The years 1961 to 1972 saw the American involvement in Vietnam. For a little over ten years, America sent its sons off to fight for an unknown cause in a country they knew little about. When the United States finally pulled out of Southeast Asia, many were left scratching their heads. Over 58, 000 young men died without really knowing why.
Although it is a work of fiction, Tim O'Brien's Going After Cacciato expresses the views of those who spent their lives in the jungles of Vietnam. The Vietnam War was not a war fought by volunteers; it was fought by men who were more or less forced to go. The American soldier was there, Not because of strong convictions, but because he didn't known. He didn't know who was right, or what was right, he didn't know if it was a war of self-determination or self-destruction, outright aggression or national liberation; he didn't know if nations would topple like dominoes or stand separate like trees; he didn't know who really started the war, or why, or when, or with what motives; he didn't know if it mattered; he saw sense in both sides of the debate, but he did not know where the truth lay; he simply didn't know. He just didn't know if the war was right or wrong or somewhere in the murky middle. So he went to war for reasons beyond knowledge.
Because he believed in law, and law told him to go. Because it was a democracy... He went to war because it was expected. Because not to go was to risk censure, and to bring embarrassment on his father and his town. Because, not knowing, he saw no reason to distrust those with more experience.
Because he loved his country, and more than that, because he trusted it. Yes, he did. Oh, he would rather have fought with his father in France, knowing certain things certainly, but he couldn't choose his war, nobody could. (p. 234-235) O'Brien also alludes to the fact that these soldiers were basically plucked from their homes, given some BDU's and an M-16 A 1, perhaps a frag grenade or a Wille Pete (white phosphorus) grenade, and kicked out of a helicopter over the jungle. They weren't there because they wanted to be there.
They were there because of fear. Whether it was fear of the law, fear of embarrassment, or fear of disappointing those around them, fear was their only motivation. In order to try to strengthen the soldier's resolve, the US Government told the men why what they were doing what important. They were there to quell the spread of Communism, they were told. Instead of being motivated by fear, the soldiers would have a sense of purpose, and would fight harder. One huge issue was overlooked, however.
"The common grunt doesn't give a damn about purposes and justice. He doesn't even think about that shit. Not when he's out humping, getting his tail shot off " (p. 178).
As the war dragged on, the American soldier lost much of his morale. He knew the war was purposeless ("Purposes - bullshit!" p. 178) and his life mainly revolved around keeping his body parts intact. He would no longer risk life and limb willingly. "If a war is without justice, the soldier knows that the sacrifice of life, his own valued life, is demeaned, and therefor his self-respect must likewise be demeaned.' (p.