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Finding American values in not so American Places: Going after Cacciato

//Just read a book called Going After Cacciato and loved it, so here is an article I wrote just talking about it, thinking about it, and relating it to my life/the prompt. I fucking hate prompts.

Steven Harmon
Teacher Michael Thorton
American Lit & Composition
2 December 2014

American Values in not so American Places: Going After Cacciato
     Tim O'Brien once said in an interview “America gave me Vietnam. I want to give it back.” (349) Going After Cacciato is more than just a war novel; its a peace novel. Sure its set in the Vietnam War with its mosquitoes, paddies, mines, muddy villages on fire, and the occasional lethal confrontation with the VC in checking tunnels before blowing them, but its in this surreal journey in catching Cacciato in Paris that raises questions on war itself and American values at that time.
“He would of liked winning it, true, but that wasn’t the issue. He would've liked showing the medal to his father, the heavy feel of it, looking his father in the eye to show he had been brave,” (O'Brien 81) This expectation to do your parents proud is not distinctly American, but the context of it is very much so. Getting drafted into a rather ambiguous dirty war leaves one to find a purpose to fight in it, otherwise everyone would be deserting their posts to their freedom as Cacciato did in droves. Its either doing your pap proud when you come home, going back to what you have when you come back home, or doing what needs to be done to avoid the social shunning from the act of going awol. “Does the absence of good purpose jeopardize the soldier's own ego, thus making him less likely to fight well and bravely?” (O'Brien 199), and the front line soldier at the time would say its self respect and fear of damaging their reputations if they had left their post and never looked back; on the other hand a general would have a conversation along the lines of “'Why are we fightin' this war?' 'To win it, sir.'”(O'Brien 268) and both responses are valid. It is in obligations which a soldier yields his fantasy exile in “inner peace” to an idea bigger than themselves which seems like a pretty damn good American value to me.
     Speaking of being held to something bigger and not giving up without bring back something to show for it... Think of Cacciato himself as a symbol of a black and white victory to justify the toil involved in capturing him, because without this physical proof Paul Berlin and friends become the deserters themselves; now think of the Vietnam war as Cacciato, because there is nothing better than not knowing if they/we as a country then won anything. All I know is that the fate of Cacciato remained a mystery in the end and with so many casualties on both sides nobody truly wins in the Vietnam War which may be the whole theme of this book entirely, making it a great modernist take on war in my opinion with it being first person, out of order, and the pure depiction of the inner state of mind and conscious of the soldier of the Vietnam war.
     You know what is American? Democracy, because we try to spread it and protect it from communists which is the main reason we get into wars in the first place. This abstraction of democracy is shown in chapter thirty four and thirty five when the group has to make a unanimous difficult decision in self preservation from SOP's regarding the checking of tunnels “'So' he said. 'That's everyone.”(O'Brien 241) Reminds me of the founding fathers of America having to get one and other to say “I'm in.”
     The modernist mindset from what I've noticed in reading literature in the cannon for the most part share this ideology of bearing witness to the decline of society through the material, capitalistic, corrosive things in life. Page 148 the lieutenant's “crush” talks of her time in America “A land of genius and invention...Television, it's one of those magnificent American inventions...an invention that, well, brings a country together. Rich and poor, black and white-they share all the same heroes” (O'Brien), then she is pointed out by Oscar a member of the squad “She's a phony. All that crap last night 'bout TV an' shopping malls. You ever hear such crap? The old man, he should take some lessons in phoniness.” (O'Brien) Other than having a flashback to Catcher in the Rye that accusation of alienation and corruption from production fits snug into the definition of modernism.
The book was written out of order not only to build up anticipation and curiosity to accentuate the readers notice of detail as well as keep them interested in the book itself through In medias res, but to delve clear into the mindset of the soldier. The three stories, the first being the main plot of the chase, second is the observation post, and third is the war stories explaining the horrors as well as how someone could possibly “die of fright”; the fact that these are blended one going into the other so seamlessly day by day passing by of wading through unforgiving land, mortar, and sniper fire immersing you into loosing track of time both in the book and out of it. The little intricate details on the tricks used to keep oneself from going crazy or giving up by counting the months, weeks, days, hours, seconds, the imaginary dollars, and where those all would go really sold it for me.
     So the theme being “nobody wins in war” James Griffith's article “A Walk through History: Tim O'Brien's Going after Cacciato” he points out a point in the book where the squad meets a man named Li in the tunnel asking for directions out of it, and “he is almost embarrassed to inform them, '...according to the rules, I fear you gentlemen are now my prisoners.' Li's arresting statement points out how all soldier's, captured or not, suffer as prisoners in this kind of seemingly fruitless war.” (Griffith 1) “Fruitless war” you say? Seems to me, there's no winning without fruit of labors.
Why Paris by the way? Why is it that Cacciato chooses to go to Paris of all closer countries untouched by war? Is it just the romantic thought of Paris and its insured freedom from the war, or is it tied to the period/social era? It could have been chosen at random, but am I the only one who sees the blatantly obvious connection to the Paris Peace Accords and Cacciato's journey to “gay paree”? I'm a bit of a history buff when it comes to wars; I even did stop motion animations about the bay of pigs invasion and Cuban missile crisis when I was in seventh grade, so before reading this book I decided to do some research of the time to give myself context and to my surprise later in reading Going after Cacciato I figuratively jumped out of my chair that I had caught onto something quite clever from reading Ku Bia's article “What was Paris Peace Accords?” “The Paris Peace Accords (PPA) was an agreement between the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the United States to bring an end to the Vietnam War.” (Bia 1) So this idea of Peace and internal peace that Spec Four and friends chased after along with Cacciato is pretty literal after all. Talk about style.
     All in all this book has enriched my perspective on war tremendously, and I will gift this to a dear friend of mine named Quentin who wants to enlist after high school to perhaps make him question even going at all. Its selfish of me, and I know its what he is determined to do with his life, but seeing the similarities in modernism of a separation and alienation from new technology and production “the internet” to Afghanistan makes me increasingly worried for his future. Funny thing art is, making you think of the world differently after exposed to it...

Works Cited
Griffith, James. "A Walk through History: Tim O'Brien's Going after Cacciato." Contemporary Literary Criticism. 1998 ed. Vol. 103. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. N. pag. Print.
Bia, Ku. "What Was Paris Peace Accords? - The Vietnam War." The Vietnam War. THE VIETNAM WAR, 22 May 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
O'Brien, Tim. Going after Cacciato. London: Collins, 1988. Print.


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