Going After Cacciato
[This novel is evidence of a ‘shadow’ de-facto Anti-Vietnam War Studies Program at the U.S. Naval Academy. More evidence, resident in O’Brien’s other book, both of which are required reading in the English Department, is reviewed at the link at the bottom of this page.]
This novel is first and foremost an anti-Vietnam War novel. The flow of the story reminds one of a tabloid version of Homer's 'Odyssey,' with adventure that only a vivid imagination can produce. But it is absent the redemptive and heroic struggle against overwhelming odds. And none of its characters display the virtues of the heroic Odysseus, his faithful and loving family, and his loyal supporters.
Instead, since O'Brien's is an anti-Vietnam War novel, nearly all of its characters are base. Indeed, the thread of the novel has a deserter, Cacciato, who simply rises out of his foxhole and 'walks' to Paris -- away from the war, away from the killing, and into What? We never find out. But along the way, we are informed of all of the nitty gritty details of America's involvement in an unjust war.
It is not that O'Brien was inexperienced in that war. He was drafted and served as a combat infantryman on the ground in South Vietnam. But he was a very different kind of soldier. He quit college and took his chance with the draft and lost. He tells us in another book, an autobiography ('If I Die in a Combat Zone,' Broadway Books, 1975) that he actively campaigned and voted for Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential election. In that book, he gives an in-depth description of his opposition to the Vietnam War even before he was drafted and went to fight there. The most telling revelation in that book is the fact that O'Brien was an avid reader of, catch this, Eric Fromm (pp.14). This salient fact places O'Brien smack dab in the middle of the 'cultural Marxist' Frankfurt School milieu even before he went to Vietnam. His reasons for opposing the Vietnam War are never given in that book, only the Kantian dictate that the war was unjust.
Of course, Eric From was one of the original revolutionaries of the Frankfurt School, who along with Herbert Marcuse (Make Love, Not War), Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and others immigrated to America during 1933 from Germany to escape Hitler's rise to power, and spread out to America's leading universities (Princeton, Brandeis, University of California at Berkeley, and Columbia Teachers College). From this base, they became the intellectual foundation for the elite Boomer counter-culture revolution of the mid-1960s and 1970s. They led the workshops where the idealist Boomers learned how to resist the Vietnam War, lead demonstrations against that War, and to forcefully take over the nation's leading universities in a wave of 'civil disobedience' that erupted on campuses across the land. It was Eric Fromm who successfully infused the teachings of Freud into the Marxist economic theories to form 'cultural Marxism,' a brand of revolutionary thought and practice, which would produce a revolution that 'could not be turned back, even by the use of force.' And our author, Tim O'Brien became a practicing 'foot soldier' of that 'cultural Marxist' movement even before he left to fight in Vietnam.
Unlike Joseph Ellis, the History professor who lied about his war record during the Vietnam War and again about his involvement in anti-war activities after he left military service (Mark O'Keefe, "It's true: High achievement is no bar to telling grandiose lies," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/23/01) in order to boost his credentials with the anti-Vietnam War crowd, and Senator John Kerrey who fought in that war and later turned against it, falsely claiming to lay his medals on the steps of the nation's Capital (Mona Charen, "Misplaced morality..," The Washington Times, 5/04/01), Tim O'Brien went to Vietnam, and fought in that war, all the while having been indoctrinated as a 'foot solder' in the 'cultural Marxist' counter-culture revolution that has swallowed American institutions whole during the 30 years after the war.
It is no wonder that O'Brien became a prize-winning novelist after the war. He could and did write of his actual combat experience and stake the anti-vietnam War high ground with the rest of the nation's elite Boomers who opposed the war, dodged the draft, fled to Canada, let others less fortunate die in their place, and took the reigns of power in the nation furing the 1990s. The Bill Clintons, the Strobe Talbotts, and millions of elite Boomers who also studied Eric Fromm, Herbert Marcuse and other gurus of the Frankfurt School were quick to acclaim the literary accomplishments of Tim O'Brien -- the Vietnam War combat veteran who wrote anti-Vietnam War novels after the war.
