A Rumor of War

A Rumor of War

by

Philip Caputo

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A Rumor of War: Chapter Sixteen Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Caputo creeps through the grass, afraid that someone will see or hear him. He prays to God, then feels guilty for praying that God will help him kill. A rifle shot rings out, and a VC throws his arms up in the air before falling on his back. Another guerrilla pulls him into the underbrush as Caputo gets to his feet, and a third has taken cover behind a shrine. The marines come under heavy fire. Allen lays down a barrage with his grenade launcher. Caputo knows the platoon cannot assault the VC across the river, but they can pour “withering fire” into them, killing some and driving the others away. Caputo lunges into the woods and calls for a machine gun and a 3.5-inch rocket team. He calls for the first and third squads to go on the line. Led by Sergeant Wehr, the marines run out of the jungle.
There is a conflict between Caputo’s religious faith and instruction and his faith and instruction in the Marine Corps. The organization has encouraged him to kill for his country and for the protection of himself and his comrades, but he feels guilty still about committing the act. Knowing, too, how much of his survival relies on pure chance, the only sensible appeal he believes he can make for his survival is to God. Caputo’s appeal to God mirrors the third guerrilla’s action of taking cover behind a shrine. Both men seem to be looking for divine help to survive.
Themes
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
The marines pour volleys in the village. Allen runs up to Caputo. His blue eyes look crazed. He has seen some of the VC fleeing. Another fell as a result of being hit by machine-gun fire. Some enemy fire comes at the marines, but it is poorly aimed. Caputo passes the word that the VC are on the run and D Company has killed two more of them. The marines are now like predators who want to charge across the river toward fleeing prey. Caputo wants to cross the river and level the village, and then kill the remaining VC in close combat, by tearing out their guts with bayonets.
Caputo’s wish to kill the Viet Cong in close combat may be his quiet desire to exact revenge against them in the same manner in which his former classmate, Adam Simpson, was killed. He fantasizes about ripping their bodies apart in an animal-like manner that is very different from his previous self-image as a stoic, morally upright soldier.
Themes
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
The Morality of War Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
War and Disillusionment Theme Icon
When the fire-fight is over, Caputo cannot come down from the high. He imagines himself as John Wayne in a war film, waving his arms and daring a sniper to hit him. The sniper declines his offer, and Caputo calms down. The captain calls in and congratulates the platoon for doing a fine job. Their purpose is to be a diversionary force, and they have provided the VC with plenty of diversion. They are to remain in the position for the night. This makes Caputo nervous, because the enemy knows where they are. The platoon forms a perimeter and digs holes as deeply as they can. They then slide in and light cigarettes. Caputo polishes his carbine and thinks of how he has not killed anyone with it, but he has caused a few deaths, and enjoyed watching the first VC die.
Caputo envisions himself as the ultimate emblem of masculinity and conquest in cinema. Though he claims to be indifferent to his own death, he measures his strength as a soldier within his ability to cause the deaths of the Viet Cong. He draws a distinction between killing someone and causing a death. Caputo seems to think that only direct and personal contact with the enemy would count as killing someone, whereas he thinks that the shooting of rifles and the throwing of grenades is too impersonal to count as killing.
Themes
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
The monsoon rains return that night. While lying half asleep in six inches of water, someone yells, “INNNCOMMIIING!” There is some high-pitched whistling, which grows louder. The ground shakes from shells smashing into the earth, which explode one after another. Then, the shelling stops. Caputo crawls out to the edge of the perimeter and sees that the platoon has survived. Sergeant Pryor walks over and sits down next to Caputo, who asks how much longer Pryor has to go. He says that he has seven or eight more months. After trying for thirty minutes, Jones reaches D Company. The platoon is north in Hill 92, in the foothills, where they are setting up a patrol base.  It takes six or seven hours to reach it. Halfway up, they see a booby-trapped barricade. They throw grenades to ease their path around the barricade. The platoon reaches Hill 92 in the midafternoon.
