They did not know even the simple things: a sense of victory, or satisfaction, or neccesary sacrifice. They did not know the feeling of taking a place and keeping it, securing a village and then raising the flag and calling it a victory. No sense of order or momentum. No front, no rear, no trenches laid out in neat parallels. No Patton rushing for the Rhine, no beachheads to storm and win and hold for the duration. They did not have targets. They did not have a cause. They did not know if it was a war of ideology or economics or hegemony or spite. On a given day, they did not know where they were in Quang Ngai, or how being there might influence larger outcomes. They did not know the names of most villages. They did not know which villages were crucial. They did not know strategies. They did not know the terms of the war, its architecture, the rules of fair play. When they took prisoners, which was rare, they did not know the questions to ask, whether to release a suspect or beat on him. They did not know how to feel. Whether, when seeing a dead Vietnamese, to be happy or sad or relieved; whether, in times of quiet, to be apprehensive or content; whether to engage the enemy or elude him. They did not know how to feel when they saw villages burning. Revenge? Loss? Peace of mind or anguish? They did not know. They knew the old myths about Quang Ngai–tales passed down from old-timer to newcomer–but they did not know which stories to believe. Magic, mystery, ghosts and incense, whispers in the dark, strange tongues and strange smells, uncertainties never articulated in war stories, emotion squandered on ignorance. They did not know good from evil.
Oscar Johnson refused to back off from a claim that he was born and raised in center-city Detroit, where, he said, he first learned the principles of human diplomacy. He listed them in precise order–compromise, give-‘n’-take, courtesy, magnanimity. “An’ if you still don’ get what you want,” Oscar said, “then crack the sons of bitches with a sledgehammer.” Diplomacy, he was fond of saying, is the art of persuasion; and war–never citing his sources–is simply diplomacy continued through other means. . .