Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 311

Dispatches is a critically-acclaimed nonfiction, journalistic book by American writer and reporter Michael Herr. The book is comprised of extended articles Michael Herr wrote for Esquire magazine as a war correspondent during the Vietnam War. The book is regarded as one of the earliest examples of New Journalism, or creative nonfiction, in which journalism reportage is mixed with the creative prose of fiction.

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The most prominent theme in the book is the firsthand experiences of Herr during his correspondent work for Esquire, which gives the readers an intimate account of the American operations in Southeast Asia. The writer was on the front lines with American troops and documented not only the actual events of warfare, but the sentiments of the soldiers he interviewed and observed.

The other major theme of the book is the psychological effects of war on the American soldiers—many of whom were young and had not seen combat prior to the Vietnam War—and how their viewpoints of the war differed from what the mass media showed to American citizens back in the United States. Whilst the Vietnam War differed from the past wars the United States participated in, in terms of national support, the images and ideas citizens received from mainstream media were still "filtered" to make the American involvement seem justified. During World War II, the United States government was able to present a clear antagonist or enemy with Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the genocide program against the Jewish and Polish people. However, the Vietnam War received criticism from anti-war activists, certain politicians, and the general public. Herr's book further showed the ugliness and futility of the Vietnam War to the public that was not seen before. The prose style of Dispatches would go on to influence the war reportage techniques of future war correspondents, and set the foundation for New Journalism practitioners.

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