O'Brien was seen as the ultimate vindication for the cowardly acts taken by the elites of the Boomer generation who evaded military service in their generation's war. He became their literary 'hero.' Hence his prominence on the required reading list in the Naval Academy's English Literature course.
Tim O'Brien's books directly apply the Critical Theory approach right out of the Frankfurt School catechism to malign America's past. Just as Joseph Ellis (Robert F. Turner, "The Truth About Jefferson," The Wall Street Journal, 7/03/01), pulitzer price winner and author of 'The Founding Brothers,' changed his position on the paternity of offspring from Thomas Jefferson's slave, Sally Hemming, during President Clinton's impeachment trial (from 'no he didn't' to 'yes he did'), O'Brien joins a crowd of Critical Theory advocates who are continuing the counter-culture revolution of the mid-1960s. And they are participating in this destructive act through the English Department at the U.S. Naval Academy.
In his autobiography ('If I Die in a Combat Zone,' Broadway Books, 1975), O'Brien tells this story in first person conversations with the men of his platoon. They are continuously on patrol through the villages near Chu Lai on the southeastern coast of South Vietnam. "'It's incredible, isn't it? Ever think you'd be humping along some crazy-ass trail like this, jumping up and down like a goddamn bullfrog, dodging bullets all day? Back in Cleveland, man, I'd still be asleep,' said Barney. 'You ever see anything like this? Ever?''"
"Yesterday," I said.
"Yesterday? Shit, yesterday wasn't nothin like this"
"Guess so." Barney shrugged. "Holes in your ass either way,
right? But, I swear, yesterday wasn't nothing like this."
"Snipers yesterday, snipers today," I said again.
Barney laughed. "I tell you one thing," he said. "You think
this is bad, just wait 'till tonight. My God, tonight'll be
lovely. I'm digging me a foxhole like a basement.
We lay next to each other until the volley of fire stopped. We didn't bother to raise our rifles. We didn't know which way to shoot, and it was all over anyway.
Barney picked up his helmet and took out a pencil and put a mark on it. "See," he said, grinning and showing me ten marks, "that's ten times today. Count them -- one, two three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten! Ever been shot at ten times in one day?"
"Yesterday." I said. "And the day before that, and the day
The patrol moved into a small hamlet, tiptoeing in nudging over jugs of rice, watching where they walked, alert to booby
traps, brains foggy, numb, hoping to find nothing.
"But we found tunnels. Three of them. It was late afternoon, now, and the men were tired, and the issue was whether to
search the tunnels or blow them."
"So," a lieutenant said. "Do we go down?"
"The men murmured. One by one we moved away, leaving the lieutenant standing alone by the cluster of tunnels. He peered at them, kicked a little dirt into the mouths, then turned away."
"He walked over to Captain Johansen and they had a short conference together. The sun was setting. Already it was impossible to make out the color in their faces and uniforms. The two officers stood together, heads down, deciding."
"Blow the fuckers up," someone said. "Right now, before they
make up their minds. Now."
"Fire-in-the-hole! Three explosions, dulled by dirt and sand, and the tunnels were blocked. "Fire-in-the-hole!" Three more explosions, even duller. Two grenades to each tunnel.
"Nobody's gonna be searching them buggers now."
The men laughed.
Thereby, the story begins with a description of an Army out of control. Decisions are made on the spot by draftee soldiers who have essentially taken over command of their platoon and act in their own best interests -- taking actions that would diminish risk to themselves, while possibly killing innocent (?) civilians who might be hiding in the tunnels. O'Brien's novels are chock full of such undisciplined acts. Including the ‘fragging’ (purposely killing) of a white Sergeant by black soldiers who suspect him of favoritism in choosing whites over blacks for Headquarters duty, out of harms way.
"Wouldn't find nothing anyway. A bag of rice, maybe some ammo.
"And maybe a goddamn mine, right?"
"Not worth it. Not worth my ass, damn sure."
"Well, no worry now. No way anybody's going down into those
Another explosion, fifty yards away. Then a succession of explosions, tearing apart huts; then yellow flashes, then white spears. Automatic rifle fire, short and incredibly close.
"See?" Barney said. He was lying beside me. "We did find 'em.
"Surprised them," I said. "Faked 'em right out of their shoes."
