters, too. Diem had a philosophical view himself, noting that if you invite a dog into the house you have to accept the fleas that come with it. The Vietnam War redefined the role of reporters. Malcolm Browne (see [book:Muddy Boots and Red Socks] learned - and taught subsequent journalists - I to always write what you
see; ihe embassy' could never be trusted to convey anything close to the truth. The administration - at least under Kennedy and early Johnson - tried to hide the war, and their denial that American troops were engaged in fighting was clearly a lie to anyone who was there. Often this contradiction led to disharmony between the news organizations and their field reporters. The establishment press, led by Joseph Alsop who made very careful, short visits that confirmed his preconceived views by only talking
to rear echelon types. Henry Luce took advantage of the American people's relative indifference, to promote their own Cold War agendas.

The on-site reporters' questioning of the war's conduct brought down the wrath of the power structure. The Diem family hated having their corruption exposed, and Madame Nhu made life very difficult for any reporter who dared to hint that she might be something other than what she wanted
portrayed. Kennedy was so infuriated by some of David Halberstam's reporting that he called the New York Times publisher to have Halberstam removed. Fortunately,' the president was ignored.

When Charles Bailey of the Minneapolis Tribune, asked Ronald Ross, also of the Tribune how he should prepare for his tour of duty in Vietnam, Ross, who had been in Vietnam for some time, told him that he need read only [book:Catch-22], [book:The Quiet American], and [book:Alice in Wonderland]. The best friends of the correspondents were not the Noltings and Harkins and Diems, but the grunts and the officers out in the field, who could see what was happening and were dismayed by the lies their bosses were distributing.
The irony is that none of the reporters questioned whether the war should be fought. They were Cold Warriors. They wanted to win, but they could see that the United States had embarked on a flawed strategy. They were tired of being lied to and they resented - as did the grunts in the field - seeing the policy wonks and rear-guard spit-and-polish pansies lie about the obvious. (See also Neil Sheehan's
biography of John Paul Vann, [book:A Bright and Shining Lie].)

If Prochnau errs in this fascinating book, it is to attribute too much to the revolutionary nature of the
change in reporting the war. As Philip Knightley brilliantly showed in his history of lying during war ([book:The
First Casualty: from the Crimea to Vietnam : the War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth
Maker], the prevarication of the establishment had been the rule rather than the exception. Lying has always been endemic to those in power. Eisenhower never forgave the CIA for giving him false information leading to his humiliating public lie about Gary Powers and the U-2. Nor have things changed: Raymond Bonners Newes exposed the massacre at El Mozote led to his vilification as a liar until the truth was revealed after several years. (See [book:Weakness and Deceit: U.S. policy and El Salvador]) A democracy must have a source of truth in order for those who vote to make valid judgments. Too often correspondents' on-the-scene reports are ignored or suppressed. Between 1901 and 1914, Frederic William Wile dispatched thousands of reports documenting the German war machine buildup, to no avail. (See [book:On the Front Lines: following America's foreign correspondents across the twentieth century] by Michael Emery.) ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Vietnam ( )
  IraSchor | Apr 8, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679772650, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:18 -0400)

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