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Dispatches (Everyman's Library Classics…
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Dispatches (Everyman's Library Classics & Contemporary Classics) (original 1977; edition 2009)

by Michael Herr, Robert Stone (Introduction)

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1,934None3,514 (4.15)82
Member:mccuish6
Title:Dispatches (Everyman's Library Classics & Contemporary Classics)
Authors:Michael Herr
Other authors:Robert Stone (Introduction)
Info:Everyman's Library (2009), Hardcover, 296 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
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Work details

Dispatches by Michael Herr (1977)

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Dispatches is a magnificently sprawling word-on-the-page, in-your-face account of humans-at-war and captures the gross wretchedness of the Vietnam War. A conflict as we all now know, fought for no other purpose than 2 bloodily unfeeling ideologies who could not care less for their peoples - - caught in the middle: the "grunts" of both sides though Herr naturally, understandably concentrates on his armed forces personnel - - Herr throws out line after line of instant graphic comment and observation in the heat of battle and in the grind of waiting, preparing for it and its grim aftermath. More than that, by focussing on the individuals' buried alive by the brutality of the melee he puts the US Military Command through the ringer of factual reality on the ground exposing their glib, colossally complacent summations, misinterpretations, miscalculations. Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon... who'd want to be a President & Commander-in-Chief as that bunch of 4 & 5 star numbskulls gave advice! ( )
  tommi180744 | Aug 22, 2013 |
Dispatches is Michael Herr's first-person account of his experience as a freelance journalist - embedded with various USMC units in Vietnam, 1967-68. It is, admittedly, an extremely difficult novel to get traction on as the opening passages seem wildly discursive. The trick is to let go of trying to parse out sentences or even whole paragraphs, and just roll with it as whole as the picture comes into focus. In many ways, Dispatches is like an Impressionist painting: best appreciated with some distance from the object rather than with intentness upon its component parts. What emerges from the writing is the inanity of The Vietnam War for all the high ideals propounded by Mission commanders. In many ways, the insensibility of the War is reflected in Herr's rambling, at times near stream-of-consciousness, prose. The images coalesce into the run-up, action of, and the end of the three-and-a-half month Battle of Khe Sanh.

As the North Vietnam Army (PAVN) feinted and eventually engaged at Khe Sanh, the Marine base there was besieged. The US committed all resources to operations at Khe Sanh, President Johnson mandating that the base be kept at all costs. Ultimately, the base was destroyed, the Marines pulled back and, the US claimed victory on the premise of casualty figures and the fact that PAVN forces withdrew suddenly afterward. PAVN forces also claimed victory, as after all, they destroyed the base and forced the Marines to evacuate. Dispataches questions the significance of the dual claims of victory and the sudden withdrawal of the North Vietnamese Army, especially in context of the Tet Offensive.

Herr's portrayals of the men who fought and reported in the war are the smaller brushstrokes that make up the bigger picture of that time and place. Herr talks and travels with Marines and other reporters, perhaps none more poignant and intriguing than that of his colleagues, Sean Flynn , Dana Stone and Tim Page. Flynn, Stone and Page were photojournalists who cut careless, romantic figures. They were each extremely intelligent, talented men whose ambitions and impulses exacted dear prices. Their legacies and fates are equally breathtaking.

Ray Porter is the American narrator who reads Dispatches. The book is either the result of giving a typewriter to an inebriated soul and/or; drugs and alcohol to a journalist. Either way, managing the text and propelling it forward had to have been a challenge. Ray Porter met the challenge, framing the material in a natural voice without caving into a hyperbolic interpretation of extreme and intense situations. There may be a mispronunciation or two ("artillery" is pronounced as "artillerary" in one instance); but over all the delivery is on point.

Redacted from the original blog review at dog eared copy, Dispatches; 03/22/2012 ( )
  Tanya-dogearedcopy | Apr 4, 2013 |
I bought this after seeing Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Back in those days, military slang could not be found in the dictionaries that were available, so it was a hard slog, quite apart from the difficult subject. But a very rewarding read, and not only because of the many new phrases I learned. ( )
  MissWatson | Mar 28, 2013 |
If there never was a war quite like Vietnam, then there never was a book quite like Dispatches.

Near the end of the book, when Michael Herr is writing about the journalists who covered the war while he was there, he recounts the story of one photographer's reaction to an invitation to contribute work to a book intended to take the glamour out of the war. The photographer's reaction appears odd but, at this point in the book, is entirely understandable to the reader. The killing, the night lit up with flares, with tracer rounds, the blood, the mud, the heat, the cold, the guns, the firepower, the suffering, the language, the legends, the folklore, the jungle, the sweltering city, the hills, the highlands, the drugs and the drinking, the napalm, the bomber strikes, the sheer destructive force unloaded on the country on an industrial scale by America, and the helicopters, especially the helicopters, used like taxis by Herr, helicopters loaded with grunts alive, dead and wounded, loaded with gear, helicopters with door gunners hanging off them emptying their guns into the countryside, helicopters landing on huge airstrips or tiny jungle clearings. Mechanised carnage everywhere to a background beat of rock music. And the publishers think they can remove the glamour? The photographer laughs at the idea, hysterically.

