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Dispatches by Michael Herr
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Dispatches (1977)

by Michael Herr

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,626443,778 (4.17)118
One of the greatest examples of war journalism ever written, Michael Herr's clearheaded yet unsparing retellings of the day-to-day events in Vietnam take on the force of poetry, finding clarity in one of the most incomprehensible events in our modern era. A National Book Critics Circle finalist and highly acclaimed upon its publication, Dispatches still retains its resonance as America finds itself amidst another military quagmire.… (more)
  1. 10
    Chickenhawk by Robert Mason (Peter4444, chrisharpe)
    Peter4444: The autobigraphical recount of a young man who flew UH-1 Iiroquois helicopters in Viet Nam. He flew personnel rather than gun ships, but his take on what Viet Nam came to mean for him and how he ended up back in civilian life are a must-read, as well as the sequel "Chickenhawk: Back In The World"… (more)
  2. 10
    In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War by Tobias Wolff (kraaivrouw)
  3. 10
    In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien (hazzabamboo)
    hazzabamboo: Dispatches was the central source for the film Apocalypse Now. It's non-fiction, but it conveys the hallucinatory horror of the Vietnam War in the same way as O'Brien's novel.
  4. 00
    Teaching Hearts and Minds: Colege Students Reflect on the Vietnam War by Barry M. Kroll (villemezbrown)
    villemezbrown: One of the books discussed in the text.
  5. 00
    The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn (gust)
  6. 00
    Naples '44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth by Norman Lewis (gust)
  7. 00
    Territorio comanche by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (chrisharpe)
  8. 01
    Supernotes: het waargebeurde verhaal van de CIA-spion die ineens op de dodenlijst stond by Agent Kasper, (Luchtpint)
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» See also 118 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
This is a tremendous book. It reminded me of All Quiet on the Western Front in terms of its emotional impact, but was probably even a bit stronger.
To me, its strength is in its capacity to see and discuss the emotional impact of war and senseless slaughter on the otherwise good, gentle young men who would ordinarily never have done such things.
There are many books about war written by historians, journalists and others, but few written with the authentic gut wrenching pain that can only come from someone who has been there.
Both the Vietnam War with its 58,000 dead American casualties and WW I were senseless stupidities entered into not for the good of the country, but for the good of the “military industrial complex” described by Eisenhower.
This books mentions US bombers dropping 120,000,000 pounds of explosives on a small area in one week and accomplishing nothing militarily important except reinforcing the resolve of the “enemy” to expel us from THEIR country. How much money did the “defense” contractors make on 120,000,000 pounds of explosives? Why is life so cheap? ( )
  Paul-the-well-read | Apr 21, 2020 |
This is a tremendous book. It reminded me of All Quiet on the Western Front in terms of its emotional impact, but was probably even a bit stronger.
To me, its strength is in its capacity to see and discuss the emotional impact of war and senseless slaughter on the otherwise good, gentle young men who would ordinarily never have done such things.
There are many books about war written by historians, journalists and others, but few written with the authentic gut wrenching pain that can only come from someone who has been there.
Both the Vietnam War with its 58,000 dead American casualties and WW I were senseless stupidities entered into not for the good of the country, but for the good of the “military industrial complex” described by Eisenhower.
This books mentions US bombers dropping 120,000,000 pounds of explosives on a small area in one week and accomplishing nothing militarily important except reinforcing the resolve of the “enemy” to expel us from THEIR country. How much money did the “defense” contractors make on 120,000,000 pounds of explosives? Why is life so cheap? ( )
  Paul-the-well-read | Apr 21, 2020 |
Because Herr and Gus Hasford both contributed to the scripting of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, their two works on the Vietnam War, Hasford's The Short-Timers and Herr's Dispatches, will always be linked and compared. And there are a great many similarities, although Hasford's novel is fiction and and Herr's an imaginative example of New Journalism. Both books, for example, track the story of war correspondents from Hue to Khe Sanh in 1968. And both writers experiment with the formal nature of their works, Hasford's prose poem and Herr's poetry-filled recreation of the turning point of the war, Tet in 1968.

But there is a significant difference. As a work of fiction, The Short-Timers erases the boundary between the reader and the subject. The essence of all becomes reflected in the point of view of Hasford's Joker. Herr never does that. He comes so very close to it but never makes the final leap. The journalist always remains there, a thin film, sometimes just a vapor, separating readers from the war, from the dead, the dying, the living-dying. It's a club whose membership requirements are all too strict for a mere reader to attain. And sometimes we need the distance in order to take it all in, in order to keep from being trapped in Hasford's "world of shit."

The sections on the battles for Hue and Khe Sanh are some of the best journalism ever written on those major turning points in the (perception) of the war. But the best section is that which deals with Herr's colleagues, his fellow journalists and war photographers. And of those, three stick out. The descriptions of Sean Flynn, Dana Stone, and Tim Page are haunting. Literally. For Flynn, the son of Hollywood movie star Errol Flynn, along with Stone, simply disappeared one day while motorcycling Phnom Penh in Cambodia back to Saigon in 1970. Fellow photojournalist Tim Page, Flynn's close friend, has since made it something of a lifelong mission to discover their fate. As late as 2010, Page was still chasing their ghosts. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
Chaotic scenes for pages on end, hard to digest. Probably the purest, most honest way of writing about war. There are film that achieve this even better, but the part about the correspondents' role and position in this war is brilliant and covers all the controversies including Herr's own doubts about what to write.
  Kindlegohome | Mar 7, 2020 |
The writing did not work for me. Too impressionistic, with too few specific details or actual elaborated stories. The constant generalities and second-person narration made the book feel nebulous instead of arrestingly concrete. Herr is obviously passionate, but I think there are better Vietnam memoirs. ( )
  breic | Jul 14, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
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For my mother and father
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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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