As for the United States, we did not call it ‘the World’ for nothing; it might as well have been on another planet. There was nothing familiar out where we were, no churches, no police, no laws, no newspapers, or any of t he restraining influences without which the earth’s population of virtuous people would by reduced by ninety-five percent. It was the dawn of creation in the Indochina bush, an ethical as well as a geographical wilderness. Out there, lacking restraints, sanctioned to kill, confronted by a hostile country and a relentless enemy, we sank into a brutish state. The descent could be checked only by the net of a man’s inner moral values, the attribute that is called character…
Most American soldiers in Vietnam - at least the ones I knew - could not be divided into good men and bad. Each possessed roughly equal measures of both qualities. I saw men who behaved with great compassion toward the Vietnamese one day and then burned down a village the next. They were, as Kipling wrote of his Tommy Atkins, neither saints ‘nor blackguards too/But single men in barricks more remarkable like you.’ That may be why Americans reacted with such horror to the disclosures of US atrocities while ignoring those of the other side: the American soldier was a reflection of themselves.”
- Philip Caputo, USMC veteran, written in 1977 (via vietnamwarera)
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