In the film A Rumor of War (1977), actor Philip Caputo recounts his experiences as a Lieutenant in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Caputo’s first mission in Vietnam (March 1965) teaches him that his ideal notion of war bears little similarity to the violence he and his colleagues face in combating the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong. Caputo’s familiarity with the theme of brutality in the Vietnam War goes beyond the conflicts and into the nuanced psyche of a society that taught its young men that sacrifice and war make a man out of a child, adoring adventure, manliness, and killing fury. Therefore, his biography exposes what soldiers do in war and what the war do to soldiers.
Caputo was raised in comfortable and safety environs of Chicago, but he hungered for violence and action in which he believed would grant him his heroism and manhood. He first volunteered for the Marine ROTC program when he was in college and paved his way into the military. For causes that he believed would mirror his transformation from a young soldier to maniacal violence in his quest to revenge for other fallen soldiers.
Dropped into the jungle of Vietnam, his rifle company attempts to destroy the enemy. The conditions were murderous: there were relentless heat and a green jungle of elephant trees and grass, thick and impenetrable. The Vietnamese soldiers ambushed the American force in the forest, and none of the American soldiers were able to bear the psychological tension. They were soon driven to madness by the conditions and their feeling of not being able to help themselves for the Vietnamese soldiers. Wanting to assist his colleagues and meet his exceeding expectations, Caputo’s judgment and reason desert him, as he experiences a murderous rage followed by remorse and guilt.
Therefore, Caputo was removed from a desk position at the military headquarters for a few months, where he was obsessed by the body counts and learned to resent the trivial verdicts of the leaders of the wars and administrators. Caputo became emotionally numb, as he was filled with rage. He longed for death, which he believed would be the ultimate stage of dissociation from reality.
After Caputo was sent back to his colleagues, the summer monsoon season’s rain and heat make a mockery of fighting on the ground. The war turned into a butterflied, tempered by the soldiers’ tender worry and the care for each other and random kindness they drove out to the civilian multitude population, as when they put salve on a baby’s jungle wound.
With his colleagues decimated, Caputo resorts to any means to find and kill the enemy. When he heard the news that two Vietcong soldiers were finding their refuge in the nearby village, Caputo sent his best sniper to bring them down. Later, his sniper returned with two dead bodies, but one of them was for the boy who delivered the message about the invasion by the Vietcong. Caputo is made to face the adjudicator for the murder of the two men. He is vindicated, but his belief in any truth or honor in the war is tattered. Afterward, he receives an honorable discharge.
After a decade, Caputo goes back to Vietnam, as an analogous writer for the Chicago Tribune to issue a report on the fall of Ho Chi Minh City to the North Vietnamese. With his sentiments for turmoil, Caputo ponders on the war; the loss of human lives and humanity is left Vietnam on 29th of April, 1975.
Eventually, this biography indicates both the general’s and the politicians’ inhumanity, and the public indifferences towards the horror of the Vietnam war and the involvement in the dehumanizing of their soldiers. Conceived as a contemporary classic of war, in the fictional tradition of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Homer ‘s Iliad, Caputo’s narrates as Americans’ conscience, his bequest enduring in an honest, unsparing portrait of the American armed forces.