Men were scrambling. Slow motion, then fast motion, and the whole village seemed to shake.
"Incoming!" It was Barney. He was peering at me, grinning.
On the perimeter of the village, the company began returning fire, blindly, spraying the hedges with M-16 and M-70 and M-60 fire. No targets, nothing to aim at and kill. Aimlessly, just shooting to shoot. It had been going like this for weeks -- snipers, quick little attacks, blind counter-fire. Days, days. Those were the days.
"Cease fire," the lieutenants hollered.
"Cease fire," the platoon sergeants hollered.
"Cease the fuckin' fire," shouted the squad leaders.
"That," I told Barney, "is the chain of command."
And that is O'Brien's vision of the war. Fought by draftees who were interested only in their own personal survival, disrespectful and contemptuous of their officers, and fighting an enemy that they could not see, indeed, could seldom find.
In some perverse way in his autobiography, O'Brien paints a picture of combat on the ground in South Vietnam which sets the stage for at least a partially sympathetic understanding of why the My Lai disaster occurred under the flawed leadership of LT Calley and why Senator Bob Kerry's Seal Team's action on a night raid on a Viet Cong village in a 'free-fire' zone has come under recent criticism (Mona Charen, "Misplaced morality," The Washington Times, 5/04/01). That was not the purpose of O’Brien’s book, however. It was to caricature the Vietnam War as irrational, illogically conceived, and (first and foremost) unjust -- right out of the counter-culture anti-war propaganda of the mid-1960s.
O'Brien's 'Cacciatto' book is a dreamlike fantasy with the same background theme as his autobiography -- anti-Vietnam War. Cacciato is a private in O'Brien's squad (told through the eyes of a character named Paul Berlin) on the ground in Vietnam. He is stupid, like Forest Gump in the 1995 movie of the same name. But he is prescient at the same time. Cacciato reminds one (Edward Rothstein, "Coming to Blows Over How Valid Science Really Is," The New York Times, 7/21/01) of the "...blank-faced illiterate character, Chance, in Jerzy Kosinski's novel, "Being There," a mentally sluggish freak whose cryptic pronouncements, mainly taken from television, were taken as profound by the American political elite." Thus, Cacciato is a fitting lead character in O'Brien's anti-Vietnam War book which is also the rage of America's intellectual, political elite -- the power elites of the Boomer generation.
The story begins after Berlin's squad has taken several casualties. The squad is demoralized. "In October, near the tenth of the month, Cacciato left the war. 'He's gone away,' said Doc Peret. 'Split, departed.'"
"Lieutenant Corson did not seem to hear. He was too old to be a lieutenant. The veins in his nose and cheeks were broken. His back was weak. Once he had been a captain on the way to becoming a major, but whiskey and the fourteen dull years between Korea and Vietnam had ended all that, and now he was just an old lieutenant with the dysentery."
"He lay on his back in the pagoda, naked except for green socks and green undershorts. 'Cacciato, ' Doc repeated. 'The kid's left us. Split for parts unknown.'
"The lieutenant did not sit up. With one hand he cupped his belly, with the other he guarded a red glow. The surfaces of his eyes were moist."
"Gone to Paris," Doc said.
"The lieutenant put the glow to his lips. Inhaling, his chest did not move. There were no vital signs in the wrists or thick stomach."
"Paris," Doc Peret repeated. "That's what he tells Paul Berlin, and that’s what Berlin tells me, and that's what I'm telling you. The chain of command, a truly splendid instrument. Anyhow, the guy's definitely gone. Packed up and retired."
"For a time, [the lieutenant] did not speak. Then, as if amused by something he saw in the flame, he giggled again and blinked. 'Paree,' he said. 'So Cacciato's gone off to gay Paree -- bare ass and Frogs everywhere, the Follies Brassiere.' He glanced up at Doc Peret. 'What's wrong with him?'"
"Just dumb. He's just awful dumb, that's all."
"And he's walking. You say he's walking to gay Pareee?"
"That's what he claims, sir, but you can't trust ___"
"Paree! Jesus Christ, does he know how far it is? I mean, does
Paul Berlin tried not to smile. "Eight thousand six hundred statute miles, sir. That's what he told me -- eight thousand six hundred on the nose. He had it down pretty good. Rations, fresh water, a compass, and maps and stuff."