Glamour is an uneasy word to describe war, but it's as good, or as useless, as any other. Horror, fear, anger, sex, death, humanity, inhumanity, resentment and bewilderment, all are encountered and none do the war, or the book, justice. Herr has. What Herr has written is a book that is compelling in its narrative as it is repellant in what it is describing.

Herr was a journalist in Vietnam during the war. Different to the others, he worked for Esquire magazine and while other journalists filed against deadline for Stateside dailies or weekly magazines, he had a much more relaxed remit, only needing to turn in articles when he considers it necessary, in reality researching this book. He had time to think, time to reflect, time to really see and then time to write it all down. But by no means a relaxed time. He rode in choppers with dead and mutilated corpses, he came under fire in ambushes, he was shelled and bombed and had to down fistfuls of pills and glasses of hard liquor to get to sleep in his hotel room in Saigon. All this because the story was where the grunts were, in the jungles and highlands of the country, not in an air conditioned press briefing room in Saigon. The stories of the grunts, by turns noble, scared or crazy, are riveting, as are the stories of the reporters themselves, who are mostly scared or crazy, or both.

It's hard to describe the book without gushing superlatives. Briefly, it can be summed up as an account of Herr's time in Vietnam alongside the grunts and reporters who fought and reported the fighting there. It can also be described as the sort of book that will inform the way in which you view war and combat, and the men who fought in that war in particular. It is, simply, essential reading and unless you were actually there, you should not be allowed to have, never mind give, an opinion about the American war in Vietnam until you have read it.

Herr is arguably at his best when he is describing, in a single paragraph in a burst of prose, a single event. Because his prose can be poetic and this makes what is described, this is a war after all, all the worse.

For a book that raises the seemingly unthinkable notion of the glamour of war, this is not a book that glamourises the Vietnam war. The reader will not snap the thing closed after reading, write 'Hell sucks' on the back of their jacket and sit among the ferns of their back garden muttering about the 'Cong'. Rather, it gives an appreciation of the incredible bravery of the fighting man and the intensity of modern combat in a war where industry ground away against ideology, with the grunts and the Vietnamese caught in the middle. ( )
  macnabbs | Jul 27, 2012 |
Very Burroughs-esque. A taught, rambling, disjointed, gritty correspondent's account of the Vietnam experiences with special emphasis on Tet and Khe San. Herr co-wrote the screenplays in "Apocolypse Now" and "Full Metal Jacket". Soldiers from this memoir clearly ended up in those movies. ( )
  Sandydog1 | Jan 23, 2011 |
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There was a map of Vietnam on the wall of my apartment in Saigon and some nights, coming back late to the city, I'd lie out on my bed and look at it, too tired to do anything more than just get my boots off.
Quotations
Bob Stokes of Newsweek told me this: In the big Marine hospital in Danang they have what is called the "White Lie Ward," where they bring some of the worst cases, the ones who can be saved but will never be the same again. A young Marine was carried in, still unconscious and full of morphine, and his legs were gone. As he was being carried into the ward, he came out of it briefly and saw a Catholic chaplain standing over him.

"Father," he said, "am I all right?"

The chaplain didn't know what to say. "You'll have to talk about that with the doctors, son."

"Father, are my legs okay?"

"Yes," the chaplain said, "Sure."

By the next afternoon the shock had worn off and the boy knew all about it. He was lying on his cot when the chaplain came by.

"Father," the Marine said, "I'd like to ask you for something."

"What, son?"

"I'd like to have that cross." And he pointed to the tiny silver insignia on the chaplain's lapel.

"Of course," the chaplain said. "But why?"

"Well, it was the first thing I saw when I came to yesterday, and I'd like to have it."

The chaplain removed the cross and handed it to him. The Marine held it tightly in his fist and looked at the chaplain.

"You lied to me, Father," he said. "You cocksucker. You lied to me."
...what a story he told me, as one-pointed as resonant as any war story I ever heard; It took me a year to understand it:

"Patrol went up the mountain. One man came back. He died before he could tell us what happened."

I waited for the rest, but it seemed not to be that kind of story; when I asked him what happened he just looked like he felt sorry for me, fucked if he'd waste time telling stories to anyone as dumb as I was.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679735259, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:36 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A documentation of the day-to-day realities of the war in Vietnam experienced by men on patrol, under siege at Khe Sanh, strapped into helicopters, and faced with continuing nightmares after their return to the United States.

(summary from another edition)

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