Authors: Michael Herr
Tags: #History, #Military, #Vietnam War
“The best book to have been written about the Vietnam War.”
The New York Times Book Review
, it is difficult to convey the impact of total experience as all the facades of patriotism, heroism and the whole colossal fraud of American intervention fall away to the bare bones of fear, war and death.”
–William S. Burroughs
“Tough, profane, relentless … elegant.”
“Herr … hurls one into his experience, insists an uninitiated reader be comforted with no politics, no certain morality, no clear outline of history.”
The New York Review of Books
The New York Times
“Some stories must be told—not because they will delight and instruct but because they happened.”
“Splendid … He brings alive the terror of combat in a way that rivals
All Quiet on the Western Front
Michael Herr is the author of
The Big Room
, and coauthor of the screenplays for
Full Metal Jacket
Also by Michael Herr
The Big Room
(with Guy Peellaert)
First Vintage International Edition, August 1991
Copyright © 1968, 1969, 1970, 1977 by Michael Herr
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1977.
Portions of this book were originally published in
New American Review #7, Esquire
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dispatches / Michael Herr.
Reprint. Originally published: New York : Knopf, 1977.
1. Vietnamese Conflict, 1961–1975–Personal narratives, American.
2. Herr, Michael. I. Title.
Author photograph © Don McCullin
For my mother and father
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published song lyrics:
ABKCO Music, Inc.: Specified eleven words from the song “2000 Light Years From Home” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard (
). Copyright © 1967 by ABKCO Music, Inc. Also, specified seven words form the song “Citadel” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard (
). Copyright © 1967 by ABKCO Music, Inc. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Reprinted by permission.
Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.: Specified twenty words from the song “Lil’ Red Riding Hood” by Ronald Blackwell (
). Copyright © 1966 by Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 65 Music Square West, Nashville, Tennessee 37013. All Rights Reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission of the publisher.
American Broadcasting Music, Inc.: Specified two lines of lyrics from the song “San Francisco (Be Sure And Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)” by John Phillips (
). Copyright © 1967 by American Broadcasting Music, Inc., and Honest John Music. Used by permission only. All Rights Reserved.
Specified ten words from the song “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl” by Sonny Boy Williamson (
). Copyright © 1964 by Arc Music Corp. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Cotillion Music, Inc.: Specified seven words from the song “The Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells (
). Copyright © 1968 by Cotillion Music, Inc., and Orellia Publishing Co. Also, specified seven lines from the song “For What It’s Worth” by Stephen Stills (
). Copyright © 1966 by Cotillion Music, Inc., Springalo Toones and Ten-East Music. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Don Williams Music Group: Specified line of lyrics from the song “Foxy Lady” by Jimi Hendrix (
). Copyright © 1967 by Bella Godiva Music, Worldwide Administration Don Williams Music Group. Used by permission.
Dwarf Music: Specified two lines of lyrics from the song “Visions of Johanna” by Bob Dylan (
). Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
EMI April Music, Inc.: Specified twenty words from the song “Magical Mystery Tour” by John Lennon and Raul McCartney (
). Copyright © 1967 by Northern Songs Limited. Rights for the U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico, controlled by EMI April Music, Inc. under license from ATV Music (Comet). All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Frank Zappa Music, Inc.: Specified six lines of lyrics from the song “Trouble Comin’ Every Day” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (
). Copyright © 1965 by Frank Zappa Music, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Jobete Music Co., Inc.: Specified eight words from the song “Galveston” by Jimmy Webb (
). Copyright © 1968 by Jobete Music Co., Inc. Also, specified ten words from the song “Shotgun” by Autry Dewalt (
). Copyright © 1965 by Jobete Music Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Painted Desert Music Corporation: Specified two lines of lyrics from the song “Ring of Fire” by June Carter and Merle Kilgore (
). Copyright © 1962, 1963 by Painted Desert Music Corporation. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Robert Mellin Music Publishing Corp. : Specified eight words from the song “Black Is Black” by Los Bravos (
). Copyright © 1965 by Robert Mellin Music Publishing Corp.
Screen Gems–EMI Music, Inc.: Specified fifteen words from the song “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” words and music by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (
). Copyright © 1965 by Screen Gems-EMI Music, Inc. Also, specified ten words from the song “Hungry,” words and music by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (
). Copyright © 1966 by Screen Gems-EMI Music, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
There was a map of Vietnam on the wall of my apartment in Saigon and some nights, coming back late to the city, I’d lie out on my bed and look at it, too tired to do anything more than just get my boots off. That map was a marvel, especially now that it wasn’t real anymore. For one thing, it was very old. It had been left there years before by another tenant, probably a Frenchman, since the map had been made in Paris. The paper had buckled in its frame after years in the wet Saigon heat, laying a kind of veil over the countries it depicted. Vietnam was divided into its older territories of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China, and to the west past Laos and Cambodge sat Siam, a kingdom. That’s old, I’d tell visitors, that’s a really old map
If dead ground could come back and haunt you the way dead people do, they’d have been able to mark my map
and burn the ones they’d been using since ’64, but count on it, nothing like that was going to happen. It was late ’67 now, even the most detailed maps didn’t reveal much anymore; reading them was like trying to read the faces of the Vietnamese, and that was like trying to read the wind. We knew that the uses of most information were flexible, different pieces of ground told different stories to different people. We also knew that for years now there had been no country here but the war
The Mission was always telling us about VC units being engaged and wiped out and then reappearing a month later in full strength, there was nothing very spooky about that, but when we went up against his terrain we usually took it definitively, and even if we didn’t keep it you could always see that we’d at least been there. At the end of my first week in-country I met an information officer in the headquarters of the 25th Division at Cu Chi who showed me on his map and then from his chopper what they’d done to the Ho Bo Woods, the vanished Ho Bo Woods, taken off by giant Rome plows and chemicals and long, slow fire, wasting hundreds of acres of cultivated plantation and wild forest alike, “denying the enemy valuable resources and cover.”
It had been part of his job for nearly a year now to tell people about that operation; correspondents, touring congressmen, movie stars, corporation presidents, staff officers from half the armies in the world, and he still couldn’t get over it. It seemed to be keeping him young, his enthusiasm made you feel that even the letters he wrote home to his wife were full of it, it really showed what you could do if you had the know-how and the hardware. And if in the months following that operation incidences of enemy activity in the larger area of War Zone C had increased “significantly,” and American losses had doubled and then doubled again, none of it was happening in any damn Ho Bo Woods, you’d better believe it