Dispatches is a New Journalism book by Michael Herr that describes the author's experiences in Vietnam as a war correspondent for Esquire magazine. First published in 1977, Dispatches was one of the first pieces of American literature that portrayed the experiences of soldiers in the Vietnam War for American readers.
John le Carré described Dispatches as "the best book I have ever read on men and war in our time" and it featured in the journalism section of The Guardian's 100 greatest non-fiction book list in 2011.
However after publishing Dispatches, Herr disclosed that parts of the book were invented, and that it would be better for it not to be regarded as journalism. In a 1990 interview with Los Angeles Times, he admitted that the characters Day Tripper and Mayhew in the book are "totally fictional characters", and went on to say:
"A lot of Dispatches is fictional. I've said this a lot of times. I have told people over the years that there are fictional aspects to Dispatches, and they look betrayed. They look heartbroken, as if it isn't true anymore. I never thought of Dispatches as journalism. In France they published it as a novel.... I always carried a notebook. I had this idea—I remember endlessly writing down dialogues. It was all I was really there to do. Very few lines were literally invented. A lot of lines are put into mouths of composite characters. Sometimes I tell a story as if I was present when I wasn't, (which wasn't difficult)—I was so immersed in that talk, so full of it and so steeped in it. A lot of the journalistic stuff I got wrong."
Similarly, in a separate interview with Eric James Schroeder, he said:
"I don’t think it's any secret that there is talk in the book that's invented. But it's invented out of that voice that I heard so often and that made such penetration into my head.... I don’t really want to go into that no-man’s-land about what really happened and what didn’t happen and where you draw the line. Everything in Dispatches happened for me, even if it didn’t necessarily happen to me."
Several of the fictional (composite character) soldiers mentioned in the book were used as the basis for characters in the movies Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket.
^Schroeder, Eric James. Praeger: 1992. Vietnam, we've all been there: interviews with American writers, p. 46.
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