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Customer Review

on 14 August 1999
This is a powerful book about a war most want to forget.
Vietnam has entered the collective memory as basically a useless expenditure of men and treasure in the jungles of Southeast Asia in pursuit of America's Cold War obsessions. Philip Caputo's "A Rumour of War" takes us to Vietnam's "grunt level" with remarkable -- and often stomach-wrenching -- clarity. His is a memoir of the terror of war, but also one of bravery and sacrifice.
Caputo was a junior officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and marines in Vietnam suffered through some of the most severe action of the war. His narrative, sharp but economical, is driven by those instincts and feelings men in battle come to know all too well: fear, horror, disbelief at the instant extinction of comrades, untold fatigue, the urge to bury one's whole self in the mud and survive.
One of the book's strongest assets is that Caputo did a remarkable job in capturing the day-to-day routines of the battlefield (although 'battlefield' might be considered an inaccurate term in describing Vietnam's blind jungle patrols and the sudden firefights with an unseen enemy). Those readers who have first-hand experience of the USMC and/or Vietnam will be particularly jolted. The book is alive with the sites, sounds, words, and smells which never leave a veteran's mind. At one point, Caputo describes his feelings during an autopsy performed on the corpse of one of his men, whose name was Devlin:
"I noticed then that the waistband of Devlin's underwear was solid red, as if his shorts had been dipped in dye. Dye. Die. Death. Died a dyed death. I remembered the way he used to look, the way he looked when he had a face, and how he walked, and the sound of his voice."
"A Rumour of War" is an indictment of the stupidity that drives futile "grand" schemes and strategies. Caputo came back from Vietnam an opponent of the war. When he tried to return his battle ribbons to the U.S. government, he was simply treated to "curt note, written by some obscure functionary," which informed him his medals could not be held by the U.S. executive branch; therefore, he got them all back. Vietnam just refused to go away.
This is a book "policymakers" must read -- especially in view of recent "humanitarian" war action. Caputo talks about what lies beyond the cozy chambers of government, the "soundbites," and the media circus. His book about the Vietnam jungles is a superbly crafted warning that retains its currency with undiminished brutality.
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Product Details

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
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