How might one compare and contrast Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway's book We Were Soldiers Once...and Young with A Rumor Of War by Philip Caputo?
Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway’s memoir of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young, and Philip Caputo’s Vietnam War memoir A Rumor of War are two distinctly different histories of the conflict in Southeast Asia that would end in defeat at the cost of over 58,000 American lives. Both books depict events that occurred during 1965, the year then-President Lyndon Johnson authorized the first of a series of large-scale U.S. troop deployments to Vietnam and the year that the United States initiated major aerial bombing campaigns against communist-led North Vietnam. Both books reflect the disillusionment that began to seep into the consciousness of American soldiers sent to fight a war of ill-defined objectives and limited means. And both books take serious issue with the way the war was managed “back home” in Washington, D.C. In short, both Moore-Galloway’s book about the first major engagement between American and North Vietnamese soldiers (the American effort in Vietnam previously focused on the communist insurgents known as the Viet Cong) and Caputo’s memoir of his tour of duty—a tour that included his near-court martial for ordering the killing of two Vietnamese civilians, a crime for which he admitted guilt but the guilt for which he contributed to the psychological toll this divisive, ambiguous war took on his psyche—describe in vivid, first-person detail the frustrations and resentments that began to degrade U.S. military morale and the effectiveness of those soldiers in executing that ambiguous mission.
While the two books share these similarities, however, the differences are perhaps more profound. The Battle of Ia Drang demonstrated the Americans’ superior leadership and skills at the “small-unit” level of warfare while bringing into question the merits of the broader enterprise. Caputo’s memoir, in contrast, focuses much more on the debilitating effects of the Vietnam War on those American soldiers who fought in it. Moore and Galloway, the former a battalion commander during that battle, the latter a war journalist who covered the battle, place much of their emphasis on the development of combat tactics, especially with respect to the integration of large-scale use of helicopters to provide infantry with a level of mobility never before attained due to technological limitations. Caputo’s book is more of an autobiography that centers on its subject’s tour in Southeast Asia and the effects of warfare on the individual combatant. By describing his evolution as a platoon commander in Vietnam from idealistic young officer to jaded potential war criminal, guilty of conspiracy to commit murder but spared the harsher judgement of a formal court martial, Caputo’s memoir is more limited in scope, while serving as an indictment of the American role in Vietnam.
A Rumor of War and We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young both depict events during the early, formative period of major American military involvement in Vietnam. Both reflect the cynicism that inevitably developed among military personnel forced into impossible circumstances. Caputo’s book, however, tales a far more limited story, that of the author. Moore and Galloway’s book, in contrast, is a study of a major battle during that war that would come to symbolize much that was right about America and much that was wrong with the decision to wage a half-war against a very determined adversary.
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