"Maps," the lieutenant said. 'Maps, flaps, schnaps.' He coughed and spat, then grinned. 'And I guess he'll float himself across the ocean on his maps, right? Am I right?'"
"Well, not exactly," said Paul Berlin. He looked at Doc Peret, who shrugged. 'No, sir. He showed me how ... See, he says he's gong up through Laos, then into Burma, and then some other country, I forget, and then India and Iran and Turkey, and then Greece, and the rest is easy. That's what he said. The rest is easy, he said. He had it all doped out.'"
The rest of the book is filled with a fantasy journey of what remains of the lieutenant's squad as they try to follow and capture Cacciato on his journey all the way to Paris, via the route mentioned. At every turn in the path to Paris, Cacciato outwits and outruns the entire squad. But that part of the story is not even worth reading, much less reporting on here. The journey is a base version of Homer's 'Odyssey,' without Homer's imagination and without any redeeming qualities. Upon reaching Paris, the story vaporizes into a meaningless fog. It is what is described in between that is the real reason for O'Brien's book -- anti-Vietnam War polemics.
The book attempts to capture the mood of the Army's professional leadership through a character named Sidney Martin. He led Paul Berlin's platoon earlier in his tour. They were assigned a mission to march to a mountain in their sector where heavy fighting was occurring.
"Lieutenant Sidney Martin stood alone...His lips moved as he counted to himself the number of soldiers still climbing He counted to twenty-one, plus the scout...His sergeants came to him, and they too wore their shirts. The sergeants conferred, then one of them faced west and took out the binoculars and surveyed the higher mountains where the battle would be. The sergeant with the binoculars then turned and spoke to the blond-headed lieutenant, who nodded but did not answer, then the sergeants left him and the lieutenant stood alone and watched his men climb."
"He saw no signs of the battle. He knew he would hear the battle before he saw it, but he knew he would not hear it for many hours. He knew he must conserve the strength of his men for the fighting. He also knew he must get his men to the fighting before it ended. He had many problems to consider: whether to stay on the road, with its danger of land mines but with its advantage of speed, or whether to move instead through the rough country, with less danger but with less speed. He had the problem of the heat. He had the problem of sending tired men into the battle. He had other problems, too, but he was a leader, working through his sergeants according to the old rules of command. This kept his sergeants happy, and it would eventually build respect for him among the men and boys. The lieutenant had been trained in common sense and military strategy. He had read Thucydides and von Clausewitz, and he considered war a means to ends, with a potential for both good and bad, but his interest was in effectiveness and not goodness. A soldier's interest is in means, not ends. So the young lieutenant prided himself on his knowledge of tactics and strategy and history, his fluency in German and Spanish, his West Point training, his ability to maximize a unit's potential. He believed in mission. He believed in men, too but he believed in mission first. He hoped that someday the men would come to understand this; that effectiveness requires an emphasis on mission over men, and that in war it is necessary to make hard sacrifices. He hoped the men would someday understand why it was required that they search tunnels before blowing them, and why they must march to the mountains without rest. He hoped for this understanding, but he did not worry about it. He did not coddle the men or seek their friendship. And he did not try to fool them. Before starting the march, he had told them that he cared for their lives and would not squander them, but he also explained that he cared for the mission as a soldier must, otherwise every life lost is lost dumbly. He told the platoon he would not tolerate malingering on the march, even though the day was hot. 'We will be soldiers,' he told them, 'and we will march steadily, and we will not be late for the battle. Any man who falls out will be left where he falls, even if it's sunstroke.' The men hadn't cheered his speech, but this did not matter to the young lieutenant."
"The lieutenant was not stupid. He knew these beliefs were unpopular. He knew that his society, and many of the men under his own command, did not share them. But he did not ask his men to share his views, only to comport themselves like soldiers. So watching Paul Berlin's dogged climb, its steadiness and persistence, the lieutenant felt great admiration for the boy, admiration and love combined. He secretly urged him on. For the sake of mission, yes, and for the welfare of the platoon. But also for the boy's own well-being, so that he might feel the imperative to join the battle and to win it."
