Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Why does he want to kill me?" ...

During the Vietnam War, Americans often suffered from enemy ambushes without sighting a single enemy soldier. The enemy was familiar with the terrain and undergrowth and simply faded away after an intense, quick attack. Excitement –sometimes too much excitement – reigned when an enemy soldier was finally sighted.

Philip Caputo, a young Marine officer when he served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966, shared such an experience in his critically acclaimed 1977 book A Rumor of War:  “I saw a (enemy soldier). … Actually, I saw a twitching beige cloud at the end of the trees; it was the dust kicked up by the recoil of his rifle. I might have seen the guerrilla himself, but I could not be sure. He was too far away to hit any of us, except by accident …”

“I figured this presented an opportunity to redeem [an] earlier foul-up, [and] with Hollywood heroics. Standing up in front of a stunted tree – it was the only tree in the paddy and a stupid place to expose myself – I crooked my arm and pumped it up and down,” a signal for his unit to move quickly.

“Something slapped into the branches not six inches above my head … A severed twig fell against my helmet and shredded leaves fluttered past my face. Belatedly, I hit the deck.”

“Well, there was nothing random about that. That one had been addressed to me; and so, for the first time in my life, I had the experience of being shot at by someone who was trying to kill me specifically.”

“It was not horrifying or terrifying or any of the things it is supposed to be. Rather, it was perplexing. My first reaction … was:  Why does he want to kill me? What did I ever do to him?”

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