A Rumor of War

A Rumor of War

A Rumor of War Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Philip Caputo

Philip Caputo was raised in Westchester, Illinois, a comfortable suburb west of Chicago. He is the son of middle-class Italian-American parents. He attended Purdue and Loyola Universities, graduating from the latter in 1964. Caputo enlisted in the Marines in 1960 and attended Officer Candidate School while still at university. After graduation, he was sent to Okinawa. He was then among the first American soldiers to be deployed to Vietnam in 1965, during the first years of the war. He served in the Marine Corps for three years, including a 16-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Caputo left Vietnam, as a soldier, in July 1966 and was discharged from the Marine Corps in mid-1967, after doing a final tour as the commanding officer of an infantry training company in North Carolina. He briefly became a part of the antiwar movement but did not commit to it. In 1968, Caputo started his career in journalism, first working for the Chicago Tribune as a general assignment and team investigative reporter until 1972. That year, he won a Pulitzer Prize, shared with several other reporters, for team investigative reporting on voting fraud in Chicago. He then spent the next five years working as a foreign correspondent in Rome, Beirut, Moscow, and Saigon, where he witnessed the Viet Cong’s invasion and the fall of Saigon in 1975. That same year, he left journalism to devote his time to writing books and magazine articles. His debut novel, Horn of Africa, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1980. Caputo is married to Leslie Ware, a former editor for Consumer Reports magazine, and they divide their time between Connecticut and Arizona. Caputo is also the father of two sons from a previous marriage—Marc, a political reporter for Politico, and Geoffrey, a jazz composer and music teacher.
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Historical Context of A Rumor of War

The main events of A Rumor of War take place between 1960, when Caputo joins the Marines, and 1967, when he is discharged. John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960, after narrowly defeating Richard Nixon. Kennedy features prominently in Caputo’s memory, for it was his message, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” that prompted Caputo to join the armed services. Caputo was also swayed by Kennedy’s belief that the United States had a key role to play during the Cold War—that is, to stamp out the seeds of Communism before they could take root. Caputo describes the years between Kennedy’s election and his assassination in 1963 as a time driven by idealism and strong faith in one’s government. However, for Americans who did not grow up in middle-class white suburbia, like Caputo did, things were quite different. The Civil Rights Movement was in full-force at this time. On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In the summer of 1964, a group of black and white youths traveled to Mississippi to help black people register to vote. Three among them—Andrew Goodman, Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, and James Chaney—were murdered by white supremacists in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1965, black militancy became more popular among younger civil rights leaders, spurred by the example set by Malcolm X, who was assassinated on February 21, 1965 in Harlem. The Black Panther Party developed in Oakland, California in 1966. Stokely Carmichael became the leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and called for “Black Power” over civil disobedience, in the aftermath of James Meredith being shot at while taking his “Walk Against Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. Caputo returned to the United States in 1967, during the Summer of Love and the beginning of the “Flower Power” movement, which would breed many young antiwar activists and political radicals.

Other Books Related to A Rumor of War

Philip Caputo’s memoir emerged during a time in which the United States was eager to reflect on the Vietnam War. The conflict changed Americans’ understandings of their cultural values and their diplomatic role in the world. A plethora of books and films on the subject emerged during the mid-1970s and the 1980s. In the Postscript, Caputo mentions other Vietnam War memoirs that he admires, including Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July, which was also adapted into a film. Other accounts of the Vietnam War include Bloods, an oral history of the Vietnam War from the perspective of Black American veterans, and James R. McDonough’s Platoon Leader: A Memoir of Command in Combat. McDonough’s book is very similar to Caputo’s in that it, too, tells the story of a Marine Corps officer who comes of age during the Vietnam War. More recent works include Karl Marlantes’s Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, which also tells the story of a young Marine Corps lieutenant who becomes a man amidst the terror of fighting a guerilla war in the jungle.
Key Facts about A Rumor of War
  • Full Title: A Rumor of War
  • When Written: Spring 1967-September 1976
  • Where Written: Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Pine Creek, Montana
  • When Published: May 1977
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Setting: Westchester, Illinois; Quantico, Virginia; Okinawa, Japan; Da Nang, South Vietnam; Saigon, South Vietnam
  • Climax: Caputo privately declares “a truce” between himself and the Viet Cong, accepts the futility of the war, and dedicates himself to living on his own terms.
  • Antagonist: The Vietnam War; the military-industrial complex
  • Point of View: First-person

Extra Credit for A Rumor of War

The TV Miniseries. In 1980, A Rumor of War aired as a two-part miniseries starring Brad Davis as Philip Caputo, and co-starring Brian Dennehy and Keith Carradine. Some soldiers’ names are changed in the film, though Caputo also used fictional names in some places in the memoir. In the film, Walter Levy becomes “Walter Cohen” and José Gonzalez becomes “José Ramirez.” The miniseries was, along with the feature films The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, one of the first to take a critical view of the Vietnam War and the United States’ role in the conflict.

South Korea’s Role in Vietnam. In the Prologue to A Rumor of War, Caputo describes the South Korean division’s efforts in Vietnam as “probably the most bloody-minded.” Unlike the United States and France, South Korea is seldom discussed in relation to the Vietnam War. In February 1968, South Korean troops, ordered to Vietnam by former general and coup leader President Park Chung-hee, killed 69 Vietnamese people in Phong Nhi and in neighboring Phong Nat. News media took less interest in these atrocities than in those committed during the My Lai massacre, which occurred one month later.