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Dispatches Handout


EN304 Michael Herr, Dispatches, 1977

Some Relevant Chapters in the Secondary Reading

“The Sixties and Seventies,” in Bradbury & Temperley, Introduction to American Studies.

“Beyond American Borders,” in Campbell & Kean, American Cultural Studies.

“American Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics, 1960-76,” in Carroll & Noble, The Free and the Unfree.

“Popular Music: Rock ‘n’ Roll: 1945-65,” in Mitchell & Maidment, The United States in the Twentieth Century: Culture.

“Strange Realities, Adequate Fictions,” in Ruland & Bradbury, From Puritanism to Postmodernism.


Robert Altman dir. M*A*S*H (Aspen, 1970) — set during the Korean War but made at the height of the Vietnam conflict.

Hal Ashby dir. Coming Home (United Artists, 1978) — one of the first films to attempt to deal seriously with the plight of returning veterans.

Michael Cimino dir. The Deer Hunter (EMI/Universal, 1978) — strangely flawed but emotionally powerful film, struggles with the larger issues of American involvement in Vietnam, is racist in depiction of the Vietnamese, and reduces the theatre of war to a game of Russian roulette.

Francis Ford Coppola dir. Apocalypse Now (United Artists, 1979) — with plot structure inspired by Heart of Darkness, and narration by Michael Herr.

Oliver Stone dir. Platoon (Hemdale, 1986) — writer-director Oliver Stone used his first-hand knowledge as a Vietnam Veteran to create one of the most realistic war films ever made.

Stanley Kubrick dir. Full Metal Jacket (Natant, 1987) — Michael Herr was co writer of the screenplay (based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford) with Kubrick and Hasford. Described by the Virgin Film Guide as “uncompromisingly bleak film, as cold and distant as they come.)

John Irvin, Hamburger Hill (RKO, 1987) — realistic account of the Third Squad, First Platoon, Bravo Company of the 101st Airborne Division and its battle to secure Hill 937 in the Ashau Valley, Vietnam, 1969.

Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper & Eleanor Coppola, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (BBC, 1991) — based on Eleanor Coppola’s journals and documentary footage shot during production of Apocalypse Now.

Oliver Stone dir. Born on the Fourth of July (Fourth of July, 1989) — based on Ron Kovic’s autobiography, the film offers a thoughtful critique of masculinity.

Bat 21. (Tristar, 1998) — starring Gene Hackman.

Highly Recommended

David L. Anderson, The Human Tradition in the Vietnam Era (Scholarly Resources, 2000)

Philip H Melling, Vietnam in American Literature, (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990)

Light at the End of the Tunnel: a Vietnam War Anthology, ed. by Andrew J. Rotter (Scholarly Resources, 1999)

David Wyatt, Out of the Sixties: Storytelling and the Vietnam Generation (Cambridge University Press, 1993)

Further Reading

Philip Caputo, A Rumor of War (1985)

Norman Mailer, Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967)

----------------, Armies of the Night (1968)

Bobby Anne Mason, In Country (1985)

Bao Ninh, The Sorrow of War (1994)

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972)

Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)

Further Recommendations

If you don’t know it, familiarize yourself with the popular music of the time. It became a vehicle for the Vietnam protest movement and a powerful means of consolidating a counter-cultural identity. Key figures (most but not all alluded to in the text) include:

Joan Baez

The Beatles

Bob Dylan

The Grateful Dead

The Doors

Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention

Jimi Hendrix

Country Joe and the Fish

Janis Joplin

John Lennon

The Rolling Stones

Bruce Springstein

Jefferson Aeroplane

As well as older bluesmen who incorporated protest lyrics into their blues.