ONCE UPON A DISTANT WAR by William Prochnau


Young War Correspondents and the Early Vietnam Battles
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 The early years of American involvement in Vietnam unfold in this well-written study of the war correspondents who made it their beat. ``In the beginning,'' Prochnau (a former Washington Post correspondent and author of the novel Trinity's Child, 1983) writes with no trace of irony, ``it was such a nice little war,'' a war of spies, intrigues, and exoticism that brought out the Hemingway in a small army of reporters eager to make their names in far-off Vietnam. That nice little war quickly dissolved as Americans, soldiers and correspondents alike, began to learn the realities of the place. The Vietnamese government was hostile to American media inquiries, and reporters who came face to face with the Saigon regime were about as well liked as the Viet Cong. At one point in 1963, in fact, as Prochnau vividly relates, several members of the American press corps had to seek asylum at the American ambassador's residence lest they be assassinated by President Diem's agents. The reporters were a varied lot. They included Richard Tregaskis, author of the WW II classic Guadalcanal Diary, who left with the sad knowledge that Vietnam was a shameful rejoinder to his generation's war; Pamela Sanders, a freelance writer who put herself into ``every wild combat ride the little war had to offer''; Neil Sheehan, whose 1988 book A Bright Shining Lie was born in the chaos of Saigon in 1963; Malcolm Browne, whose famous photograph of a Buddhist monk in flames first gave the world an inkling that something was amiss in Vietnam; and, most famously, David Halberstam, who began reporting for the New York Times full of JFK's conviction that this was a just, even chivalric enterprise and became disillusioned by the lies and delusions the American government fomented. Prochnau's anecdote-rich account of the work of these brave men and women makes for fascinating reading. (8 pages b&w photos) (First serial to Vanity Fair; film rights to HBO)

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8129-2633-1
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1995


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