Dispatches Summary

Michael Herr


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Dispatches Summary

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Dispatches is a war memoir comprised of author Michael Herr’s correspondence for the Vietnam War. When he was in his late twenties, Herr accepted a position with Esquire Magazine to report on the Vietnam War, thus providing all of the heartbreaking, yet sometimes comical, material found in this narrative. Specifically, Herr covered two major operations during the war, the siege of Khe Sahn and the recapturing of Vietnam’s old capital, Hue. He also covered various field operations in addition to the major offensives.

Herr’s narrative is quick to point out that, despite the seeming humor and detailed reporting he provides, there was really no place considered safe while he was stationed in Vietnam. As such, he preferred working on the ground with the Marines, as opposed to working at a supposedly safe, and definitely more boring, job in the capitol of Saigon. At least with the Marines he had stories to relate and operations to report on honestly, as opposed to dodging enemy mortar during night attacks or random bombings back in the capitol.

Herr’s reporting covers both the Tet Offensive, which is considered the height of the Vietnam War, and the siege of Khe Sahn, which took place just before the Offensive. Herr actually arrived to Khe Sahn via helicopter, and spent his time there interviewing Marines on the front line. He met two of these Marines, known as Day Tripper and Mayhew, and shared lodging with them. Through his correspondence, Herr detailed how the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) surrounded the Marine base, digging trenches up to the barbed wire in preparation for a large assault, though the NVA eventually retreated after some time due to heavy air fire.

The recounting is filled with genuine stories of the soldiers who put their lives on the line. Herr makes sure to tell all aspects of these soldiers’ lives, from the deeply humorous to the downright heartbreaking. He also touches on the larger issues concerning the war, such as political motivations and reasoning. Herr’s narrative often stands out in that he does not shy away from highlighting the role of the Marines, who other correspondents thought unworthy of garnering much attention.

In addition to Herr’s focus on the Marines and their lives of sacrifice, as well as the overall political reasons for the Vietnam War—at least those ideals espoused by higher-ups—Herr also includes reports from other correspondents, including a British reporter named Page who was severely injured due to shrapnel. Herr also details his own experience while reporting during the Vietnam War, thus adding an even deeper feel to the narrative, and making it accountable to the reality of war from a variety of angles and lenses.

Though there are many accounts of the Vietnam War, Herr’s account is refreshing in its honesty. He does not rest his gaze on one single subject and report from this viewpoint. He does not take the “easy way” by remaining in Saigon and reporting from the relative comfort of the capitol. Instead, Herr allows himself to engage in the thick of things, going to warzones and reporting on a country devastated by war.

His gaze falls on the drastic events happening around him just as much as they focus on the drastic changes that are happening within the soldiers, not to mention Herr himself. As such, examples of legal and illicit drug use, of rock-and-roll as a gateway to freedom and liberation from the harrowing effects of war, are also reported on. At its core, Dispatches shows just how strong the human drive for survival can be, how important it is to give voice to others, and how important it is to listen to each and every voice in an effort to bring peace, and to stem the effects of war and strife.