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Philip Caputo served in the Vietnam War as a young, newly-commissioned Marine Corps officer. A Rumor of War is his memoir about growing up, enlisting in the Marines, and learning first-hand the horrors of combat and the injustices and incompetency that characterized the American role in that conflict. Caputo's book was one of the first serious examinations of the Vietnam War from the individual soldier's perspective, and his experience being court martialled for the execution-style slayings of two Vietnamese by Marines under his command deeply influenced his views on the American way of war. Much of A Rumor of War focuses on the irony of accusing young men -- many still boys -- of murder in the midst of a guerrilla war in which the enemy was often indistinguishable from the civilians in whose midst they often hid. Caputo was highly critical of the way in which his military and civilian superiors conducted the war effort, with the soldiers and Marines trained to fight a conventional war like World War II rather than a modern conflict characterized by the guerrilla insurgents known as Viet Cong. In addition to the focus on the improper training of American military personnel for this particular war, Caputo was highly critical of the emphasis he observed among his military superiors on what was known as "body counts," in effect, the importance placed by superior officers on the number of enemy combatants killed rather than on the accomplishment of mission objectives.
A Rumor of War, as noted, was one of the first personal observations of the American role in Vietnam, and, together with James Webb's Fields of Fire and Ron Kovic's Born on the Fourth of July, set the tone for the literature that would grow out of that highly-contentious conflict -- literature that reflected the disillusionment with war experienced by once-eager young soldiers thrust into a very different kind of conflict than those experienced by their fathers.
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