In his book, ‘A Rumor of War’, Philip Caputo narrates his life on the war front of the world’s once deadliest grounds of Vietnam, from 1965 to 1975. As a Lieutenant of the American second platoon assigned to the Vietnam region, Caputo was faced with a lot of challenges and a dilemma when it came to calling the shots. Being a member of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) tasked with eliminating the Viet-Kong, they had to do whatever deemed fit to get back home to their wives and children. As nineteen years old gentleman, Caputo intensions of joining the army were diplomatic, patriotic, idealistic and enthusiastic. However, these intensions changed afterwards to detestation, savagery and vengeance due to the battle field brutal experiences. This paper intends to explain how Lt. Caputo actions were a necessary evil of war and the difficult circumstances that put him in that position.
In all the wars fought across the history of the world, there is one common factor. This is the fact that war is a two-way affair in, there is what soldiers do in war and there is what war does to them. War is a situation which is found to be both repelling and compelling as Caputo narrates. The soldiers are not the only ones who are affected, but also the natives of the land turned into a battle field. Moreover, it affects the spouses that live in fear of losing their significant others to death in the war front, and the kids who grow up without one parent or both. This extends to the parents who become elderly without their children by their side to take care of them. Ultimately, there is a crystal clear distinction of the aftermath of the nation that wins and the one that looses. With such concerns in heart and in the mind of a soldier such as Lt. Caputo, the main character had to do what he had to in order to come out of the war alive. Secondly, it is for the insatiable desire to get back to normalcy and the tranquility at home. So, Caputo and his fellow soldiers have to annihilate the Viet-Kong or any native who poses a threat to USMC (Caputo, 2010).
When an individual joins the disciplined forces such as the USMC, he or she takes an oath to defend the nation and its constitution. Caputo is, therefore not, guilty but was submitting to orders from high ranks and, most importantly, defending his country. He could have lost his life on the battle field as well. The USMC platoon, sent to Vietnam, had a mission and these soldiers had to execute the assignment successfully no matter what comes their way. Experiences on the war front are brutal and thus, transforming. However, the soldiers ought not to have thrown in the towel by retreating or surrendering (Gary, 2009).
These soldiers committed despicable acts on the Vietnam soil such as the Mai Lai massacre. Back at home, this was viewed as an abhorrence, disappointment, and discomfiture, inhuman and as a heinous crime. This should not be the case because the soldiers were representing their fellow citizens and endangering their lives by defending their country on the battle field. The least they deserved was a tap on the back, moral support, love and encouragement from their home country, but not condemnation (Tran, 2010).
While on the war torn grounds, soldiers become victims of circumstances. This is because of the unpredictable motives and turn of events that predisposes them to act on time with little precision and luxury of time to make clear cut decisions. Therefore, the soldiers are not accountable to their actions because they act under the profound influence of their will and conscience. Lt. Caputo and his fellow army men were exposed to constant demise of their colleagues on the battle field and serious maiming of others. Language barrier and distinguishing the enemy, Viet-Kong fighters, from the innocent Vietnamese civilians was also a challenge that contributed to the Mai Lai massacre. The Viet-Kong would hide among the civilians, dress like the civilians and used leaves to masquerade themselves from the USMC troops. This was contrary to their usual traditional military outfit that would also camouflage them (Caputo, 2010).
When the American troops were patrolling the villages in Na Dang, some villagers would abruptly hurl grenades to them. In some cases, these civilians would also die from the grenade explosions. Some civilians considered self-sacrifice as an option to eliminating the American troops. In case the American troops needed help around the villagers with the use of a Vietnam interpreter, the natives responded in atrocious ways. When some troops went out to buy cigarettes or ask for directions, Vietnamese women and children would instead hand them grenades. This made it complicated to ascertain the true foe and skepticism of every person boosted insecurity in that region. This might have fueled Caputo’s troop to commit vicious acts of cruelty against the Vietnamese civilians. “The feeling that the enemy was everywhere and unawareness of the enemy’s identity created emotional pressures that built to a point of trivial provocation that made men explode with the blind destructiveness of a mortar shell” (Caputo, 2010, p. 155).
As the leader of the second platoon assigned to Vietnam, Lt. Caputo was at the helm of condemnation and persecution due to the Mai Lai massacre. Troops under Lt. Caputo dominion mistook orders and shot dead two suspects on purpose. He took full blame on behalf of the troops and was subjected to a court martial; thereby, showing the character of a responsible and concerned leader. This might have been due to the harsh experiences, desire for survival, and pressures that altered their state of mind. Thus, it was not fair to charge in martial court Lt. Caputo, yet, the entire US government instigated the mission to Vietnam (Gary, 2009).
Apart from losing fellow comrades to death and many others being handicapped, some were taken as prisoners of war and severely tortured by the Viet-Kong. If they were lucky to be rescued alive, their lives would, however, not remain the same due to trauma and psychological distress. Such soldiers would experience a surge of simultaneous feelings of bewilderment, disbelief, grief, fear, and accumulated anger. This augmented hatred towards the enemy and fueled great desire for vengeance. Since all and sundry has a threshold for forbearance, these victims reached their breaking point. This led them to making irrational moves and committing what may be seen as inhuman acts once they were back on the battle front (Tran, 2010).
The government of the United States is largely to be blamed because it deployed troops to Vietnam who brutally assaulted some innocent civilians such as in the Mai Lai massacre. Victory was more important to the American government than territorial conquest. Body count was the measure of their achievement in the war. Many deaths on the Vietnamese population meant a milestone for America. The American troops not only wanted victory, but one that was coupled by a huge margin in terms of deaths of the Vietnamese. This would send a strong message to the communist world and capitalism was the supreme protocol if people were to live harmoniously in the world. Instead of helping the Vietnamese to shun away from colonialism as initially intended, America used war as opportunity to showcase to the rest of the world that they were truly the ‘superpower’. This would serve as an example to any communist nation that would defy the United States of America (Gary, 2009).
In conclusion, the acts that the Caputo’s platoon committed against the Vietnamese civilians are inhuman. However, the American soldiers were not responsible since the American government showed that Vietnamese were enemies and hence, sent them to war. They could not defy the orders served to them by their superiors. They feared that they would be victimized by fellow soldiers and termed cowards or communists. All these factors led to the American troops led by Lt. Caputo to commit brutal acts against their will and conscience to the Vietnamese civilians.