community, Herr asks, “Who could youndiscuss politics with, except a colleague?”nThese (self-) chosen ones even sharednthe sacraments of the time, “grass,nwhiskey, girls . . . sources, information,nhunches, tips, prestige.”nThe image of the young sharing ansecret knowledge is reinforced by a statementnTim Page makes to Sean Flynn, “Inask you, would William C. Westmorelandndig the Mothers [of Invention, a rockngroup] or wouldn’t he?” Rock music, thensource of Herr’s prose style, is a shibbolethnthat keeps out generals and othernlesser (older) breeds without the beat.nBut the exclusivity that begins withnrejecting the old grows to include allnothers, grows into a pervasive egotism.nSpeaking of Tim Page, Herr says, “Hisntalk was endlessly referential, he mixednin images from the war, history, rock.nEastern religion, his travel [the bathosnis instructive], literature . . . but youncame to see that he was really only talkingnabout one thing. Page.” And true also ofnHerr. His book only concerns othersninsofar as he sees his own reflectionnin them.nThe theologican literary critic WalternSullivan has described the kind of sensibilitynpervading a book like Dispatches:n”The writer finds himself bereft of anmoral frame within which to developnhis characters and work out his plots.nThere is no place to start, there are nonstandards by which people can be judged:nin a meaningless world there is no waynto develop meaning.”nSullivan might have added that wherenthe moral imagination leaks out, peernpressure—in the form of Herr’s journalisticncolleagues—rushes in. A writer whoninhabits a world of sensations, of kicks,nthrills and trips inevitably loses his powernover words, because like Shakespeare’snFalstaff discoursing on the word “honor”nhe sees words only as words—vocalizednbreaths. And so the hipster, the thrillseekernultimately lapses into silence. Asnone of Saul Bellow’s characters puts it,n”It was not the behavior that was gone.nWhat was gone was the old words. Formsnand signs were absent. Not honor, butnthe word honor.”nLet us put it clearly and honorably:nHerr, nominated for a National BooknAward, featured by Esquire, uses wordsnpoorly. Let me illustrate. He is derivative:n”It was August now, when the heat in InCorps forgave nothing.” He is a windnmachine of jargon and abstractions: “Thenspring-summer lull had left everyonenbadly strung out, and a lot of spookynstories began going around . . .” And henis clumsy in handling his one penetratingninsight, the ambiguities engulfing thenjournalist-as-hero:n”The only Vietnamese many of usn[reporters] knew was the words ‘Bao Chi!nBao Chi!—Journalist! Journalist!’ or evenn’Bao Chi Fap!—French Journalist!’, whichnwas the same as crying. Don’t shoot! Don’tnshoot!”nIn short, the prose of Dispatches is ankind of self-indulgence. It is the voice ofna man talking only to himself, a mannwho fits the description offered by J.nHillis Miller of one “wandering throughnthe nothingness of his own ego.”nTo his credit, Herr is uncomfortablynaware that the Vietnam Journalistnis not a hero to everyone, that to somenpeople he and his brothers “were nothingnmore that glorified war profiteers.” Hendescribes a herd of cameramen jostlingnfor position, crowding in on a woundednVietnamese soldier, photographing himnin his agony, and “we looked at him andnthen at each other and then at thenwounded Vietnamese again.”n^n^nSadly enough, Herr quickly dispatchesnthese inchoate moral perceptions of thencorruption at the heart of his band ofn”colleagues,” the Vietnam press corps.nInstead he gives us a collection ofnanecdotes, vignettes and epigrams, heldntogether only by that most pathetic ofn1960’s slogans: “Don’t trust anyonenover 30.”nA philosophical reader might takenDispatches as Exhibit A in why-we-lostthe-war.nIndividualism is so fragile, sonliable to degenerate into self-indulgence.nAlexis de Tocqueville—one almost adds,n”the ever useful” de Tocqueville—put itnbest. “Not only does democracy makeneach man forget his ancestors, it hidesnhis descendants from him, and dividesnhim from his contemporaries; it continuallynturns him back into himself, andnthreatens, at last, to enclose him in thensolitude of his own heart.”nHerr not only forgets his ancestors,nhe thoughtlessly rejects his elders.nDescendants are not mentioned. Contemporariesnfade away. Dispatches isnultimately a nihilistic book, the celebrationnof the excitement of war predictablenfrom the first sentence of the book.nDispatches is a book without memorynand without hope because its protagonistnlives so completely in the present. Andnfinally, even the present does not suffice.nThe alcohol, the “pot,” the loud electronicnmusic—Herr’s sacraments—are instrumentsnnot so much of grace as of stupefaction.nAnd the rest is Silence. DnOther Views “Sn”There is no better writing about war anywhere.”n— Conimontvealn”. . . now there is a book that seems to be making all the right sort ot incoming noisesnthat indicate a direct hit: Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches.’ Quite simply, ‘Dispatches’ is thenbest book to have been written about the Vietnam War.”n—New York Times Book Reviewn”It is not that he makes no judgments, but that he renders the welter of the concentratednmadness so close up that the relevance of the judgments is clear for a moment, thennobscure; that is the message Herr’s memory finally yielded him.”n—New York Review of Booksn”Michael Herr has elevated reporting to a level of art reached by no other modern warncorrespondent—no, not even Hemingway.”n—NewsdaynnnChronicles of Culturen