The camaraderie among the members of the squad begins to overcome their social prejudices. Lobel declares that he will side with the black soldiers against the racist Dongan should the need arise. Monaco displays similar loyalty to the black soldiers. Johnson is indifferent toward Lobel’s sexual orientation, declaring that any soldier who fights beside him is an ally, regardless of his personal preferences. This statement of tolerance illustrates the squad members’ need to support one another, despite their differences. By living and fighting so closely, the soldiers become able to look past superficial differences and appreciate one another for their fundamental human qualities. Richie says that they are “trying to keep each other alive,” suggesting that they fully appreciate each other’s humanity above anything else.
Myers also suggests that wartime standards of morality are dramatically different from civilian standards of morality. The incident with the exploding child reminds us that there are aspects of war that are unthinkable during peacetime. In the madness of the war, a mother will sacrifice even her own child for the sake of killing just one enemy soldier. The incident redraws the blurred lines between the side of good and the side of bad, as the American soldiers believe that their side would never encourage a mother to use her child as a weapon. In this sense, the incident helps the soldiers regain the feeling that they are on the side of good. Yet the incident does not satisfy Richie’s questions about the moral ambiguity of war. After all, the mother would never have been compelled to perform such a horrible action if the Americans were not fighting in Vietnam. Like all the other portrayals of battle in the novel, the mother’s sacrifice of her child neither condemns nor justifies the war in Vietnam, but it raises a new set of difficult and important questions.
The loss of the dead soldiers’ dog tags has similarly profound repercussions for Richie’s emotional state. The loss of these tags is highly symbolic: with the bodies burned and the dog tags lost, there is literally nothing left of the soldiers who have died. Their identities have been erased as if they never existed at all. Richie instantly recognizes that the event represents the tragedy of any lost soldier. Although the idealized version of war may claim that each soldier dies with dignity and meaning, in reality most soldiers die in obscurity, with no meaning behind their deaths other than bad luck. Every soldier’s situation is almost as drastic as that of the soldiers whose bodies and dog tags are lost forever—their sacrifices are anonymous and quickly forgotten.