Towards the end of Duong Thong’s Novel Without a Name, Quan chooses not to execute an American journalist. Quan wonders why he disobeys orders he would have so readily carried out years earlier....
Towards the end of Duong Thong’s Novel Without a Name, Quan chooses not to execute an American journalist. Quan wonders why he disobeys orders he would have so readily carried out years earlier. What does this episode indicate about his current values and why they have changed?
The fact that Quan spares the life of the American journalist indicates how disillusioned he has become with his original patriotic creed and Marxist justifications for fighting in the Vietnam War. Initially, Quan experienced bloodthirsty glee about violence, yet constant exposure to the brutality and senselessness of war has spurred an inner transformation in values; Quan transitions from an 'us versus them' mentality towards the enemy to one of universal understanding about a common humanity.
At the start of the novel, Quan is consumed by "hatred", "rage" and the "desire to kill", while at the end, he yearns for "the beauty of creation". The American journalist represents 'an innocent' because he is not an agent of war and is there to disseminate the truth of the situation to a wider audience. Killing him would reduce Quan to an institutional pawn of the war -- someone who blindly obeys orders without considering moral concerns from a subjective viewpoint.
Facing the role of executioner becomes a catalyst for introspection and reflection. Years earlier, Quan would have unhesitatingly carried out orders to kill the journalist because his sense of duty and belief in dogma obliterated the independent establishment of his own value system. Thus, Quan's decision to spare the journalist's life in defiance of his men's wishes represents a moment of triumph of the individual over the homogenizing mechanism of war.