Saturday, November 27, 2010

Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien

Cacciato, a private, goes AWOL in 1968 Vietnam to walk 8,000 miles to Paris.  The rest of his squad goes after him.  The events get more and more absurd as it goes along, until you really wonder what is real and what isn't.  It is told from the point of view of Paul Berlin, one of the soldiers in Cacciato's squad.  I wasn't sure whether I was going to like it at first, but I did.  It probably took me longer to figure out what was really going on than it should have, but it was well written, and I rate it 4 out of 5.  It is my 6th book for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge.  This long quote explained why Paul Berlin let himself go to war, and it really resonated with me:

"Not because of strong convictions, but because he didn't know.  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 which speeches to believe, which books, which politicians; 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 truth lay; he didn't know if communist tyranny would prove worse in the long run than the tyrannies of Ky or Thieu or Khanh -- he simply didn't know.  And who did?   Who really did?  Oh, he had read newspapers and magazines.  He wasn't stupid.  He wasn't uninformed.  He just didn't know if the war was right or wrong or somewhere in the murky middle.  And who did?  Who really knew?  So he went to the war for reasons beyond knowledge.  Because he believed in law, and law told him to go.  Because it was a democracy, after all, and because LBJ and the others had a rightful claim to their offices.  He went to the 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." (pg. 264)


Kathy A. Johnson said...

The range of books you've been reading this year is quite interesting. Are you going to participate in any new challenges in 2011?

freebird said...

This sounds like most of the soldiers who went. When my uncles went over as civilians and earned big bucks while my sister's fiance and his brothers along with my cousin were there as fighting men I realized it was wrong. I was only 16 at the time but I didn't like the number of times our high school flag was lowered to half mast for another fallen alumni. My father figured WWII was necessary but I couldn't see how this one was. I remember the rationalization was that communism was going to take over one country at a time and we couldn't let them do that.

Anna said...

I'm experiencing the confusion about what is real and not real to a different extent with The Things They Carried. I was going to read Going After Cacciato for the challenge, but it seems like I'm only going to have time for a couple more. Ah, well.

We'll get this posted for you on WTTG soon.