The Vietnam War was a psychological and physical battle for all the young men who were drafted or volunteered. Caputo's own reasons for volunteering illustrate the mentality for some of the men entering into this journey. Those who are inducted into Vietnam face disturbing moral dilemmas that can be expected in an "ethical wilderness." The draft introduced a myriad of young men to the once forgotten moral ambiguity of war. Average American citizens must balance right from wrong in a world without morals or meaning. Caputo himself struggles with the idea that killing in combat is morally justified.
Philip Caputo joins the Marines for the same reasons most young men leave their home city or town. He wants adventure, an escape from the mundane and the idea of being a hero; Caputo dreamed of being "John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima," storming the beaches as only a Marine could. Adding to this formula is the Kennedy inaugural speech. The President is asking how "you" can help the United States of America. Being a child stuck at home with his parents, the idea of joining the world's "911" force is an ideal romance for one so young.
Laws exist to protect life and property; however, they are only as effective as the forces that uphold them. War is a void that exists beyond the grasps of any law enforcing agency and It exemplifies humankind's most desperate situation. It is an ethical wilderness exempt from civilized practices. In all respects, war is a primitive extension of man. Caputo describes the ethical wilderness of Vietnam as a place "lacking restraints, sanctioned to kill, confronted by a hostile country and a relentless enemy, we sank into a brutish state." Without boundaries, there is only a biological moral compass to gauge appropriate actions and responses; there are few people to say "these actions are morally unacceptable." Vietcong forces use civilian villages as ambushes. This creates dangerous situations for both the civilians and the Marines. It is human nature to preserve one's own life even if it means killing another to accomplish this. There is no time to react in an ambush scenario, no time to decide who is Vietcong. This very situation is illustrated when Caputo and his platoon burn down a village suspected of housing a Vietcong ambush.
The ethical wilderness introduces the rules of engagement in many respects. Nobody wants to die in combat, especially when loss of life can be prevented. To Americans, it is nearly impossible to differentiate between Vietcong soldiers and civilians. In many instances, the two are interchangeable. A natural response is to engage anyone who is not an American or not where movement is expected. However, rules of engagement are created to prevent the slaying of noncombatants to include civilians and medical personnel in the like. These rules are not concrete, but in fact, they are very fluid so as to prevent ambiguity in changing circumstances. Marines with nervous trigger...