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A Rumor of War is a book bases on personal experiences of the author Philip Caputo during the Vietnam War. Philip served in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). He was deployed in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. When he came back he chose to become a journalist. He is renowned for his book A Rumor of war which he wrote 10 years after returning from war.
The book starts with Philip’s narrating the reason he joined the United States Marine Corps (page 1) and ends with him being cleared of all charges by a court martial (356). All indications show that he had great pride in joining the USMC. He viewed the war as good thing. He was intrigued with the good side of the war. At this point he was young. He was encouraged by the idealism of J F Kennedy of “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” All these factors show that the idea of warfare was good as long as the war is due to a worthy cause and in this case, there was indeed a worthy reason to fight. He also viewed it as a good service to the country and was happy to be in the fore front of serving this country. He was very excited and quite eager to be recognized and promoted in the army by earning medals (14). He was also eager to learn practically by being in the war itself. Philip went to Vietnam . When in Vietnam, is when he got to experience the true side of the war and reality set in. He got to witness horrific sites such as seeing his fellow marines getting killed, he writes of the young men who got killed or got injured (47) on either the Vietnamese or American side. They lost their lives every day or got injured due to mines, enemy snipers, accidents or booby traps. He wrote of how young men including him had become dehumanized and demoralized due to such sights. When a mine exploded and killed his fellow marines, he became very angry. This led him and his men burn a Vietnamese village; he described this as the “most horrific scenes in the war” (327). He had to overcome the pain of losing his friend and the guilt of burning the villages and possibly killing a lot of innocent people. He also got to see how people are were tortured during interrogations. At first, he disagreed with such types of torture (43). Later, after realizing how brutal the Vietnamese army was and how things were done in the war situation, Philip approved and participated in such torture. This shows that the war changed him greatly by reducing his respect for human life. He writes of how young men like him lost their youth due to the effects of kind of life they encountered in the war (77). Philip wrote of how one cannot stop killing once they have started. The harsh environment in the war zone made him realize that the war is no romance. He described encountering invisible enemies such as horrible weather, large insects, boredom and fatigue. There seemed to be new problems arising every day (63). He was also disappointed with realizing the level of laziness of his bosses in the army. In the third part of the book, where Philip told about men in his charge when he was reassigned back to his rifle company, he was then lieutenant Caputo and had some marine men under his supervision (237). He had very good opinion for his fellow marines. He viewed them as brave and able to learn very quickly. By the time he was reassigned to a rifle company the fellow marines had already learnt several war tricks of Vietnam (242). They had stopped using the traditional fighting methods. He said they had realized that this war was very serious. They had already leant how to detect booby traps, to find the enemies in their own jungles and to counter-snipe (245). He seemed to have strong emotional connection to the marines. These strong bond lead to taking swift revenge action when some were killed in a land mine explosion planted by the enemies. He had however, very bad opinions on his superior officers. In the second part of the book, he viewed them as lazy and only concerned with their own trivial matters rather than strategy (129). They did not seem concerned on the overall goal of winning the war. They wanted to prove that they were successful on a day to day basis for their personal fulfillment rather than the overall success of the army. He described how he saw enemy corpses “treasured like trophies and shown to generals” (137). They were used as a show of success by the superiors to the generals. This showed that they celebrated killing a few enemies regardless of the fact that the enemies were also killing and torturing many soldiers and marines of the American army. The superiors highly disappointed him; he had different expectations joining the army. Caputo and his men were confronted with many difficulties. The war was taking place in Vietnamese jungles. Soldiers were not fully familiar with the place. They faced constant danger from booby traps, snipers and accidents. The jungle itself was a danger to the men as it had very unfavorable weather. For instance, there were times when it was too hot (67). The jungle also had such things as large insects, leeches and jungle rots. Caputo called them the imaginary enemies who none the less posed a significant threat to the men. The men also suffered from fatigue and very long periods of waiting. The enemy they were facing, however, posed the biggest problem on them. The Vietnamese army proved to be a serious opponent to the American army. It was opposite to the Unites States army initial estimation (23). They thought that they would easily win the war just like the Second World War, but the soldiers on the war front were shocked by the fact that the Vietnamese were succeeding in killing their men. The Viet Cong were also very brutal in their methods of interrogations and torture. In the third part of the book, Caputo described the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong as very skilled fighters (239). The American troops had to be very good to fight the Vietnamese men, but eventually many of them lost their lives. The other problem was the constant fear. Caputo wrote about the Vietnamese who were unimaginative and therefore did not feel afraid until there was an obvious reason as compared to the American men who were very imaginative and were always afraid. They always suffered from constant expectancy of something bad to happen to a point that they hoped it would happen once so that they stop worrying (75). In the second part of the book, Philip described how he was assigned to a desk job. He was responsible for documenting casualties. Caputo considered it as a bureaucratic and boring job of counting bodies and making ratios. This job did not suit him. He hated this job and the title of the second part “officer of the dead” described how he viewed this job. He was reassigned from his rifle company. He was unhappy because he was very proud of his rifle company duties. He had a desire to return to those duties (237) . Being at the desk job, Philip was exposed to different perspective of the war. He wrote of the laziness of the superiors and their lack of strategy. He was very disappointed with the superiors. He was also bored to a point of madness. The job of counting bodies also revealed to him the fact that the war was not about winning terrain or seizing positions rather to kill. All these factors made him want to work alone with his men, to fight the Vietnamese and become very brutal just like the Viet Cong. When he was reassigned to the rifle company, he did exactly that. In the third part of the book Caputo wrote that he had to face accusations of murder (342). He should indeed have been court-martialed. This is because he had done a lot of offences. He should have maintained discipline among his men. They then burnt a village called Ha Na, killing even innocent people. Caputo then ordered an unofficial mission to capture or kill two unarmed Vietnamese (297). This was also wrong and was another ground for being charged, all missions should have been approved by the superiors. During the mission, two marines killed two men including the informant who was trying to help the Americans. The two men were not the Viet Cong. This was also very wrong to kill unarmed suspects, further, they did not have sufficient information to carry out this mission. The killing of the men was the reason for being prosecuted. Caputo organized that mission and was, therefore, responsible for the actions of the men. It was therefore correct for him to face the court. The fighting method, adopted by the Vietnam, however, was quite barbaric. They had just killed a number of American marines and it was natural that the other marines got emotional. It might be unfair to charge him for murder under these circumstances. Overall, Caputo was just an American marine caught by surprise in war any other person in his position would have done the same thing.