Philip Caputo Theodore Solotaroff - Essay

Theodore Solotaroff

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["A Rumor of War," Caputo's personal account of the Vietnam War, is] the true story of the transformation of one of "the knights of Camelot," whose "crusade" was Vietnam and whose cause could only be "noble and good" into a vindictive, desperate and chronically schizoid killer in a war he had come to realize was futile and evil. As Emerson put it, "the lengthened shadow of a man is history": Caputo would no doubt agree, for the course and character and damage of America's involvement was registered on his altered body, mind, nerves and spirit.

The causes and stages of his transformation form the spine of his narrative. It begins with Caputo's account of his summers at Quantico, where officer's training differed little from the fabled sadism of Marine boot camp. (p. 9)

With each month he appears to have more fury to burn, more moral numbness to account for in needlessly destroyed villages and hamlets. He wrestles with the mockeries of the "rules" of engagement…. He concludes that military ethics seemed to be a matter of killing people at long range with sophisticated weapons. But the actuality was the official American strategy of "organized butchery." In his final month of duty, the commander of his half-decimated company is offering a can of beer "and the time to drink it" for any enemy casualty.

Caputo's book is not as relentless as I am making it seem. It is not meant to be one long damning indictment, or an endless chronicle of demoralization and brutalization. There are the...

(The entire section is 627 words.)