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(114,904 posts)
Sun Jun 26, 2016, 08:37 AM Jun 2016

Michael Herr, author of Dispatches has died. Vietnam era author changed how we view war

This book had a big impact on me and on millions of others. RIP, and thanks Michael.

No one had a greater effect on how the Vietnam War has been processed in our popular consciousness than Michael Herr, best known as the writer of the book Dispatches and contributor to the screenplays of Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, who died near his home in upstate New York this past Friday. He was 76.

When you go to war, as Herr did, you naturally imagine the possibility of your own death. I’ve thought about mine before, not in a grand way, but just as a sort of curiosity: What cemetery (Arlington National Cemetery, or a local place)? What headstone (standard white granite, or marble)? What internment ceremony (military honors, or nothing at all)? And I wonder if during his years covering Vietnam, and later when he wrote about it, if Herr gave much thought to questions of how he would be memorialized, if at all.

Herr took a circuitous route to his war. He attended Syracuse University—among his classmates was Joyce Carol Oates—and then dropped out to pursue a writing career and to vagabond through Europe like his idol Ernest Hemingway. He picked up some publishing credentials—New Leader and Holiday magazines—and then struck a deal with Harold Hayes, then the editor of Esquire, to write a monthly column from Vietnam. Herr stayed for eighteen months, embedding with U.S. troops before anyone knew what an embed was, and returning to write Dispatches while simultaneously suffering an emotional collapse.

The book was an instant success. Fame followed and, eventually, Herr turned his back to escape it, relocating to England for many years. Yet, his influence on our modern conception of war is inescapable. Decades after he finished writing on Vietnam, an entire generation marched off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan with images from his books and the two films to which he contributed flickering in their heads, snatches of his dialogue trigger-ready on their tongues.



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Michael Herr, author of Dispatches has died. Vietnam era author changed how we view war (Original Post) cali Jun 2016 OP
Esquire reposted one of his pieces for them a couple days ago. bluedigger Jun 2016 #1
thanks very much for that, bluedigger. cali Jun 2016 #2


(17,084 posts)
1. Esquire reposted one of his pieces for them a couple days ago.
Sun Jun 26, 2016, 09:44 AM
Jun 2016
Hell Sucks

A defining story of the Vietnam war.​


There is a map of Vietnam on the wall of my apartment in Saigon, and some nights, coming back late to the city, I'll lie out on my bed and look at it, too tired to do anything more than just get my boots off. The map is a marvel, especially absorbing because it is not real. For one thing, it is very old. It was left here years ago by a previous tenant, probably a Frenchman since the map was made in Paris. The paper has buckled, and much of the color has gone out of it, laying a kind of veil over the countries it depicts. Vietnam is divided into its older territories of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China, and to the west, past Laos and Cambodge, sits Siam, a kingdom. That's old, I told the General. That's a really old map.

The General is drawn to it too, and whenever he stops by for a drink he'll regard it silently, undoubtedly noting inaccuracies which the maps available to him have corrected. The waters that wash around my Indochine are a placid, Disney blue, unlike the intense, metallic blues of the General's maps. But all of that aside, we both agree to the obsolescence of my map, to the final unreality of it. We know that for years now, there has been no country here but the war. The landscape has been converted to terrain, the geography broken down into its more useful components; corps and zones, tactical areas of responsibility, vicinities of operation, outposts, positions, objectives, fields of fire. The weather of Vietnam has been translated into conditions, and it's gone very much the same way with the people, the population, many of whom can't realize that there is an alternative to war because war is all they have ever known. Bad luck for them, the General says. As well as he knows them (and he knows them well), he seldom talks about them except to praise "their complexity, their sophistication, their survivability." Endearing traits.

Everyone is terribly sorry about what the war is doing to Vietnam and the Vietnamese, especially since the cities have been brought into it, although somehow most of the official expressions of grief have about them that taint of Presidential sorrow, turning a little grinny around the edges. The Tet Offensive changed everything here, made this an entirely different war, made it Something Else. ("Nonsense," a colonel told me. "We're just doing the same things in the cities that we've done in the boonies, why … for years!" He was not the same man who said, "We had to destroy Bentre in order to save it," but he might have been. He'd be hip to that.) Before Tet, there was some clean touch to jungle encounters, some virtue to their brevity, always the promise of quick release from whatever horror there was. The war went on in bursts, meeting engagements; and covering it—particularly in the Highlands and the Delta, II Corps and IV Corps—you were always a tourist, a tripper who could summon up helicopters like taxis. You would taxi in, the war would break over you suddenly and then go away, and you would taxi out. Enough chances were taken to leave you exhilarated, and, except for the hangovers that any cheap thrill will give you, it was pleasant enough. Now, it is awful, just plain awful, awful without relief. (A friend on The New York Times told me that he didn't mind his nightmares so much as his waking impulse to file on them.) It has finally become that kind of conventional war that the Command so longed for, and it is not going well. And for every month that it continues not going well, the scope of its destruction is enlarged. We are not really a particularly brutal people, certainly no more brutal now than we've been in other wars, acquiring it as the war goes on. But our machine is devastating. And versatile. It can do almost everything but stop.




(114,904 posts)
2. thanks very much for that, bluedigger.
Sun Jun 26, 2016, 10:20 AM
Jun 2016

He was an amazing wordsmith and his contribution was enormous.

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