Posts Tagged ‘Michael Herr’

Hell sucks

June 25, 2016
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.

Illumination rounds

May 23, 2016
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.”

Once we fanned over a little ville that had just been airstruck and the words of a song by Wingy Manone that I’d heard when I was a few years old snapped into my head, “Stop the War, These Cats Is Killing Themselves.” Then we dropped, hovered, settled down into purple lz smoke, dozens of children broke from their hootches to run in toward the focus of our landing, the pilot laughing and saying, “Vietnam, man. Bomb ’em and feed ’em, bomb ’em and feed ’em.”

That quote from Michael Herr’s “Dispatches” just snapped into my head as I read this New York Times piece about the prez authorizing the sale of “lethal military equipment” to Vietnam.

Pretty much describes our entire foreign policy, doesn’t it?

Bomb ’em and feed ’em; bomb ’em and feed ’em.

The summer grasses remain

November 12, 2013

I neglected to post something yesterday about Veterans Day, thinking I didn’t have anything fresh to say, and finding the outpouring of social-media thank-yous to the military slightly irksome. I never served, but if I had, I expect I might not enjoy being pandered to any better than I would being ignored.

Like Charles P. Pierce, when I was a squirt I didn’t know anyone whose father was not a veteran. Since the old man was career Air Force, we mostly knew the kids of Blue Zoomies, but in the course of affairs we would meet others; sons and daughters of soldiers, sailors, Marines.

dad2We’d hear the tales secondhand (none of the dads I knew bragged to kids about his service, so the kids bragged for them). This one was at Omaha Beach, that one at the Battle of the Bulge; this one got shot down in a B-29 after bombing Tokyo, that one flew unarmed Gooney Birds out of New Guinea.

It all sounded really cool, especially while consuming a steady diet of war movies at the base theater, like “The Longest Day,” “The Dirty Dozen,” or “PT 109.” And then we got a little older, and a little smarter, and we came to realize that going to war involved a strong probability of getting one’s arse shot off.

We realized that we never got to hear kids tell about their dads who didn’t make it back, because those kids died unborn with their would-be fathers, figments of an unrealized imagination. And we didn’t get to hear about the men who returned from war damaged in body, mind or spirit, or meet them; not until our own war, Vietnam, came along.

Books like “All Quiet on the Western Front” took on new meaning. And there were others, like “Dispatches,” by Michael Herr; “A Rumor of War,” by Philip Caputo; and “Everything We Had,” by Al Santoli.

In “Narrow Road to the Interior,” Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō (1644-94), following a visit to the ruins of Yasushira — and riffing off a line from the Chinese master Tu Fu about how war had left “the whole country devastated,” a place where “only mountains and rivers remain” — wrote:

Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

In “The Poetry of Zen,” co-author Sam Hamill calls this poem “a brilliant indictment of the stupidity and cruelty of war,” one that reminds us how little we have learned over the millennia. How does one say “Thank you for your service” to the grass?

By seeing to it that subsequent generations get to spend as much time as is humanly possible enjoying the sunny side of it, I suppose.

Peace to those to served, and especially to those who never came home.