This is a fine description of a professional military officer, one schooled in his craft as the core combat leadership of our nation's armed forces. It comes close to that marvelous rendition of military leadership that COL Carl F. Bernard, USA (Ret.) has written ('Who and What We Were,' personal communication, 1/13/01) concerning his exposure to ground combat in Korea and Vietnam. Carl was a young lieutenant with Task Force Smith in Korea and was a Special Forces Military District Advisor to the South Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. He is one of the most knowledgeable men I know in the area of unit cohesion. Carl writes, "The control it takes over yourself to crawl towards some hostile wretch with a machine gun is considerable. You can't give orders to men to do this sort of thing. You merely assemble them, explain the mission, and set out on it after you've checked such things as munitions, communications, medical equipment, and anything else that is needed for the job."
"The relation you have with the men who with you has to be special. I call it love. All of 'L' Company's soldiers loved one another...We never paid much attention to rank. Our most senior people were 1st Lieutenants. We promoted some of our first survivors to ranks as high as Tech Sgt in the first six months [in Korea]. We commissioned some of the other NCO replacements we got. Several, including Harry Summers ... left the Army some years later as O-6s. The one 2nd Lt. who became a 4 star owes much of his career, first to surviving with us in some very strenuous times, and second to what he learned about fighting at low levels with us -- with and from S/Sgt Hugh Brown who 'deserted forward' from Division Headquarters to join Love Company. We did not know he was not a legitimate member of 'L' until we tried to commission him in mid-August. He had fought so well -- the only NCO who survived our first battle -- that we were able to make him a 2nd Lt despite his less than legitimate presence with us. Hugh made the difference in what Love Company became. He was an example, and the most attentive leader any of our people had ever known."
"Hugh Brown was the most effective leader of fighters I've ever known. My watching everything he did, understanding why, and imitating him is likely why I’m alive today. Even though he was younger than I, his previous experience with Merrill's Marauders was far more relevant than my non-fighting role in the 7th Marines [in WWII]. You may never encounter such an exemplar of military virtue when you need him most, but borrow the right things from each of the best you come across."
"This sergeant torched the first tank we killed an hour after we had wasted its crew. He had poked a loaded carbine's muzzle through the pistol port they opened t shoot us off the back of their tank, and his riccochets took out the crew. I asked him later why he was burning it, as the crew was already dead. He answered: 'I want them others to know where this one is, what happened to it, and for them to be discouraged about the idea of coming where we are.'"
"My purpose is to tap my experience, and observations to help soldiers and Marines better learn and prepare for the world in which they must work. General Ridgeway called this 'the aimed fire war,' the focus of which is to help fighters think about what it takes to carry out their greatest responsibility, leading their fellows for some of what may be the last minutes of their lives. By the circumstances of this work, fighter leaders are vulnerable, and often short lived. The term 'leader' is a formal designation, but its affirmation is always in the hands of those who are led."
While O'Brien attempts to formulate this concept, he doesn't have the perspective nor experience to understand it fully. But he accomplishes a modestly successful attempt to portray the stereotype of the professional military officer. It is what O'Brien does after building this stereotype that gives his purpose away. He places anti-Vietnam War rationalizations, O'Brien's rationalizations, in Lieutenant Martin's thoughts about the war.
"But he [LT Martin] was not stupid. He knew something was wrong with his war. The absence of common purpose. He would rather have fought his battles in France or at Hastings or Austerlitz. He would rather have fought at St. Vith. But the lieutenant knew that in war purpose is never paramount, neither purpose nor cause, and that battles are always fought among human beings, not purposes. He could not imagine dying for a purpose. Death was its own purpose, no qualification or restraint. He did not celebrate war. He did not believe in glory. But he recognized the enduring appeal of battle: the chance to confront death many times, as often as there were battles. Secretly the lieutenant believed that war had been invented for just that reason -- so that through repetition men might try to do better, so that be learned and applied the next time, so that men might not be robbed of their own deaths. In this sense alone, Sidney Martin believed in war as a means to ends. A means of confronting ending itself, many repeated endings. He was a modest, thoughtful man. He was quiet. He had blue eyes and fine blond hair and strong teeth. He was a professional soldier, but unlike other professionals he believed that the overriding mission was the inner mission, the mission of every man to learn the important things about himself. He did not say these things to other officers. He did not say them to anyone. But he believed them. He believed that the mission to the mountains, important in itself, was even more important as a reflection of a man's personal duty to exercise his full capacities of courage and endurance and willpower."
