The Contrast of Michael Herr's and William Manchester's Views of War
Both essays “Illumination Rounds” by Michael Herr and “Okinawa: The Bloodiest Battle of All” by William Manchester convey horrors of a war and depict the most crucial and devastating armed conflicts. They are put down into “The Best American Essays of the Century” because both of them are written skillfully with a detailed depiction of the events. However, written in different styles, they make quite different impression.
In “Illuminations Rounds” (“There would be the muted rush of illumination rounds, fired from 60-mm. mortars inside the wire, dropping magnesium-brilliant above the NVA trenches for a few seconds…”(Herr 171)) Michael Herr describes Vietnam War. Despite its bloodiness, Herr’s description is highly poetic and metaphorical. “The far side of the hills around the bowl of the base was glimmering, but you could never see the source of the light, and it had the look of a city at night approached from a great distance”(Herr, 170).
On the one hand, beginning reading you can feel that such approach to the description of war might be inappropriate. It may not make readers fell the whole tragedy of Vietnam War. Nevertheless, at the end of “Illumination Rounds” we see that we shudder to think about this war – therefore it works. “Even the incoming was beautiful at night, beautiful and deeply dreadful” (Herr, 171).
Unlike “Illumination Rounds” Manchester in “The Bloodiest Battle of All” uses no metaphors while describing the battle of Okinawa during the World War II. His essay is precise, laconic, and unambiguous.
“They are really united by death, the one great victor in modern war” (Manchester 84). His opinion about the war is clear and is written in apt expressions. The fact that Manchester was the participant of the battle left its mark on his narration and excluded any poetic attitude towards this tragedy. “As for me, I could not reconcile the romanticized view of war that runs like a red streak through our literature…with the wet, green hell from which I had barely escaped” (Manchester 84). In his essay, Manchester shows that grief united all people, despite being enemies. Therefore, he tells about the Japanese people and their feelings about the war and the battle, in particular. Nevertheless, he highlights that “there are too many graves between us, too much gore, too many memories of too many atrocities” (Manchester 86).
To conclude, both talented writers achieved their aim as they depicted the conflicts in a very impressive way. However, their views of warfare and their means to depict it are absolutely different. Herr’s poetic and pathetic description shows that he hardly took part in Vietnam War, while laconic, sometimes dry, but always very apt and affecting description of the battle of Okinawa makes us feel that William Manchester knows the reality of war on his own experience.