Runners Who Read

Who knew? A bunch of runners who enjoy reading and discussing what they read.

Friday, June 30, 2006

A Rumor of War--"then and now"

Just in time for 4th of July, I reread Philip Caputo's 1977 "A Rumor of War" about his experiences as one of the first US Marine combat troops sent to Vietnam in 1965. Caputo gives his opinions and observations about his experiences, and so many of them translate into today's headlines. With exception of the jungle, the discussions, views, arguments, and opinions that come through this book could have been written in 2006 instead of 30 years before.

Caputo enters the war as a gung ho lieutenant, ready to "win the war" with one USMC company. He quickly finds out that there are no battlefields and little strategy except "kill the enemy" and "help South Vietnam defend itself against communism." He learns that this is a war of terror, of daily mine explosions, roadside bombs, and snipers. He can't figure out what he's there for, or what he's supposed to do. His company is reduced, one at a time, until rage and frustration allow the elements of humanity we keep secret to surface and there is tragedy and violence beyond the "guidelines for war."

Even in 1966, Caputo recognized that lives were being thrown away for a cause that could have no successful resolution. Caputo suggested, while still in Vietnam, that the war was unwinnable and troops should be withdrawn before more men died. Others looked at him in disbelief--"if we pulled out now, all our efforts will have been in vein." Caputo replies: "In other words, because we've already wasted a thousand lives, we should waste a few thousand more. If you really believe that crap, you should go volunteer for a rifle company and get yourself killed, because you deserve it."

Caputo departs Vietnam and the Marines and becomes a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. In 1975, he asks to return to Vietnam to cover the final days of Saigon, and is one of the last Americans to leave in the evacuation.

He has a new novel out about the efforts (or lack of efforts) in Somalia called "Acts of Faith." I look forward to reading it.

--Clothes D


Blogger Jonas said...

For those of us who lived through Vietnam, the current political rhetoric regarding Iraq is chillingly similar, and just as depressing. Same old BS...while people die needlessly. They've even trotted out "Domino Theory" again!

I wish more people (lots more people!) would just open their eyes and see the world for what it is. Sigh.

I don't have the stomach to ponder Somalia...or Darfur, Liberia, Haiti, Chechnya...the list is WAY long! The worldwide carnage wrought by the pursuit of power, colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, communism, chatechism (but, not Buddhism!) is simply too gruesome to contemplate for long without dissolving to a puddle of tears. Just one man's opinion.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

I'm currently reading Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman's massive novel on the Battle of Stalingrad and its aftermath -- narrated on a massive scale with the proverbial cast of thousands, a la Tolstoy's War and Peace. The most striking feature of the book is its ability to make you realize the futility of the Nazi-Soviet conflict -- when two terrorist states bent on crushing the human soul collide, there can be no winner.

It is an amazing book with both epic sweep and many poignant studies of the desperate lives of individuals trying to survive not only the war, but Stalinism. I'm only about 300 pages into this 800+ page monster, but I can already say that as a testament to the futility of war and a bitter reminder of the many blessings of a free and open society, Life and Fate delivers on a huge scale.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

The battle for Stalingrad stands as one of the most brutal episodes in the history of brutal warfare. Germany sacrificed 1 million men in the snow. The Russians threw away even more. The story is almost impossible to comprehend. On the other hand, the events of the first World War are oftentimes more shocking. One million men died in one week in the battle of the Somme. The carnage, brutality and sheer evil of war overwhelm me.

I forgot who said "Anyone who contemplates humanity must surely die crying." It's true.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:03 PM  
Blogger RWR said...

Tolitarian states aren't the only ones who can play in the killing fields....

The carnage of no-man's land in WW1 points to group think, plug the line, get a replacement in for the next charge to capture a foot or two until the recapture charge takes it back along with a few lives for good measure. When human life means less than a foot of earth, then we have all lost.

I heard a great commentary on the radio from the editor of the Progressive magazine about his thoughts about Independence Day. He says we shouldn't celebrate this holiday because we have more weapons and bombs and military might that can crush almost anything in it's way. Rather, we should look at our democratic principles, separation of power, right to vote, rule of law...and remember just why this country was founded in the first place.

Sobering words, with wiretaps and prisoners held without trial in our Cuban Gulag, I thought.

9:28 PM  
Blogger RWR said...

oops--previous post by clothes d.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Oh, I do so agree, Dave! I wrote about this in an earlier entry about 1984. George Orwell nailed it - it's all about the Highs, Middles and Lows. It doesn't matter if the "High's" are monarchs, dictators, empire-builders, theocrats, war lords, or the arrogant sons of former Presidents, it's all the same. The High's relish power and wealth, and blithely throw away the Low's and the Middle's in pursuit of their fancies.

I'm ever repulsed by the brutality, insanity and depravity of war. There seem to be no bounds to the suffering we humans inflict on each other.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Yvonne said...

I read that several years ago and loved it. He also wrote The Voyage which I highly recommend. A different time and place which only shows his tremendous range. Caputo ranks up there with Tim O'Brien when it comes to the Vietnam experience.

But America never learns or, as Eisenhower warned after WWII, "Beware of the military industrial comples."


8:53 AM  
Blogger Yvonne said...


"Beware of the military industrial complex."

8:54 AM  

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