Summary: Chapter 7
Jamal, a medic, informs Richie that Captain Stewart has reported three kills for the patrol despite the fact that really only one enemy was killed. Richie wonders about the dead soldier’s family, his life, and his hopes for the future. Walowick, another member of the squad, urges him to stop worrying about the dead soldier; the only thing that matters is that Richie himself is still alive. Richie comes down with a terrible intestinal disease and spends several days recovering. Johnson and Walowick get into a racially charged fight when Walowick calls Johnson a “cootie.” Peewee asks Richie to write a letter to Earlene on his behalf, since it is too painful for him to write it himself. Because Richie misses a patrol with his own squad while he is sick, he is sent on patrol with another company.
Summary: Chapter 8
During a patrol with a different company, Richie’s squad accidentally opens fire on one of its own platoons, killing more than a dozen American soldiers. Richie is distraught that so many people are dead because of this sheer carelessness. Later, Richie approaches Lieutenant Carroll to ask where he can buy a knife to send as a birthday present to Kenny. Lieutenant Carroll gives Richie a beautiful silk jacket to send to Kenny instead. Haunted by the scenes of chaos and confusion that he has witnessed, Richie asks Brew to show him where the Lord’s Prayer can be found in the Bible. Brew lends Richie his Bible.
Summary: Chapter 9
I didn’t like having to convince anybody that I was the good guy. That was where we were supposed to start from.
The bossy Corporal Brunner tells the squad that it is going on a pacification mission to another village. The squad members must convince the villagers that they, and not the Communists, are their allies in the conflict. Richie is disturbed that there is any doubt about which side is good, but he needs to believe that his side is unquestionably in the right. He is further bothered by the fact that the villagers are afraid of him and his friends. Richie does not want to think of himself as a frightening killer and cringes when Lobel compares the squad to outlaws from cowboy movies. During an otherwise uneventful mission, Peewee buys several homemade remedies from a villager, including a potion that is supposed to encourage hair growth. Back at the base, the squad members are happy to learn that they are going on another pacification mission the following day. Hours later they find out that this mission has been assigned to another group: Captain Stewart does not want his soldiers going on pacification missions because these relatively safe missions do not add to the enemy body count.
Peewee receives an apologetic letter from Earlene, telling him that she plans to name her next child after him. Lobel receives an angry letter from his father that is filled with antiwar sentiment. Lobel laments the irony of his situation: he joined the army to please his father by proving that he is not a homosexual, and now his father hates him for becoming a soldier in what he regards as an unjust war. Richie receives a letter from Kenny, who wants to join a basketball league but does not have enough money to enroll. Richie sends the money immediately. He feels good that Kenny still needs him.
Two female American Red Cross workers come to the camp, and one of them asks Richie what he is going to do when he gets home. The question mortifies him and sends him into a painful recollection of an episode in high school when a guidance counselor laughed at him for saying he wanted to be a philosopher. Ever since then, he reflects, the question of his future has made him feel uncomfortable.
Analysis: Chapters 7–9
Richie’s discomfort about his unknown future grows worse as his disillusionment with Vietnam increases. He first enters the army to avoid the tough questions about who he is and what he will do with his future. Now, faced with the reality of war, he wants to look forward to civilian life, but finds himself unable to see his future. Though most of Richie’s discomfort about the future stems from his lack of options, it also stems partly from confusion about his identity and his disappointment with the army. Richie has hoped that the army would help him find in himself the man he feels destined to become. As it turns out, he faces nothing but brutality, fear, and chaos, and realizes that he will not find himself in the army. He looks enviously to men like Johnson and Monaco, who seem to have found their true selves in the army—Monaco is the brave point man and Johnson is the strong machine gunner and born leader. Richie no longer harbors any illusions of following in their footsteps and figuring out his true self. Vietnam, he realizes, has none of the answers, and only offers more questions.
Unlike soldiers in almost any other war, the soldiers who fought in Vietnam did not have the benefit of a grateful nation behind them. For their ultimate sacrifice, the soldiers earned mainly disdain and contempt from a public who viewed the war largely as unethical. Lobel’s father’s antiwar sentiments add another touch of cruelty to the soldiers’ situation in Vietnam. Though Brunner angrily rants later on about the “faggots and Commies” back home who oppose the war effort, none of the boys in the squad knows how virulent and widespread the antiwar sentiment truly is. The squad members still cling to the belief that when they return home the nation will hail them as heroes. The brief mentions of war protest scattered throughout the novel deepen our sympathy for the characters by emphasizing another tragic aspect of their position in the war.
Richie is keenly aware of the hypocrisy of the pacification missions—even though he is armed with grenades and automatic weapons, he is supposed to convince Vietnamese villagers that the Americans represent the good side by handing out food and medical supplies. From the villagers’ point of view, the Americans and their allies do not seem any different from the Vietcong guerrillas who punish and torture them for accepting the food and medicine. Yet Richie is upset when Lobel points out that, from the point of view of many Vietnamese, the Americans are just like the killers who ride into town in cowboy movies. Despite his crumbling illusions, Richie still does not want to believe that the war is morally ambiguous. He still wants to believe that the war is right and that he and his fellow soldiers are the good guys.
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