On Michael Herr, mentors, and writing about war

BootsNeil Shea at The American Scholar:

Few soldiers or Marines I met in Iraq had read the book. Many of them knewDispatches, but they insisted that Iraq was not Vietnam. Their protests revealed how Herr’s wisdom, and that of his generation, had been lost. This became apparent to me one day at a press conference. I attended out of boredom and despair—being there meant I was not somewhere else. The war was slipping past in the distance, and Herr had given me to know that nothing could ever be learned at a media show. The room was large and beige in the way of any official nowhere, with rows of chairs flanking a long aisle. A flock of reporters had taken seats to the right, near the podium at the front of the room. I hung back to the left and sat beside a solitary figure, an older man with a high forehead and long, thinning hair. He was Peter Arnett, a legendary war correspondent who had covered Vietnam. We chatted for a while, and then he noticed I was carryingDispatches. He told me he and Herr had been friends.

“It’s a wonderful book,” he said. “But you know he made a lot of it up.”

I did not, and was crushed again. “How do you know?” I blurted.

He laughed. A certain patience in it.

“Because I was there.”

more here.