Books: Secret History

DISPATCHES by Michael Herr Knopf; 260 pages; $8.95

A5 the raw material of public memory, the war in Viet Nam has been a bust.

This is not simply because the U.S. role in that conflict ended with a whimper; unreconstructed Southerners and the Irish have shown how immortal ballads rise from lost causes. But Viet Nam dragged on too bitterly and too long to be tucked comfortably into a corner of the mind. Between the memorable images of self-immolating monks and returning American P.O.W.s, there stretched a decade of contradictory violence and rhetoric that...

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