War Offices, by Michael Herr | Review

War Dispatches Review

“Some journalists spoke of operations without a possible story, without the possibility of reporting. I didn't know any […] Those who said that were the same journalists who asked us why the hell we always talked to the soldiers...»

War dispatches requires the use of the first person and all the me, me, me that Herr wants because, far from being a compendium of war reports and operations, the book is the solid testimony of one of the few human beings who ended up in that hell without being forced to do so. And, on top of that, a human being who wrote fabulous (passed away 2016).

The human and innocent vision of a reporter who does not "reach the skin to the bones" of the scared. Someone who gets caught whispering "I'm not ready for this, I'm not ready for this" when they think they see a light moving in the jungle at night. Someone for whom everything he sees is new. And he tells it.

The structure is chaotic and very quickly mixes different geographical and temporal situations. The pacing somewhat seems to resemble Herr's own experience, who says that it took him "a month to lose that feeling of being a spectator of something that was part game and part spectacle."

As the pages progress, the confessions about his state of mind, his fears, and his depressions subtly give way to the day-to-day story of the soldiers, authentic protagonists ("I had just missed the greatest battle of the war until then, he was telling me he was sorry, but that battle was right there, all around me, and I didn't even know it").

Journalistic report without adjectives

Herr is only allowed adjectives when they refer to him and only him. The soldiers only participate in the form of descriptions of what they do and dialogues:

—Tonight there will be trouble, for sure, don't separate from me. It'll be lucky Mayhew doesn't take you for a Zip and blow your brains out. There are times when he gets really crazy.
"Do you think they will attack?"
"Maybe they'll do a trial run." They put that number on us three nights ago and they killed a boy. A brother.
"But this casemate is very good." It can last quite a bit. No matter how much they throw at us, there will be no problem.
"Do people sleep in bulletproof vests?"
"Some do, I don't." Mayhew, that crazy fuck, sleeps with his ass in the air. It's tremendous, man, the hawk out there and him in here with his ass in the air.

They make you want to say that War Dispatches sounds like The metal jacket o Apocalypse Now, but it's the other way around. As we have said, Michael Herr was a fundamental piece of the script of these two masterpieces of cinema. Already in Dispatches of War we find the machine gunner of the helicopter with one hundred and fifty yellow dead, all with certificates; the soldier whose camera is stolen on a small terrace in Saigon or the one from Born to kill in the helmet.

the horror, the horror

One Marine finishes off a dying Vietcong with a grenade launcher, another lies on the sandbags of a trench and gets within range, indifferent to the cries of his comrades to take cover, another decides to disobey the orders of his superior to inspect a hill and sees how seconds later the lieutenant himself flies into the air. A soldier is given a rest permit and for days he purposely arrives late for the helicopter that will take him back home because he feels that his place is there, in the jungle. The radio station talks about how much fun the tracer shells are when they light up the sky and how important it is to clean up the residue they leave behind in the barrel. A soldier who masturbates 30 times a day dies the day before his return home.

Heartbreaking, hellish, cruel. Bitch. Too long ago it stopped making sense to look for adjectives still untouched by cinema and literature to describe war, nonsense inherent in the human race from its birth to its extinction. On war dispatches (reissued by Anagrama in 2013) there are no adjectives, and therein lies the success of this work that, far from searching for epithets yet to be dusted off, is limited to plain and simple showing.

Marijuana and napalm flavor. Machine Gun Roars, Jimi Hendrix and Ottis Redding. Armed with the spirit of the Capote, Tales y Wolfe, and coincident in time with the Slaughterhouse Five de Kurt vonnegut, War Dispatches leaves an uncomfortable feeling, like a circus show, exploring one of the cruelest and on too many occasions most ignored realities of this nonsense: that the war, and perhaps that of Vietnam more than any other of the contemporaries, was a circus run by madmen and starring innocents, mostly children:

"There was such a dense concentration of American, American, and basically adolescent energy there, if that energy could have been channeled into anything other than noise, destruction, and pain, it would have lit up Indochina for a thousand years."

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