Michael Herr & The Winds Of Winter

The newspaper informs us of the death of Michael Herr, author of Dispatches, arguably the finest book anybody ever wrote about the Vietnam War.  Herr captured in that book the surreal, utterly blurry atmosphere within which the American soldiers fought, and contrasted it with the straight-forward, rigid, theory-enslaved mindset of the commanders under whom those soldiers fought.  The dissonance between the war the commanders wanted to fight and the war the soldiers had to fight was a prescription for folly, and Herr pulled no punches in letting his readers know the way things were.  I discovered Dispatches in the 1980s; I wish I’d have found it sooner.  It might’ve radicalized me beyond all recognition.  The influence of Herr’s book has been widespread and profound.  We can see it in the images of Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Black Hawk Down, and its ideas are even more important.

Because of books like Dispatches and Frances Fitzgerald’s Fire in the Lake, we will never again rush headlong into a war guided by nothing more substantial than something called “the domino theory.”  Never again will we parade off to war wholeheartedly, our actions based solely on the words of our Commander-in-Chief.  As a result of the Vietnam War and our failures therein, there will always be those who question the wisdom of any military action; there will always be doubt about whether we can achieve any military objective.  But this reluctance and these doubts are the marks of social maturity, at least in the West.  As I have remarked elsewhere, and as those who know me will report, I am no pacifist.  When force must be used against those who enjoy such violence, or against those who think of human beings as merely pawns in a great, dispassionate game of cosmic chess, I believe it should be used without hesitation.  Until that point is reached, however, the use of force must be weighed and considered; achievable objectives must be identified; and other, more peaceful alternatives must be explored and tried.  These are the lessons of the Vietnam War.  These are the lessons Michael Herr taught us.


Sian Cain asks the question many of us are asking these days:  “How in the world is George RR Martin going to do better in the finished book The Winds of Winter than the just concluded season six of Game of Thrones has done on television?”  In brief, season six of the TV series was freaking marvelous, with episodes nine and ten being two of the best episodes of the series as a whole:  great action, nuanced characters, and absolutely gorgeous cinematography.  I think Martin will stick with what the series has already laid down, but there’s a whole world of surprises he could yet turn on us:  Cersei has King’s Landing and the power she’s always wanted even more deeply than she’s wanted her brother.  Can she hold King’s Landing, though, against what’s coming: Daenerys, her dragons, the Dothraki, the Iron Born and, apparently, the forces of Dorne and the Tyrells?  If I were Jaime Lannister, I’d be scared about now, and I think he is, judging by the look on his face when Cersei turned his way after her ascent to the Iron Throne on Sunday.  My guess is that Jaime will aid Daenerys in the end, and she will need that help, dragons or not.  Cersei is formidable, and the Kingslayer may  have to turn out to be a Queenslayer, too.

Another surprise could be that Arya Stark isn’t really Arya Stark.  That prospect makes me sad, for I have loved her character, but she may well have lost that battle in the dark against the Waif, and it is the Waif–with the blessings of the Faceless Men–who assumed her identity and is now killing people like the despicable Walder Frey as offerings to the Red God, offerings that Arya herself had refused to give under the rules by which the Faceless Men operate.  This is speculation, though.  I honestly don’t know.  Nor does Jon Snow know who he really is:  the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and thus a man with a pretty good claim on the Iron Throne himself.  How he finds out–or if he finds out– about his heritage is anybody’s guess, but it appears that his brother Bran, in his guise as the new Three-Eyed Raven, will tell him, somehow.  It’s also possible, though, that Jon will be too busy fighting a losing battle with the White Walkers to care very much about what he could be.  Sam, in his new position of Maester, may be able to help him survive for a while, but it looks to me like the coming battle for the Iron Throne between the forces of Cersei and the forces of Daenerys will leave the South almost completely defenseless against the overwhelming army of the Dead marching at them from the North.


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