On the Frontlines of the Television War: A Legendary War Cameraman in Vietnam

On the Frontlines of the Television War: A Legendary War Cameraman in Vietnam

Author
Yasutsune (Tony) Hirashiki
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
It's very easy to be over-exuberant with a review so let me begin by saying that this book is contending strongly for the title of the best auto-biography to emerge from Vietnam that I've encountered.

Yasutsune Hirashiki began as a freelance TV cameraman but his work very soon made him a fixture with ABC News. The book documents his time in Vietnam and Cambodia, which spanned almost ten years, and breaks it down into episodes based on the correspondents he worked with. Consequently, it's a very comprehensive overview of the war, albeit from the standpoint of a non-combatant, which turns out to be one of its strengths and provides a very unusual perspective.

Tony Harashiki's particular skill, he adopted the name 'Tony' because his correspondent refused to shout 'Yasutsune' on the battlefield, is to recount his memoirs with an engaging combination of humility and accuracy coupled with a shrewd assessment of the personalities that he was called on to work with. What makes this work particularly notable is that it's the observations of a non-American and it's all the more interesting for that. 'On the Frontlines' is not the mea culpa of 'Chickenhawk' or 'A Rumour of War' and nor does he seek to make the great American statement as Tim O'Brien sometimes aspires to. This is a very lucid, restrained, and often self-critical account, and is all the more vivid for being so.

Vietnam is always billed as being the first TV war and this is a most authoritative account as to why it came to be so and how the TV crews themselves took the story from the battlefield to the living room. Hirashiki writes simply, without polemic, and the characters he describes, warts and all, consequently come to life with great ease. His pen pictures are delightful and his recollections are forgiving. He's at the centre of the story because only because it's his memoir, he never attempts to become bigger than those around him or the events he describes. The result is very readable.

A great deal has been written about media in warfare, much of it garbage, but those with an interest in that aspect of conflict will find this book invaluable for its observations, for its perception and for its basic humanity.

Amazon currently has this priced at £22.50 and, while I pride myself on being tight-fisted, I would consider it £22.50 well spent. For those with an interest in Vietnam, or the role of the media in war, or merely the human story of someone caught up in the yin and yang of conflict that made him successful but took his friends from him, this is a fascinating read and well worth five mushroom heads.

Author
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