March 14, 2017
REVIEW: On the Frontlines of the Television War by Yasutsune Hirashiki
On The Frontlines of the Television War is the story of Yasutsune “Tony” Hirashiki’s ten years in Vietnam—beginning when he arrived in 1966 as a young freelancer with a 16mm camera but without a job or the slightest grasp of English and ending in the hectic fall of Saigon in 1975 when he was literally thrown on one of the last flights out.
His memoir has all the exciting tales of peril, hardship, and close calls as the best of battle memoirs but it is primarily a story of very real and yet remarkable people: the soldiers who fought, bled, and died, and the reporters and photographers who went right to the frontlines to record their stories and memorialize their sacrifice. The great books about Vietnam journalism have been about print reporters, still photographers, and television correspondents but if this was truly the first “television war,” then it is time to hear the story of the cameramen who shot the pictures and the reporters who wrote the stories that the average American witnessed daily in their living rooms.
“The basic essence of war is death.” – David Snell
I grew up watching this war and when, in the forward, it’s described as the Television War, I said “yes, that’s it exactly.” Every night my parents had the 6 pm nightly news with Uncle Walter (Cronkite) on. I remember the video footage and the body counts even though I wasn’t even 7 years old. When the last helicopters lifted off the embassy roof, I wasn’t even a teenager but I recall those images vividly, too. I’ve read plenty of memoirs of the war from military sources but until I saw this book, it hadn’t dawned on me that I’d never read any by the journalists who covered it and produced what I saw on the nightly news. Here is the story of a man behind the camera who gives the journalistic experience told from the POV of a SE Asian photographer.