Dispatches

BY ANDREW MOODY

Michael Herr used his memoir and experiences as a war reporter to write the narration for Martin Sheen in Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now and co-wrote Kubrick’s most enduring film Full Metal Jacket with another Vietnam writer, Gustav Hasford, whose The Short Timers inspired the boot camp sequence. Herr said of Kubrick that had he not been a film director, he would have been “a revolutionary war general”.

Kind words, but Guardian journalist Ed Vulliamy wrote “Every writer who has tried his hand at war journalism would go and meet Michael Herr rather like a student of the cello would approach Mstislav Rostropovitch.”

Men on the copter crews would say that once you’d carried a dead person he would always be there, riding with you. Like all combat people they were incredibly superstitious and invariably self dramatic, but it was (I knew) unbearably true and close exposure to the dead sensitized you to the force of their presence and made for long reverberations; long. Some people were so delicate that one look was enough to wipe them away, but even bone dumb grunts seemed to feel that something weird and extra was happening to them.

Invariably a sixties book, it keeps the vernacular of the hip cat summer of love but describes its polar opposite, a trip in and out of hell, a summer of death.

People would just get ripped up in the worst ways there, and things were always on fire.

As a war correspondent Herr describes how he rarely carried a weapon, relying on his platoon to save him as he wrote endless propaganda and was exposed to more and more war insanity, questioning himself and the morality of the war in the brief moments the dull, ever present terror passed.

Kevin Powers, a writer and gulf war veteran, wrote that a familial connection with Phillip Morris meant he had access to far more quality cigarettes than were common in Iraq. He traded four packs of Marlboro for a battered copy of Dispatches.

“So how is it?” he asked of the book.

“It’s pretty fucking weird, Bro,” the soldier replied.

Time magazine wrote “Some stories must be told-not because they will delight and instruct but because they happened.”

The five o clock follies (the unofficial name for the military press briefings) that Herr was obliged to attend are carefully and exasperatingly described:

That night I listened while a colonel explained the war in terms of protein. We were a nation of high protein, meat eating hunters, while the other guys just ate rice and a few grungy fish heads. We were going to club him to death with our meat; what could you say except, ‘Colonel you’re insane?”

Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @Voguishfiction

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