"'Blow 'em,' Oscar Johnson repeated. 'Forget going down -- just blow the fuckers an' let's move on.' Sidney Martin shook his head. 'You've got it wrong,' he said. 'It's SOP to search the tunnels, then blow them. That's the procedure and that's how it will be done.'"
"Oscar smiled. He had a way of smiling."
"You remember Frenchie Tucker, sir?"
"I remember," said the lieutenant.
"Both of them. I remember both of them, but that doesn't change the SOPs." Sidney Martin folded his arms. He was not afraid. "This time," he said evenly, "we're going down."
"Oscar smiled and glanced at Harold Murphy, who looked away. 'Sir,' Oscar said, 'I don't aim to be disagreeable. It's not my nature. But, honest, there's not a man here, not a single soul, who is gonna put hisself down in that hole.'"
"Lieutenant Sidney Martin took a notebook from his pocket. 'Go Down,' he said.
"No," Oscar smiled. "I don't believe I will."
"Nodding, Sidney Martin carefully wrote Oscar Johnson's name in his notebook. Then he ordered each man down into the tunnel, and one by one, each refused."
"Sidney martin wrote in his notebook nine times."
"Still out fishing, sir," Vaught said.
"No, sir," said Paul Berlin.
"The lieutenant shrugged, wrote down Paul Berlin's name, then took off his boots and socks and flak jacket. He did not speak. He got out his flashlight and forty-five, and he crawled into the hole."
"The men grouped around to wait."
"Maybe it'll just happen," Vaught said after a time.
"Oscar spat into the dirt at the mouth of the tunnel."
"I'm only wishing," Vaught said.
The men were quiet, listening to Sidney Martin's movements in the tunnel. There was a sliding sound, then a hard thump, then what seemed to be the sound of breathing.
"Gospel truth," Oscar was saying. "The man's got us wrote down.
Stink and Harold Murphy murmured.
"Every name, an' next time the man's gonna make us do it." Oscar looked into the tunnel. He sighed and smiled. "Sidney don' ever learn. The man just don' grasp facts."
"There it is, the whole truth."
"Sidney Martin seeks trouble, an' I believe he finally found
"You think so, Oscar?"
Oscar lifted the grenade from his belt. It was the new kind, shaped like a baseball, seamless, easy to handle and easy to throw. He held it as if judging its weight.
"See my point? It's preservation. That's all it is -- it's self-fuckin-preservation. Jim Pederson rubbed his nose, looked at a spot just beyond the tunnel. "We could wait, couldn't we? Talk to him, Explain the basic facts."
"I tol' you, the man don' grasp facts. All he grasps is SOPs."
"True, but we could ... I mean, we could lay it on the line.
Couldn't we? Tell him exactly how things stand?"
"Then what?" Oscar said. "Same shit that happened to Frenchie
Pederson nodded. He was a quiet kid, a former missionary to Kenya, but he nodded and looked away.
"Preservation," Oscar said. "Survival of the species, which
It turns out that the platoon had come to this point before. Bernie Lynn and Frenchie Tucker had died in the tunnels -- tunnels that led to tunnels, a whole complex through mountain rock -- and in each case Lieutenant Sidney Martin had insisted that the tunnels be searched.
"Touch it," Oscar said. He held the grenade out. He pulled the pinmped the spoon with his thumb.
"Everyone," he said. "I want it unanimous."
Stink touched it first. Then Eddie, then Harold Murphy, then Vaught and Pederson and Ben Nystrom, then Doc Peret.
"Berlin." He got up and moved to the tunnel and touched the
The men looked at one another, each counting. Someone whispered Cacciato's name. "Where's he at?"
"Fishing," Vaught said. "Last seen, he was out fishing.
"Fetch him," Oscar Johnson said. "Hustle it up."
"No time for that." Stink leaned into the hole, listened, then shook his head. "No way -- the man'll be out any second."
