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Critical Book Review of Philip Caputo’s, a Rumor of War

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A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo, is an exceptional autobiography on a man's first-hand experiences during the Vietnam War. Philip Caputo is a Lieutenant during the Vietnam War and illustrates the harsh reality of what war really is. Caputo's in-depth details of his experience during the war are enough to make one cringe, and the eventual mental despair often experienced by soldiers (including Caputo) really makes you feel for participants taking part in this dreadful war atmosphere.

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When the story starts, Caputo is a twenty year old young man from a small town in Illinois. He, like many of his peers, is inspired by the opportunity to fight for their country and to protect the ideals that America represents. One of the main reasons for the common misconception that the war would be over in a few weeks or just a bit longer was the fact that the Viet Cong were underestimated. In Caputo’s training in the ROTC program at Loyola College, he was taught the basics and the rules of war. Yet, upon arriving in Vietnam, it soon became clear that the Viet Cong did not fight by the rules; in fact, they were very good at neglecting the rules of war. After spending most of his life living in a rural town of Westchester, Illinois, Caputo, like many young men of twenty years of age, was ready to prove to those around him that he was indeed coming into manhood. He was ready to get away from the comforts of home and to prove himself on the frontlines of a battle that should not take too long to win

After hearing President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech about conquering the spread of communism, Caputo felt a sense of duty and felt that this was his chance to stand up for his country and to prove to everyone that he was ready to take on the challenges that come along with entering into manhood.

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The experience of fighting in Vietnam changed Caputo in many ways which he writes about with honesty. He went to the war believing that America would win easily and soon loses that rather arrogant assumption: The discovery that the men we had scorned as peasant guerrillas were, in fact, a lethal, determined enemy and the casualty lists that lengthened each week with nothing to show for the blood being spilled broke our early confidence. (5) His experience of watching men die and being ambushed by bombs makes him more humble in a sense, more fatalistic, more realistic about the nature of warfare. He himself committed atrocities. After the Christmas ambush bomb this is his reaction to the local village: All right, I thought, tit for tat

No cease-fire for us, none for you either. I ordered both rocket launcher teams to fire white phosphorous shells into the hamlet. They fired four together.... About half the village went up in flames. (235) What Caputo is fulfilling here is a basic desire for revenge and it leaves him brutalized and de-sensitized about what he has done: I did not feel a sense of vengeance, any more than I felt remorse or regret. I did not even feel angry. Listening to the shouts and the people running out of their burning homes, I did not feel anything at all. (236)

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Briefly, the book provides a personal account of the Vietnam War creating a good historical reference to those who were not there at the time. It brought out themes of human conscience and the good and evil

A rumor of war forms a critical analysis of the extremes marines and military undergo in protecting the sovereignty of their territorial boundaries. In finality, Caputo engraved this book as a critical commemorative and learning experience of how war can adversely change a person's morality.

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Caputo, Philip. A Rumor of War. 1977. New York: Henry Holt. Print.

Norton Anthology of Literature, 2005, Norton.

Kelsey, Ann L., ed. Resources for Teaching the Vietnam War: An Annotated Guide. Pittsburgh: Center for Social Studies Education, c1996.

Kutler, Stanley I., ed. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1996.

Leepson, Marc and Helen Hannaford. Webster's New World Dictionary of the Vietnam War. New York: Macmillan, c1999.

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