Time is a primary concern for Caputo and the other marines. Much of their job involves waiting—not only for the enemy, but also for reaching the next point in battle and for the time in which they will be relieved from service. There is a continuity to their lives, mirrored in the change of the seasons and the coming of the monsoons, which is only disrupted by the sporadic shock of the shell attacks. Everywhere the men go there are potential threats to their lives, for which they must remain alert.
Themes
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
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Caputo checks the marines for immersion foot. Their shriveled skin is covered with red pustules and blisters. They eat lunch, which is the same as the Viet Cong’s: cooked rice rolled into a ball and stuffed with raisins. Caputo senses that they are becoming more like the enemy. Captain Neal calls on the radio and announces a Christmas cease-fire that has gone into effect. As they hike down Purple Heart Trail, Caputo sees smoke trailing from a hut at the edge of the hamlet, and a woman runs out yelling. When Caputo asks who set it, the platoon sergeant tells him that someone said that the word came from Caputo to burn it. Caputo orders that they put the fire out. He is then hit by a mine. A piece of shrapnel sticks in one of his trouser legs but does not pierce the skin.
Being in Vietnam has caused the men to adapt more to Vietnamese habits. However, they remain vulnerable to health concerns, due to not learning or adapting to the particularities of fighting in the jungle. The misguided order to burn the hamlet reveals the difficulties in communication between marines, even when a platoon is traveling together through the jungle. Finally, Caputo has his first experience with nearly becoming a serious casualty when he is hit by a mine. His lack of injury in the incident reinforces the sense that he has somehow been blessed with greater fortune than his deceased friends.
Themes
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
Some thirty or forty feet behind them, there is a patch of scorched earth and a dead tree with a charred and cracked trunk. Sergeant Wehr lies near the crater. Both he and Allen stagger to their feet. Allen, however, complains about a headache and has blood oozing from a wound in the back of his head and his neck. Caputo thinks that this was an ambush-detonated mine. If it were a booby trap or a pressure mine, it would have gone off when Caputo first stood on the spot, near the tree, where the blast occurred. He thinks, too, that, if not for his flak jacket, the blast would have destroyed his spine. Wehr has a leg injury. A corpsman cuts his trouser leg open and dresses his wounds. Sanchez has been hit in the face with shrapnel and looks as though his face has been clawed.
Everyone around Caputo has been injured after the explosion of the mine, except for Caputo. The sight of the scorched earth and the dead tree contrast with previous idyllic images of the jungle and are reminders of vulnerability and destruction. The dead tree with the charred and cracked trunk also parallels with Caputo’s imagined fear that, if he had stepped on a different kind of mine, his spine would have snapped, just as the trunk of the tree has snapped as a result of this blast.
Themes
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
War and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Corporal Rodella, whose lung was torn by a piece of shrapnel, requires more serious attention—he is in danger of drowning in his own blood. Caputo carries him to the LZ. Caputo then carries Corporal Greeley, whose left arm was torn off, to safety while radioing in for a medevac. Captain Neal asks if there have been any serious casualties. He then accuses Caputo of not supervising his men properly due to so many casualties. Furiously, Caputo demands the helicopters again and says that if one of the soldiers dies due to “petty bullshit,” he is going to raise hell. After a long pause, Neal confirms that the “birds,” or helicopters will be sent.
Neal’s callous and delayed response to the emergency is due to his distance from the battlefield, which Caputo mentioned earlier. He is more concerned with protocol and demonstrations of leadership, not realizing that such measures do not always work or matter in the midst of a battle. Caputo refers to Neal’s comments as “petty bullshit” because they mean nothing in relation to the immediate need of protecting the men’s lives.
Themes
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
Loyalty and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Danger and Uncertainty Theme Icon
The helicopters arrive, and the injured men are lifted into the aircraft. Just before the platoon resumes its march, someone finds a detonating cord lying in the grass near the village. In revenge, Caputo orders rocket launcher teams to fire white phosphorus shells into the hamlet. He hears people yelling and sees several running through the white smoke, but he feels nothing.
Caputo desires revenge against the villagers because they have assisted the Viet Cong in nearly killing him and several of his comrades. His indifference to their screams comes from his sense that they are getting what they deserve.
Themes
Heroism and Identity Theme Icon
The Morality of War Theme Icon