Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam

By Bernard Edelman | Go to book overview

3

Beyond the Body Count

"In Vietnam, the only measure of victory was one of the most hideous, morally corrupting ideas ever conceived by the military mind—the body count," Philip Caputo, author of A Rumor of War, a memoir of his tour in Vietnam, wrote in an article in Playboy magazine. "[We] fought over the same ground again and again, month after month, [our] only object to kill more of them than they did of [us]." When we did, the official logic went, that week at least we had won the war—even if the contested area was still controlled by the enemy, even If we hadn't won any "hearts or minds" in the countryside. Commanders liked good body counts, even when they were fudged, which was not uncommon. They liked high kill ratios; it meant they were doing something right.

Many soldiers, however, did not equate kills and ordnance expended and caches recovered with "success. " The issues of the war for them were the consequences of combat. "I've seen some things happen here that have moved me so much that I've changed my whole outlook on life, " wrote Private First Class George Robinson, who was wounded in action while on an operation with the 1st Infantry Division. "I feel different now after seeing some horrible things, and I'll never forget them. I can't say what I mean, but some of the things you see here can really change a man or turn a boy into a man. Any combat GI that comes here doesn't leave the same.

In their correspondence, soldiers reflected on these "horrible things," on combat and its carnage, on their fears about getting hit,

____________________
Photograph by Bernard Edelman © Bernard Edelman

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Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Dear America - Letters Home from Vietnam *
  • Contents *
  • Foreword *
  • Preface *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Introduction *
  • Dear America *
  • 1 - "Cherries"- First Impressions *
  • 2 - "Humping the Boonies" *
  • 3 - Beyond the Body Count *
  • 4 - Base Camp- War at the Rear *
  • 5 - "World of Hurt" *
  • 6 - What Am I Doing Here? *
  • 7 - "We Gotta Get out of This Place" *
  • 8 - Last Letters *
  • Epilogue *
  • Glossary *
  • A Note about the Memorial *
  • Index of Contributors *
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