Barbara's Reviews > A Rumor of War

A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo
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's review
Jun 22, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: biography-memoir
Read from June 17 to 22, 2012 , read count: 1

Philip Caputo enlisted in the Marines in 1960, and admits to being motivated by both a desire to escape the humdrum existence of suburban Illinois and the glowing enthusiasm engendered by the euphoria that was Camelot. He envisioned himself as a courageous patriot, becoming a man by surviving the rigors of military life, and being eventually discharged as a recognized hero. After college and officers' training, he became part of the first group of Americans to be dropped on Vietnamese soil; this book, which covers his months on the front and their profound effect upon him, describes his tour of duty, his incredible court-martial, and his return as a war correspondent during the fall of Saigon.

Many films have depicted the atrocities of the Vietnam War, but this first-hand narrative puts it in mind-numbing perspective. Well-written prose describes the brutal, unforgiving environment - temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, periods in which a steady rain fell for weeks at a time, the endless onslaught of leeches and fire ants, and relentless filth. Men were expected to perform at their physical peak while consuming barely adequate calories from tin cans.

Caputo also describes, quite clearly, the psychological trajectory of the Marines. They arrived in the hostile country filled with American arrogance and youthful invincibility, and the realities of war slowly chipped away at both. There were brief periods of engagement, followed by long, dull waiting. Nights were spent lying in watery foxholes, listening to sniper fire from enemies they could not find in the daylight. Death was random - one man emerged unscathed, while another, perhaps only inches away, was blown to fragments. As the casualties mounted, so did their anxiety, frustration, and rage, sometimes released in horrible brutalities. Not being able to identify the enemy, and the constant, fearful tension of losing a war due to "mines and ambushes" were as magnets to their moral compasses, and stripped them of conscience.

This is very moving, and it's easy for the reader to be swept into the range of emotions. Each chapter is headed by a piece of poetry, from the works of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Shakespeare. It demonstrates that not much has changed over centuries, and that the ugliness of war transcends both time and technology.
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