It is significant that Dispatches should end with a reference to writing, for it is as a writer that Herr defines himself and, ultimately, how he makes sense of his experiences in the war. Although his final words in the narrative are “Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam, we’ve all been there,” he knows that this is not literally true, and his book becomes an avenue for his readers into the complexities of those experiences. Rather than preaching a series of moralistic lessons, however, Herr simply serves as a storyteller, allowing the reader to make his own discoveries. Herr is, in this manner, fulfilling his obligations as a writer.
Herr’s foremost commitment is to the soldiers, to those whom he observes, about whom he hears, and with whom he interacts. At one extreme are those with whom he has little rapport. The reactions of these soldiers range from simple indifference to contempt, dogmatic disdain (a predictable reaction from those public affairs officers assigned to work with the press corps), and pure hatred (Krynski, a hardened marine, reacts this way when he realizes that Herr, a writer, has volunteered to risk his life for a story). Yet even when Herr’s initial response is to reciprocate these feelings, he comes to realize that his duty as a writer is to tell these soldiers’ stories. Whether overtly articulated as a demand or a passionate plea (“You tell it man. If you don’t tell it . . .”), Herr knows his obligations:And always,...
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