War Torn

by Abigail Pfeiffer on June 30, 2010

Denby Fawcett

As a woman I have a natural interest in other women involved in military history.  I started reading a new book called “War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam.” This book involves seven women reporters who covered the Vietnam War and each woman wrote a chapter discussing their own individual experiences. This book is fascinating and I’m having a hard time putting it down….a definite recommended read for anyone interested in the Vietnam War.

The first chapter is by Denby Fawcett and after reading her account it is very clear that Vietnam and the Vietnam War became a part of her and her story.  She was sent to Vietnam by The Honolulu Advertiser in May of 1966, at a time when the war was in its early stages. I thought it was humorous when she wrote about what she took to Vietnam with her: “I packed my suitcase with sundresses recently shortened to the appropriate 1960’s mini length by mom mother’s Japanese dressmaker, sandals, pearls, dark glasses, and a bathing suit. I had no idea what to bring to a war.” I’m sure she wised up quickly once she got there.

Obviously being a woman in a war zone holds its own challenges, in the sense that there is constant attention due to gender.  But Fawcett notes that one of the large difficulties was talking their way into combat zones. The military commanders weren’t happy with the idea of male correspondents being killed, but the idea of a female correspondent being killed was too much for some to stomach. I think that Fawcett received her first combat reality check when she flew into the Rockpile area south of the DMZ with Marines and a corporal told her right away: “Hey, you had better dig yourself a hole. We have been mortared every night, and it usually starts about now.”

She discusses one of the common themes of combat: of the human mind being able to block out seemingly horrendous images. To survive, soldiers and correspondents, one had to have a method for blocking out the war. For some it was drugs or alcohol, or in Fawcett’s case, Scotch and sex.  She wrote: “My most memorable affair was with another reporter, our lives tightly bound for the moment by the incredible events we witnessed as we were seduced and terrified by combat.”

The longer Fawcett stayed in Vietnam, the more cynical she became until she reached the conclusion that America had no business there and we were hurting the Vietnamese more than we were helping them.  She came to hate the war and the way that pacification operations forced the Vietnamese, a people whose culture is based on ancestral and familial ties, out of their ancestral villages into refugee settlements.

After I was finished reading Fawcett’s account of her experience I understood how her time in Vietnam had an indelible mark on her life.  In the course of her reporting she risked her life to be as close to the fighting as possible.  Does this affect her objectivity? Perhaps. Does this give the reader of the story the opportunity to have a better of sense of what the average soldier went through? Absolutely.  Stay tuned for the next chapter of the book, about the Vietnam War experience of the journalist Anne Byran Mariano.

To read more about female correspondents in the Vietnam War click here.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Art Whitney July 1, 2010 at 6:25 am

I enjoyed this overview, Abby. I await the part II of the series also enjoyed your other articles here. Keep pumping them out!!

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