Why Did They Die in Vietnam?nJames Webb: fie Wi of Fire; Prentice-nHall; Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.nby Joseph Schwartznrields of Fire offers the reader andifferent perspective on the Vietnamnwar than most other fiction dealing withnthat war. The distinctive tension of thisnnovel is generated by the contrast betweennwhat the narrative directs thenreader to and the response one couldnnormally assume of its audience. Thatnis to say, Webb confronts our consciencenwhich we have learned to put asidenthrough rationalizations, excuses, andnafter-the-fact explanations. This tensionnwould be much less effective if the novelndid not have the credibility of an eyewitnessnand participant as part of itsntexture. Somehow we feel morallynobligated to give heed to the person whoncan make the legitimate claim that henwas there, even if we reserve the rightnto disagree with his conclusions. It isnthe vital presence of the author in thisnwork that makes the novel at least fornhere and now a moving experience.nThe major premise of the narrativenstatement is Lt. Hodges’ reflection thatn”my war is not as simple” as the warsnof America’s past. What made it soncomplex? This was the kind of war innwhich people felt no obligation to servenon other than their own terms. RobertnE. Lee Hodges, Jr., however, fightsnbecause his ancestors have alwaysnfought, knowing that a man cannotnchoose his country’s enemy.n”It was the fight that mattered, notnthe cause. It was the endurance thatnwas important, the will to face certainnloss, unknown dangers, unpredictablenfates. And if one did it long enoughnand hard enough, he might happennupon a rewarding nugget. But, in anynDr. Joseph Schwartz, of MarquettenUniversity, edits the quarterly Renascence.n8nChronicles of Culturenevent, he was serving, offering himselfnon the altar of his culture.”nThe refusal to admit defeat may be unreasoning,nbut the emotion generatednthereby passes through the blood fromnone generation to the next—“a fiercenresolution that found itself always in anpitch against death.” His warrior ghostsnare with him everywhere. The unity henfeels with such a primitive instinctnmakes even the losses of the past ansource of strength to him.n”i Webbs I plot and characieriyaiionsnlevrl. . . unsiitistvini; inii-llectiuiilv.”‘nThis war is not so simple becausenweathered soldiers tell him what hisnown experience confirms, that the sufferingnis unique. Men are turned intonanimals in a wild bush war unlike anynother, an experience for which no onencould be prepared. Only the most dedicatednor the very craziest could take it.nA constant refrain, like a musical reverberation,nruns through the book, “I’mnin Hell.” The compelling picturizationnof this suffering, the novel’s strongestnpoint, is especially moving because thenmeaning of the suffering cannot be explained.nHas Hodges been warped bynhis birthright.’ Who appreciates his suffering?n”Who do I suffer for?” It is not,nhe discovers, what is happening in Vietnamnthat matters any longer. It is what’snhappening back in the States that matters.nThe war touches no one but thensoldier. “We have been abandoned.”nThose back home do not know how tonfight the war nor how to stop fightingnit. “They ain’t worth dying for.” Gilliland,nthe spokesman for another era,nrecalls his pride in being a Marine andnhis shocking discovery that because ofnhis uniform he is now considered annanimal: “she spit at rne.” Hodges comesnto recognize that nobody back therencares “whether anyone of us live ornnndie.” If you cannot win a war with yournhands tied behind your back, you quit,nor you become crippled, or you die—nmostly, in this novel, you die.nLt. Hodges dies. The meaning of hisnsacrifice is beyond his understanding.n”He doesn’t know anything about itnanymore.” The author, however, doesnnot back away from making a judgment.nHodges’ brief romance with Mitsuko,nan Okinawan girl, has produced a beautifulnchild, “a complementary mix ofngold and white.” It is to this son thatn. . reniain at a raiher stereotypedn— Booklistnan answer must be given. “Why did hendie in Vietnam?” His mother says simply,n”He was a warrior there.” Her answerncalls up for the reader Hodges’nearlier spiritual communion with hisnwarrior ghosts who taught him not tonbe afraid. But, insists his son, “Is itngood to be so brave? To fight for yourncountry like that? Was it a good thingnthat my father died?” His mother answers,nsimply again, but offering hernson (and the reader) a key, “It was anvery good thing your father did.” Webbnputs the answer in her mouth becausenshe is from a different culture, onencloser to the tombs of its ancestors, onenwhich can better understand the mostnbasic qualities of the human condition.nHer affirmation carries the baggage ofncenturies and is meant to resonate withnHodges’ colloquy with his ghosts.nHer answer is a good deal more satisfyingnthan the one given by the lawyernfather of one of Hodges’ men. Unfortunately,nI think he speaks for Webbnas much as Mitsuko does. He makes thenpoint that the strength of the wholencomes from each individual’s surrenderingna portion of his individualism tonthe common good. So far, no argument.nHe adds, “And the common good isndefined by who wins at the polls and then