This is a very personal account of one man's war, set in the very earliest days of the US commitment to Vietnam. It is told with scarifying clarity an...moreThis is a very personal account of one man's war, set in the very earliest days of the US commitment to Vietnam. It is told with scarifying clarity and honesty that sets it among the great literature that came from the First World War, from authors like Owen, Graves Sassoon and Remarque- towering story tellers of that horrific tragedy whose words Caputo acknowledges as a primary influence in the style and presentation he has employed to tell his tale.... and what a tale. Anyone can feel, and taste and smell that place; can sense the frustration and numbing experience of climate and terrain; can exhaust themselves in the gradual disintegration from being a "good man" into something evil. For those of us who were there, particularly in combat this book cannot help but invoke a kaleidoscope of memory much similar to that described by Caputo at one point. For most of us, our time there is nothing but that a kaleidoscope of vignettes cobbled together by the skein of emotion that is our felt sense of what it was for us. That skein holds us, I am sure all of us who lived it,in its thrall still, even to this day when we are now old.
This is an important work in part because of the time in which it is set, those heady early days when the rot had yet to set in. What is so clear from this account is the presence of all those elements that would later be drawn out as contributing so much to America's demise in that war, both its physical and its moral demise. The accountants mindset where all was judged by numbers, the body counts and kill ratios, the de-huamization of the Vietnamese, the creation and support of the counterfeit universe, the lack of leadership at Battalion and Regimental level, the provision of sub standard equipment, the corruption and inefficiencies of the regime being supported,the total unpreparedness of US forces to fight such a war ....and on and on it goes. The writing then was on the wall in 1965 for anyone who was prepared to read it and no one who had reputation, career, pride or arrogance tied up in the venture was so prepared.
The account of the incident that resulted in a charge of murder and a court martial just showed so clearly how "there but for the grace of..." applies in these kinds of circumstances, the way in which "the machine" created to fight that war resulted in the complete dismemberment of the souls of so many. That without the balance of "good purpose", nothing but some philosophical ideal driven by the political right and the American belief in its own omnipotence, was at stake here. "It don't mean nothin" the universal response by soldiers on the to pain and hardship was born out of that absence of any greater guiding principle for which the fight was conducted.
For those of us who saw it and went through Vietnam, the parallels in Iraq and Afghanistan have been almost too much to bear. It seems that nothing has been learned in America or in Australia, still riding the coat tails of Uncle Sam into another misadventure. It is truly pitiful to see....again!(less)
Like the man said,"the quitessential memoir." Thank God that people like Graves and Wilfred Owen were around to give voice to those who went through t...moreLike the man said,"the quitessential memoir." Thank God that people like Graves and Wilfred Owen were around to give voice to those who went through this horrendous chapter of human history.(less)