Going after Cacciato; Excerpts and Assignments 2

SORRY! These pages are Under Construction…you can’t do these (yet).

In the following fragment we see how an American soldier called Stink Harris is trying to make himself understood to the Vietnamese people. We read how Paul Berlin is trying to put together a list of things the American soldiers didn’t know…

But for Paul Berlin it was always a nagging question: Who were these skinny, blank-eyed people [the South Vietnamese villagers]? What did they want? The kids especially — watching them, learning their names and faces, Paul Berlin couldn’t help wondering. It was a ridiculous, impossible puzzle, but even so, he wondered. Did the kids like him? A little girl with gold hoops in her ears and ugly scabs on her brow — did she feel, as he did, goodness and warmth and poignancy when he helped Doc dab iodine on her sores? Beyond that, though, did the girl like him? Lord knows, he had no villainy in his heart, no motive but kindness. He wanted health for her, and happiness. Did she know this? Did she sense his compassion? When she smiled, was it more than a token? And…and what did she want? Any of them, what did they long for? Did they have secret hopes? His hopes? Could this little girl — her eyes squinting as Doc brushed the scabs with iodine, her lips sucked in, her nose puckering at the smell — could she somehow separate him from the war? Even for an instant? Could she see him as just a scared-silly boy from Iowa? Could she feel sympathy? In it together, trapped, you and me, all of us: Did she feel that? Could she understand his own fear, matching it with hers?

After the war, perhaps, he might return to Quang Ngai. Years and years afterward. Return to track down the girl with gold hoops through her ears. Bring along an interpreter. And then, with the war ended, history decided, he would explain to her why he had let himself go to war. Not because of strong convictions, but because he didn’t know. He [Paul Berlin] 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 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 the 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 others had 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. 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. Was this so banal? Was this so unprofound and stupid? He would look the little girl with gold earrings straight in the eye. He would tell her these things. He would ask her to see the matter his way. What would she have done? What would anyone have done, not knowing?

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