Willard: “It was the way we had over here of living with ourselves. We’d cut them in half with a machine gun and give them a Band-Aid. It was a lie—and the more I saw of them, the more I hated lies.”
Willard narrates these words after fatally shooting the Vietnamese peasant woman on the sampan. With this act, he makes himself complicit in the atrocities of war and aligns himself more closely with Kurtz. In his narration, Willard details the hypocrisy of the U.S. military: just before Willard shoots the woman, Clean senselessly and without provocation opens fire on Vietnamese peasants. Although Clean kills several innocent civilians with no consequences, Chief makes no mention of it but instead makes a big deal of following orders by trying to take the woman to a nearby hospital. Willard shoots her, because he does not want to waste more time and because he reasons that she likely would have died before receiving medical attention anyway. After all, the other peasants have been killed, so why spare this woman’s life when it interferes with his mission? Willard’s action and subsequent reflection upon it possess a disturbing logic that makes sense only in the morally skewed frame of war. Yet, although his crew members are also complicit in the atrocity, they see him differently after the shooting. Whether or not U.S. military protocol makes sense, it’s the only way they know how to live. Willard, on the other hand, has breached the code, and the other soldiers cannot condone such a breach. Willard’s Kurtzlike transformation accelerates as a result of this incident.