My plans, maybe just my dreams really, had been to go to college, and to write. . . . All the other guys in the neighborhood thought I was going to college. I wasn’t, and the army was the place I was going to get away from all the questions.
In this passage from Chapter 2, Richie reflects on his dreams, giving us insight into his motivations for joining the army. Enlisting, we learn, was not a well-thought-out decision, but rather a form of escapism. Richie wanted to dodge the real world, questions about his future, and the frustration of seeing his hopes fizzle. He also hints that enlisting was an attempt to escape the judgment of others. He feels that those who had high expectations for him would be disappointed if he could not fulfill them.
Richie is also afraid of not living up to his dreams and disappointing himself. His inability to go to college and become a writer is not due to any personal failure—he excelled in high school—but simply to his family’s extreme poverty. His father abandoned the family years ago, and his mother is a depressive alcoholic who wastes her money on liquor. Richie first calls his hopes for the future “plans” and then revises the word to “dreams,” indicating that these were never really practical or even possible. These plans are impossible in part because of his impoverished situation but also in part because of the lack of encouragement from his mother, teachers, and guidance counselors, none of whom ever took his hopes seriously. As a result, Richie feels strong doubts about his future, which drive him to risk this future by enlisting in the army.
“My father used to call all soldiers angel warriors,” he said. “Because usually they get boys to fight wars. Most of you aren’t old enough to vote yet.”
Lieutenant Carroll speaks these words following Jenkins’s death in Chapter 4. His statement emphasizes one of the most important aspects of the novel: the extreme youth of the soldiers. Carroll’s reference to the voting age highlights the tragic irony of the military: the fact that the people defending America are not old enough to have any say in the way the country is run and likely not mature enough to understand what they are fighting for. The irony only deepens when we remember that Carroll himself—who is seen as the wise, older leader—is only twenty-three years old. Carroll’s reference to soldiers as “angel warriors” gives the novel its title, Fallen Angels, and suggests the innocence and naïveté of these young male soldiers. The statement also highlights Carroll’s kindness and sensitivity, two of the traits that make him such a beloved commander and a good role model and leader. Unlike many other officers, such as Captain Stewart, Carroll is deeply affected by every death he sees. He does not try to increase the enemy body count to raise his chances of promotion. His only aim in Vietnam is to keep as many of his men alive as possible. It is his death—which occurs several weeks after he makes this statement—that shakes the squad irreparably.
We were supposed to smile a lot and treat the people with dignity. They were supposed to think we were the good guys. That bothered me a little. I didn’t like having to convince anybody that I was the good guy. . . . We, the Americans, were the good guys.
Richie expresses these sentiments in Chapter 9, when he is unsettled by the implications of his squad’s pacification mission to a Vietnamese village. This statement reflects Richie’s uncertainty about the morality of the war; he is alarmed by the idea that the American army would even have to convince the South Vietnamese that they are the “good guys,” because it reveals that their goodness is not an obvious or unquestionable fact. Additionally, as the South Vietnamese are not necessarily happy to receive American assistance, the Americans have to convince the South Vietnamese that an American presence makes them better off.
Richie dislikes these questions about the ethics of the American involvement in the Vietnam War because they challenge the comfortable, heroic, and romantic idea that he is fighting on the side of right, acting as a hero to thousands of poor villagers. Richie’s realization of the ambiguous morality of the war is the final—and most damaging—blow to his adherence to the popular mythology of war. Throughout his time in Vietnam, he comes to numerous painful conclusions that change his worldview. He first recognizes that the army is inefficient, fallible, and sometimes dishonest. He then realizes that war is irrational and chaotic and that living or dying is a matter of luck. Later, he accepts that the war is not going to end anytime soon. Finally, he realizes that there is no clear distinction between good and bad in the heat of combat, which causes him to reevaluate his entire understanding of war and life.
We spent another day lying around. It seemed to be what the war was about. Hours of boredom, seconds of terror.
This statement, from Chapter 11, sums up the experience of life in Vietnam for many of the young men fighting there. While missions are terrifying, they are short bursts of horror and violence that last only hours or minutes. Even within missions, the squad spends much of the time waiting for something to happen. The stifling days or weeks between missions are in some ways even worse than the missions themselves, as soldiers are overcome with boredom, plagued by anxiety about the next mission, and tortured by memories of past horrors. It is during these downtimes when the soldiers in the squad tend to be pushed to their emotional limits. In fact, as Richie later admits, the missions bring along with them a level of excitement that sometimes overpowers the fear; any anxieties about the future and memories of the past fade, and the soldier lives in the pure present, acutely attuned to his body and everything around him. With just a few words, Myers conveys this strange timescale—hours or days of boredom, marked intermittently by seconds or minutes of terror—giving us a startling sense of what it is like to be a soldier in the middle of the Vietnam War.
I knew Mama loved me, but I also knew when I got back, she would expect me to be the same person, but it could never happen. She hadn’t been to Nam. She hadn’t given her poncho to anybody to wrap a body in, or stepped over a dying kid.
Richie expresses these sentiments in Chapter 20 after he reads Gearhart’s letter to his wife. As Gearhart attempts to prepare his wife for his possible death, Richie begins to wish that he had a wife and children waiting for him at home. Throughout his tour of duty in Vietnam, Richie has longed to communicate successfully to someone back home about what the war is really like and what the war has done to him. His desire stems in part from a need to know that he will find someone understanding and sympathetic waiting for him if he returns alive. The desire also stems from a need to know that if he dies, someone back home will understand why and in what circumstances he died. Initially, Richie’s desire manifests itself as a wish for a girlfriend, as he imagines that a girlfriend might be the sort of person who could truly understand what he has to tell. Now, he grabs on to the idea of a wife and children instead, thinking that perhaps they would be even better suited to try to understand what he has seen and who he has become. However, the only civilians with whom Richie can really communicate are his mother and Kenny, and he spends a large portion of his time in Vietnam contemplating ways to present the candid truth in a letter to them.
Many people in this world are unsure of what their future goals may be just like this certain young man named, Richie Perry. Richie Perry is a smart African American and well behaved child who had graduated from his high school in Harlem. However, his mother who loves to drink does not have enough money to send him to collage. Richie believes he should join the army so he can escape his future, which he does, he joins the army. He is now being sent to Vietnam to fight in the war to fulfill his duty. Richie claims he joined the army to find o... Read more→
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setting is in Harlem in 1967.
Richie joined the army so he can have money and send it home to his little brother, Kenny. He also joined because it is an escape to get away from all the questions people would ask him about his future that he was unsure of. After he is sent to Vietnam to fight he writes to his brother explaining that the war is going to end very soon. Richie begins to get familiar with his leader which he quickly finds out is selfish by his actions.
Richie begins to start thinking deep about his entire life,very shortly they are ambushed and Richie begins to fire his weapon. Once they escape the attack they find out their leader was hit by enemy fire and must be taken to the hospital where he dies. Everyone is mourning their fallen soldier's death and pays their respect. Hours go by, Richie and his squad are restless, don't know what to do. they become very bored and start thinking of what terror could occur next.