Honors Social Studies II
January 16, 2018
A Rumor Of War
When it comes to the topic of war, most of us will readily agree that it in necessary. Where this agreement usually ends, however, is on the question of the humane nature of war. Whereas some are convinced that war is necessary no matter the consequence, others maintain that humanity cannot be lost in effort to win a war. In Philip Caputo’s book, A Rumor Of War, Caputo maintains that “My purpose has not been to confess complicity in what for me, amounted to murder, but using myself and a few other men as examples, to show that war, by its nature, can arouse a psychopathic violence in men of seemingly normal impulses” (xvii-xviii.) In other words, Caputo believes that war changes the men involved even himself, he admits.
Philip Caputo states,
“At the age of twenty-four, I was more prepared for death than I was for life…But I had acquired some expertise in the art of killing. I knew how to face death and how to cause it with everything on the evolutionary scale of weapons from the knife to the 3.5-inch rocket launcher. The simplest repairs on an automobile engine were beyond me, but I was able to field-strip and assemble an M-14 rifle blindfolded. I could call in artillery, set up an ambush, rig a boobytrap, lead a night raid.” (3)
In making this comment, Caputo urges readers to understand that what could have been a normal life for him was taken, and changed into something dark. Straight from a classroom to a war was the reality for Caputo. From school he went to the Marine Corps which brought him to a war that would prove to change him. The society around him made him feel like he needed to prove himself in the war. As stated, “I had another motive for volunteering, one that has pushed young men into armies ever since armies were invented: I needed to prove something—my courage, my toughness, my manhood, call it whatever you like.” (6) The older generations were given their chance to show their bravery, and be apart of history, so in the minds of these young men it was their turn. They were unaware of how they would all be affected by their decision the fight.
These young men going into the Marine Corps were taught to go against all their morals. Their whole lives they were taught to be a certain way and have these morals, but as they’re going into the war they are slowly becoming what they were taught not to be. “AMBUSHES ARE MURDER AND MURDER IS FUN” (34.) This chant goes against everything in civilian life, but regardless they were shown this was the mindset they needed for war. Which changed the young men, and would continue to do so throughout the duration of the war. As Caputo says, “warned them that an enemy attack was imminent; they had been told , but were such experienced veterans that mere warnings did not alarm them…Whatever, they milled around, some without helmets or weapons, and stared curiously at our feverish activity” (52.) This gives the reader direct evidence of the long term affect of war on those involved. The veterans have been through so much with the war that they have become numb to their surroundings. Captuo himself experiences this numbness, “There had been times in civilian life when I had slept ten hours and felt less alert than I did on that early April morning in Vietnam.” (72)
Throughout the war the men begin to lose their humanity. With each atrocious action they make, and each horrible sight they bare witness to the young men once was hopefully to prove themselves become dark and corrupt. An example of this can be found in the writing of Philip Caputo,
“their patrol had taken a “souvenir” off the body of a dead VC. He pulled something from his pocket and, grinning, held it up in the way a fisherman posing for a photograph holds up a prize trout. It was an educational, if not an edifying, sight. Nothing could have been better calculated to give an idea of the kind of war Vietnam was and the kind of things men are capable of in war if they stay in it long enough. I will not disguise my emotions. I was shocked by what I saw, partly because I had not expected to see such a thing and partly because the man holding it was a mirror image of myself— a member of the English-speaking world. Actually, I should refer to “it” in the plural, because there were two of them, strung on a wire; two brown and bloodstained human ears.” (63-64)
This horrific act sets a precedence for the men of the war and how they act when exposed to the intoxicating violence of the war. “I mean the thing that bothers me about killing her is that it doesn’t bother me.” (297) Even after killing a civilian out of anger and frustration this man feels nothing. Which is quickly blown off, and made into nothing more than another event the happened.
Towards the end of the book, A Rumor Of War, Philip Caputo begins to seem to lose himself to the war. He begins feeling as though he isn’t himself, but a movie he is watching. Caputo doesn’t even recognize his own laughter. Laughter at the chance they could kill two VCs. In his daze of the intoxicating war atmosphere he sets up the capture, and potential killing of two young VCs. As a result the two are killed due to the murderous tone of Caputo. After seeing one of the young men he is filled with remorse and guilt for what he had done. Caputo is eventually tried for these deaths, and found innocent. This is an example of how the war got to the inner workings of a man and drove him to do something he otherwise wouldn’t do.
In conclusion , then, as Philip Caputo suggests in his book, A Rumor Of War, the experiences of war can change a man. This change causes them to do things unthinkable that under normal circumstances would never happen. After all these young men deal with fighting for their lives and the lives of their friends they can become corrupt by the violence and fear of war. As is proven throughout the work of Philip Caputo, A Rumor Of War.