"Do it," Stink said. His face was red. He was excited. "Drop
the bugger. Right now, just drop it."
But Oscar Johnson backed away. He slipped in the pin, bent it hard to hold the spoon, then handed the grenade to Paul Berlin.
"Go talk to Cacciato," he said.
"Explain the situation. Take the frag with you. Get him involved in some group support."
Then Lieutenant Sidney Martin's hands showed. He pulled himself out, put on his socks and boots and stood straight. He was not afraid. "That's how it'll be done from here on," he said. He patted his breast pocket, where the names were written. "First we search them, then we blow them. In that order."
"Blow it now, sir?" Vaught said.
"Yes," Sidney Martin said. "Now you can blow it."
It took four grenades to close the hole. Afterward, Lieutenant Sidney Martin again touched his breast pocket. "And that's exactly how it'll be done from here on," he said. "We follow the SOPs. I hope it's understood."
Oscar smiled and said he understood perfectly.
After a small chapter describing the events in Paris -- this book flashes back and forth between the fantasy of chasing Cacciato there, and finding him and then back to the Vietnam War -- O'Brien retells the above story concerning lieutenant Martin.
"Out of control, and maybe it always had been. One thing leading to the next, and pretty soon there was no guiding it, and things happened out of other things. Like the time Cacciato went fishing in Lake Country (Puddles of water made by bomb craters). Raining like a bitch, the whole war sopped in rain, but there was old Cacciato, out fishing in Lake Country for perch and walleyes and bullheads. He remembered it. 'Everybody has to touch it,' was what Oscar Johnson had said. 'He'll listen to you. Go talk to him.' So, sure, he'd gone down to the crater to talk sense to the kid. 'Hopeless,' he'd said. 'And it's for your own damn good, even if you don't join in, even so, it'll happen anyway, but, look, it's for your own good.' So he'd pressed the grenade against Cacciato's limp hand. Was it touching? Was it volition? Maybe so, maybe not. 'That's everybody,' Oscar said afterward."
"And then Lieutenant Corson came to replace Lieutenant Sidney Martin. The way events led to events, and the way they got out of human control.
"A sad thing," Cacciato had said on the day afterward.
"Accidents happen," said Paul Berlin.
"And Cacciato had shrugged, then smiled, and kept fishing in Lake Country. He fished seriously. He fished without the least show of temper or fatigue. He fished the crater from all sides, shallow and deep, and he did not give up."
"A very sad thing. Cacciato was dumb, but he was right. What happened to Lieutenant Sidney Martin was a very sad thing."
And what do you think happened to Lieutenant Martin? He was 'fragged,' that's what. Murdered. By his own men. By an undisciplined, cowardly (compared to the lieutenant) gang of hoodlums who were a disgrace to America. But that is not the most important thing, here. Why did O'Brien change the story from one of officer heroism to one of cowardly misconduct and murderous, gang-like activity by the draftee soldiers?
You guessed it. The Vietnam War was not just! Let's read how O'Brien makes this justification for murder of an able officer who led his troops with courage and example. The troops were, indeed, victims of an unjust war.
"For Paul Berlin it was always a nagging question: Who were these skinny, blank-eyed people [the South Vietnamese villagers]? What did they want? The kids especially -- watching them, learning their names and faces, Paul Berlin couldn't help wondering. It was a ridiculous, impossible puzzle, but even so, he wondered. Did the kids like him?"
"He was there, in Quang Ngai, for the same reasons they were: the luck of the draw, bad fortune, forces beyond reckoning. His intentions were benign. He was no tyrant, no pig, no Yankee killer. He was innocent. Yes, he was. He was innocent. He would have told them that, the villagers, if he'd known the language, if there had been time to talk. He would have told them he wanted to harm no one. Not even the enemy. He had no enemies. He had wronged no one. If he'd known the language, he would have told them how he hated to see the villages burned. Hated to see the paddies trampled. How it made him angry and sad when ... a million things, when women were frisked with free hands, when old men were made to drop their pants to be searched, when, in a village called Thin Mau, Oscar and Rudy Chassler shot down ten dogs for the sport of it. Sad and stupid. Crazy. Mean-spirited and self-defeating and wrong. Wrong! He would have told them this, the kids especially. But not me, he would have told them. The others, maybe, but not me. Guilty perhaps of hanging on, of letting myself be dragged along, of falling victim to gravity and obligation and events, but not -- not! -- guilty of wrong intentions."
