The primary theme of "Village," by Estela Portillo Trambley, concerns being willing to question authority in order to follow one's conscience.
Rico is a young American soldier who has been drafted by the United States government and finds himself in Vietnam. Though he wears the uniform of a soldier, has been trained as a soldier, and is part of a military unit, Rico knows in his heart that he is not a soldier.
No action yet. But who wanted action? Rico had transformed into a soldier, but he knew he was no soldier. He had been trained to kill the enemy in Vietnam. He watched the first curl of smoke coming out of the chimneys. They were the enemy down there. Rico didn’t believe it. He would never believe it.
He is stationed near the village of Mai Cao, and obviously as he overlooks the village which he will soon be asked to destroy he does not see an enemy.
When Rico and the other men in his platoon are ordered to destroy the village, he begins to question the moral rights of his superiors to demand such a thing. When he questions them, Keever tells him “You just follow orders, savvy?” And when he discovers the only reason the town is to be destroyed is because it might be used as a Viet Cong base of operation, Rico knows he must refuse to obey the order to kill the unarmed, innocent, sleeping citizens of Mai Cao.
Rico offers an alternative (evacuation) but is ignored, and he soon discovers he must do more than refuse to act. When he sees his comrades prepared to carry out their orders, he knows he must do something more substantial to avoid a massacre: he shoots his commanding officer.
Rico, of course, is taken into custody and everyone turns against him; even his friend Harry says Rico is not a soldier. None of this matters to Rico (what he says to Harry is "So?"), as he knows he has followed his conscience and is free on the inside.