Table of contents

We were soldiers 1

On the moral basis of American war

This is the story of the first major battle of the Vietnam War, fought in the valley of the Drang River. Heavily outnumbered American air cavalry defended themselves for two days in face of vastly more numerous Vietnamese forces attacking from three sides.

The colonel who led them tells the journalist who is supposed to tell their story that he cannot forgive himself for not dying with his men; the journalist himself, though he took up arms when needed, abandoned his rifle when the fight was over. We are told in the end that the soldiers did not fight for their country & flag, but only for each other; that they returned home without military honors, to families if they had them, to their military brothers otherwise. In the beginning, we had seen footage of President Johnson ordering the military buildup in Vietnam. Apparently, he was unwise. At the beginning of the battle, we see the troops are sent in aimlessly. Throughout the battle, we see the high command rather confused; after the battle is over, the troops withdraw: they won nothing. Clearly, this strategy is headed for defeat…

The colonel explains to his daughter, who asks him, What is war?, that war is when some people try to take others’ lives & then he has to go prevent that. The daughter realizes he might lose his life trying… This is a theory of defensive war, which is inherently justified.

He also explains to one of his young officers, who is married with a child, that he hopes being a soldier helps him be a better father. Presumably, fathers must be harsh in defense of their own. He treats his soldiers like a father treats his family, & promises them always to be the first to face danger & the last to turn away from it. Courage is standing your ground. War makes them equals, because they need each other to survive, & therefore race no longer matters.

Praying to God for protection, both in private & among his troops, seems to be required because just war is at least as uncertain as the more popular variety. It’s not clear that the Christian God is a god of conquest, but men must rely on God. The young officer prays that God have a purpose for him. The colonel prays that God give the young officer the good things he deserves in the future. The boy gets killed in battle.

The colonel swears to his troops, before God, that they will all return together, the dead with the living. Thus love is the being together of the family. Without God, these oaths are meaningless, because men themselves are not immortal.

A rarity, a good Vietnam movie. Find it. See it.