If too few journalists in Vietnam could be included among the best, and if the entire system of information gathering and dissemination worked only very imperfectly during the Vietnam War, the coverage of our wars since 1975 has given us cause to look back on journalism from the Vietnam War and wish for the good old days. If, in retrospect, we realize that we can count the most disturbing images of the Vietnam War on one hand (a burning Buddhist monk, a Viet Cong suspect getting his brains blown out, a naked girl running down a road), try to conjure a single searing image from Grenada or Panama or Iraq. The only shocking images Americans have seen since the end of the Vietnam War--a collapsed barracks in Lebanon, the bruised face of a captured pilot in Iraq, a body dragged through the streets in Somalia--are all of what is being done to us, not what we are doing to others.
Thus, memoirs like "To What End" and "The Cat From Hue" have value both for what they have to say in and of themselves and because they remind us of who and what journalists used to be before the print media were gobbled up by multinational corporations, and the line between television journalism and entertainment ceased to exist, and the greater portion of those engaged in the profession of journalism, recognizing which side their bread is buttered on, became willing instruments of our very own Ministry of Propaganda.
But even that is not the last word. In the midst of working on this essay, I received a letter from Edward Worman, a former U.S. Army combat photographer in Vietnam. He included a copy of a letter to the editor he had written that was published in a Rochester, N. Y. newspaper. Worman was angry about "Requiem," a powerful book of photographs from the Vietnam War, each one taken by a journalist who was subsequently killed in Vietnam or Indochina. Worman bitterly noted that while the book includes photos by civilian journalists from all over the world, and even photos by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army photographers, it includes none by U.S. military combat photographers.
"The names of four of my friends and fellow photographers are on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.," Worman wrote, "The editors of 'Requiem,' Horst Faas and Tim Page, have been making money off the Vietnam War for 35 years. That's many more years than my friends had."
I had been struggling for weeks to separate my heart from my head in order to be fair to the journalists who covered the war. But then Ed Worman's letter arrived and reminded me all over again that those civilians with the notepads and the cameras could come and go as they pleased while we were stuck in the mud and madness to survive as best we could. I can't help it. It still hurts. I suppose it always will. And if those two journalists from that long ago Thanksgiving showed up at my bunker again, I'd throw them out again just as quickly.