Hell sucks

You may never have read "Dispatches" by Michael Herr, but chances are you've shared some of his experiences at the cinema, in "Platoon," "Apocalpyse Now" or "Full Metal Jacket."

You may never have read “Dispatches” by Michael Herr, but chances are you’ve shared some of his experiences at the cinema, in “Platoon,” “Apocalpyse Now” or “Full Metal Jacket.”

Michael Herr deserves his own post, if only for “Dispatches,” a work I’ve mentioned here before.

He went to Vietnam for Esquire, not for Uncle Sam, and he had to have a breakdown before he finished the book for which he would be best known.

If you saw “Apocalypse Now,” you’ve heard his work (he wrote the narration). You got some more of it in “Full Metal Jacket” (he wrote the screenplay with Gustav Hasford, author of “The Short-Timers,” for his friend Stanley Kubrick).

But “Dispatches” was the real deal. Seventies reportage from the scene, slightly fictionalized, deeply admired, by the king of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, and by me, too.

Rest in peace, Mr. Herr.

Extra-credit reading

“Hell Sucks,” which became part of “Dispatches,” reprinted in its entirety at Esquire.

“Breathing In,” also from “Dispatches,” excerpted by NPR.

• Herr’s New York Times obit.

A remembrance by Graydon Carter.

A 2000 interview in The Guardian by fellow war correspondent Ed Vulliamy.

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8 Responses to “Hell sucks”

  1. Jay Fromkin Says:

    Read Dispatches in late ’70s. Kept me riveted during a long flight from London to Chicago.

  2. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Seems he took a look into the “Heart of Darkness.” Very few want a second look.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      For real. He bought the ticket and took the ride. Lost friends, colleagues and the occasional interview subject.

      At one point (at least once, maybe more) he switched from observer to participant, using a borrowed weapon to help provide cover for a reaction team trying to get back inside the perimeter at Can Tho.

      In “Colleagues,” he wrote:

      “If you went out often, just as surely as you’d eventually find yourself in a position where survival etiquette insisted that you take a weapon (‘You know how this thang works ‘n’ airthang?’ a young sergeant had to ask me once, and I’d had to nod as he threw it to me and said, ‘Then git some!’, the American banzai), it was unavoidable that you’d find yourself almost getting killed.”

      Remind me not to complain about having to cover Interbike this fall.

  3. Hurben Says:

    Got my copy of Dispatches, wonderful piece of journalism. Also got ‘An Unpopular war’ & ‘At thy call’ which covers the South African bush war which pretty much covers my participation & took my youth

  4. JD Dallager Says:

    The journalistic Fourth Estate often serves a wonderful purpose…..fortunately it doesn’t, to my limited and inexperienced knowledge, have to dance to “sweeps” months, 12 second sound bites, etc., like the visual media, for its (financial) support.

    Best to all and especially Michael Herr.

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