The Unromantic Face of War

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Many of the characters throughout the book face psychological and physical trauma in the Vietnamese War.  They are witnesses to atrocities and death that occur every day.  For example, there is a moment for every character when they are forced to kill a Vietcong soldier up close.  This experience forces them to face the dark reality of the war, and it destroys their innocence.

Early in the novel there are contrasts between war as shown in movies and what is really happening in Vietnam.  The people back home believe that war is place full of glory and heroes.  However, Walter Dean Myers makes it clear that war is not as romanticized as it is in the movies.  According to Walter Dean Myers, war is a waste of the young and the potential youth of America. 

Becoming a Man

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The characters in this book are still very young.  They are struggling to come to terms with themselves, and are still trying to find out who they are.  For example, Perry struggles with finding his role in his own family.  He does not know what to write in his letters back home, and he is uncertain of how to show his family how much he truly loves them.  The war makes this struggle much harder because it places the young men in very unfamiliar and uncivilized circumstances.  They are forced to kill, which is an act in itself that goes against the nature of becoming a man.

Why are We Here?

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Throughout the novel, Perry consistently asks himself what he is doing in Vietnam.  Perry struggles with the idea that others have to die so that his "team" could win.  Perry thinks the idea of winning the war is a good idea from a distance but not when it gets close and personal and not when it gets down to killing another man.  Perry starts to think about the enemy's perspective and he begins to wonder if the fighting that he and his platoon are doing even makes sense.  He sees women and children wounded and killed and he knows that real heroes would not do that.