"He [Paul Berlin] didn't know who was right, or what was right; he didn't know if it was a war of self-determination or self-destruction, outright aggression or national liberation; he didn't know which speeches to believe, which books, which politicians; he didn't know who really started the war, or why, or when, or with what motives; he didn't know if it mattered; he saw sense in both sides of the debate, but he did not know where truth lay; he didn't know if communist tyranny would prove worse in the long run than the tyrannies of Ky or Thieu or Khanh -- he simply didn't know. And who did? Who really did? Oh, he had read the newspapers and magazines. He wasn't stupid. He wasn't uninformed. He just didn't know if the war was right or wrong or somewhere in the murky middle. And who did? Who really knew? So he went to the war for reasons beyond knowledge. Because he believed in law, and law told him to go. Because it was a democracy, after all, and because LBJ and others had rightful claim to their offices. He went to the war because it was expected. Because not to go was to risk censure, and to bring embarrassment on his father and his town. Because, not knowing, he saw no reason to distrust those with more experience. Because he loved his country and, more than that, because he trusted it. Yes, he did. Oh, he would rather have fought with his father in France, knowing certain things certainly, but he couldn't choose his war, nobody could. Was this so banal? Was this so unprofound and stupid? He would look the little girl with gold earrings straight in the eye. He would tell her these things. He would ask her to see the matter his way. What would she have done? What would anyone have done, not knowing?"
These sentiments were obviously those of Tim O'Brien, the author. He attributes similar anti-Vietnam War sentiments to those American soldiers who fought alongside him.
"[They had] no beliefs. They did not know even the simple things: a sense of victory, or satisfaction, or necessary sacrifice. They did not know the feeling of taking a place and keeping it, securing a village and then raising the flag and calling it a victory. No sense of order or momentum. No front, no rear, no trenches laid out in neat parallels. No Patton rushing for the Rhine, no beachheads to storm and win and hold for the duration. They did not have targets. They did not have a cause. They did not know if it was a war of ideology or economics or hegemony or spite.”
“On a given day, they did not know where they were in Quang Ngai, or how being there might influence larger outcomes. They did not know the names of most villages. They did not know which villages were critical. They did not know strategies. They did not know the terms of the war, its architecture, the rules of fair play. When they took prisoners, which was rare, they did not know the questions to ask, whether to release a suspect or beat on him. They did not know how to feel. Whether, when seeing a dead Vietnamese, to be happy or sad or relieved; whether, in times of quiet, to be apprehensive or conten; whether to engage the enemy or elude him. They did not know how to feel when they saw villages burning. Revenge. Loss. Peace of mind or anguish? They did not know. They knew the old myths of Quang Ngai -- tales passed down from old-timer to newcomer -- but they did not know which stories to believe. Magic, mystery, ghosts and incense, whispers in the dark, strange tongues and strange smells, uncertainties never articulated in war stories, emotion squandered on ignorance. They did not know good from evil."
This emotional rant against the Vietnam War reminds one of the young, uneducated G.I.s who fought in Korea, were taken prisoner and succumbed to the Chinese re-education indoctrination. And fifteen percent of those, who didn't die, succumbed to the enemy’s mind control techniques and collaborated with the enemy -- informing on their fellow POWs. And they came home to face an incredulous America which could not understand how they could be 'broken' by the enemy. They were held in low repute.
But in this case, the Tim O'Briens came home and became celebrated by the 'cultural Marxist' intellectuals in our universities and the press as they wrote anti-Vietnam War tracts that amount to Critical Theory attacks on American civilization. The Tim O'Briens are now celebrated as heroes by the liberal left.
And now, this genre of literature is taught as gospel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Tim O'Brien's anti-Vietnam War novels. They are required reading in the Academy's English Literature course. Indeed, the counter-culture revolution, fueled by the Frankfurt School intellectuals and carried out by their 'foot soldiers' in the Boomer generation, has reached our premier military academies. Indeed, the Barbarians are inside the gates.