Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327

Dispatches is a 1977 historical, biographical book written by American writer and correspondent Michael Herr. It depicts the author’s experiences in the Vietnam War, alongside journalists Sean Flynn, Dana Stone, Dale Dye, and Tim Page. Herr was a war correspondent for Esquire magazine for two years, starting from late 1967 to the Tet Offensive, and wrote about the most intense moments of the war. Thus, the book is considered to be a part of the New Journalism genre as well. However, Herr stated that Dispatches shouldn’t be regarded as a journalistic piece, as some of the characters and events that he mentions in the book are entirely fictional.

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Herr manages to accurately portray the fear, chaos, terror, and madness that almost every soldier has felt in the combat zone and writes about the anxiety, weakness and vulnerability people can feel when they’re stripped down to their most bare essentials, fighting for survival. He notes how the war can change a person and turn them into something they never thought they could become. Occasionally, he mentions how the soldiers would try to find entertainment in various things and resort to dark humor, just so they could forget for a moment that they are actively participating in a war. However, when it comes to choosing between life and death, even the purest and kindest of souls can be consumed by revenge, cruelty, and blood thirst.

The book was published to great critical acclaim and commercial success, and Herr was praised for his raw, transcendent, and revelatory narrative, as well as his vivid and authentic imagery. Some readers, however, have stated that they find the book to be a bit too dark and graphic. Nonetheless, Dispatches remains to be one of the first books in American literature that describes the lives and the experiences of the American soldiers in the Vietnam War, with some critics branding it the best and most compassionate account of the Vietnam War to date.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 908

In 1967 Michael Herr, a young journalist with Esquire magazine, traveled on assignment to Vietnam. Although realizing the benefits of not needing to file a daily or weekly press release as many of his colleagues were required to do, Herr found that the complexities of the war in Southeast Asia consumed him, both mentally and emotionally. He was unprepared for the extent of his involvement and openly admits this early in the narrative. In a voice that expresses his awe, he intones: “Talk . . . about irony: I went to cover the war and the war covered me.”

Despite the initial difficulty in assimilating these experiences, Herr managed ultimately to understand and communicate them, at first in articles in Esquire, Rolling Stone, and New American Review and, later, in New York magazine and Crawdaddy. Greatly revised, these articles form the core of the narrative that was to appear ten years later as Dispatches. In the tradition of Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, and Ernie Pyle, Herr captures the essence of the American soldier’s experiences in combat. Yet he also goes beyond these earlier writers; by employing the genre of New Journalism, Herr reveals himself by depicting “the way it was” (to borrow a phrase from Hemingway) for the soldiers and by exploring the history of the war and his own reaction to these experiences. Herr summed up the uniqueness of this genre when he noted in a 1979 interview that he considered himself “a writer, not a journalist.”

In focusing most directly on the soldiers, Herr attains an immediacy—yet a formlessness—that reflects his initial perception of the war. Vignettes of varying length permeate the narrative. The shortest consists of two lines: “Patrol went up the mountain. One man came back. He died before he...

(The entire section contains 3272 words.)

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