Rumors and Legends:
Philip Caputo and Robert of Locksley
War changes people, both for the good and for the bad. The war the United States fought in Vietnam is an example of just how dramatically the life of someone can change under the circumstances of war. Similarly, men who fought in the Crusades in the twelfth century C.E. changed because of the war they fought. A historical, legendary figure from the twelfth century crusades is Robert of Locksley, also known popularly as the most likely candidate in the debate regarding the identity of the figure known as Robin Hood. A figure from the Vietnam War, a man who later wrote of his experiences and returned to the area as a war correspondent, is Philip Caputo, a former US Marine. Caputo and many modern-day portrayals of Robert of Locksley seem to share many similarities, but they also have differences. By comparing Philip Caputo and the experiences he set down in
A Rumor of War to the modern perception of Robert of Locksley as Robin Hood, once and hope to better understand how Caputo, and, in a larger sense, American soldiers, changed during the Vietnam War.
When Philip Caputo joined the Marine Corps, he was a former English major from Illinois, a young, idealistic man who wanted to escape the shadow of his parents. When he returned, he was the stereotypical Vietnam veteran, with "an inability to concentrate, a child-like fear of darkness, a tendency to tire easily, chronic nightmares, an intolerance of loud noises…and alternating moods of depression and rage...." He describes this set of things as "the symptoms of combat veteranitis" (Caputo, 4). According to the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Robert (alternately referred to as Robin) of Locksley was a "spoiled bully who used to burn [the hair of young noble girls] as a child" before he left for the Crusades, but returned a changed man determined to set things right (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991). The Robert of Locksley portrayed in Jennifer Robertson's Lady of the Forest returned a scarred and broken man. These two sources paint a picture of Robin Hood that is held as the story and legend of Robin Hood by most popular medial outlets and people today. Through these sources, one can see the suffering and experiences in war that these men endured changed them dramatically, for the good and the ill.
In Vietnam, soldiers never knew who was a member of the Viet Cong (VC) and who was not. This resulted in the deaths of many Vietnamese who might not have been Viet Cong at all. However, in Vietnam, if it was an Asian body, it was VC, and dead VC was what their superiors wanted. During the Crusades, European knights murdered Arabs and Muslims and pillaged their cities in their so-called "holy war" to reclaim Jerusalem. By comparing a Vietnam veteran such as Philip Caputo to a fictional character - indeed, a modern-day perception of a legend - who fought in the Crusades and in the forests of England afterward, one can hope to better understand what happened in Vietnam and to veterans as a whole. Vietnam and the Crusades were similar not only for the way the two conflicts changed the soldiers who fought, but because of the actions taken during the conflict. One of these actions was the quiet protest of the nobility, many of whom bought their sons out of the armies of various kings. While not as loud or as violent as the protests to Vietnam in the United States, it still existed, mostly in the upper classes, with some nobles even going so far as to call England's involvement "[King] Richard's holy insanity" (Robertson, 3). Another similarity was the absolute disregard for the kin of the enemy. During the Crusades, thousands upon thousands of civilians were killed as the Europeans pushed through cities and villages on their quest to liberate the Holy Land (Spielvogel, 351). Like these knights, American soldiers showed little regard for the lives of those who harbored and supported the Viet Cong. In chapter seventeen of A Rumor of War, Caputo writes about how he and his patrol burned a town after discovering evidence of the villagers harboring Viet Cong and supplies for the same. What men did during the Crusades is similar to what men did in Vietnam, and affected them in similar ways.
Philip Caputo and the fictional version of Robert of Locksley seen in several modern-day depictions have several things in common. Both men emerged from the wars they fought as changed men, will forever remember the things they did and the indignities they suffered, lost friends and companions, and returned home to little notice. Philip Caputo's case is not unique, but like that of many veterans of the US Armed Forces during that period. When Caputo returned home from Vietnam, he had what he describes as "combat veteranitis" (aversion to loud noises, shortened attention span, et cetera) - an affliction that he never fully overcame (Caputo, 4). The condition, presumably, found its source in the actions he took while in Vietnam, including the destruction of villages and the killing of Vietnamese nationals. Something else that deeply affected Caputo was the loss of his friends and the men under his command. However, the killing affected him more deeply toward the beginning of his service in Vietnam rather than later. Around the midpoint of his memoir, Caputo writes about hoping that the Viet Cong had some way of notifying the families of those fighters killed, like the Americans did. At the end, he does not even care anymore. Loss was also something that affected all soldiers in Vietnam, as evidenced when Sullivan, one of the men that Caputo served with, died. Although injury and death were constants in the lives of the soldiers, it continued to affect them. Sullivan's death struck Caputo so deeply that he dedicated A Rumor of War to his memory. Caputo also dedicated the book to Levy, another man with whom he trained and served. The fact that Caputo was able to so clearly depict his time in Vietnam in his book, and the problems that many Vietnam veterans have to this day, indicate that they cannot forget what they did and what was done to them during the conflict. The feeling that what they did was futile eventually got to the troops, especially when they left. Caputo writes:
“None of us was a hero. We would not return to cheering crowds, parades, and the pealing of great cathedral bells. We had done nothing more than endure. We had survived, and that was our only victory.” (Caputo, 337)
These men knew that what they did was for naught, and accepted that, even if acceptance and realization did not come for a long while afterward. Perhaps this is a reason why they are the way they are.
Likewise, Robert of Locksley returned to England from the Crusades a changed man. Jennifer Robertson, in her novel Lady of the Forest, describes flashbacks that Robin has of his time in the Holy Land, and the death of Hugh Fitzwalter, the father of Maid Marian. Robin feels great guilt over what he did in the Holy Land, and what he failed to do, much like Philip Caputo, and it changed the man he was. There is a poignant sequence in the book where, shortly after his return to England, he sits alone in his father's castle.
of Locksley…sat very quietly on the edge of the chair, holding himself
perfectly still. If he didn’t
move, if he did not so much as twitch, the chair wouldn’t break.
And neither will I. (Robertson, 8)
This scene shows how deeply affected by what he saw and did in the Crusades affected Robert of Locksley. The Crusades almost completely "unhinged" Robert of Locksley the same way that fighting in Vietnam "unhinged" Caputo. Both of these men suffered from their own forms of
combat veteranitis. The only differences were that Caputo suffered his form of
combat veteranitis in the company of thousands upon thousands of other American servicemen while Robert of Locksley dealt with his alone.
The larger idea behind looking at Caputo and Robin Hood as similar men is to look at the Vietnam War and the Crusades that Robert of Locksley fought is to look at them after their wars, at what they became. Robert of Locksley became Robin Hood, a national hero of Britain to this day, saving his nation and his king from the machinations of Prince John Lackland (the king who would later have the Magna Carta foisted onto him by the barons of England). Philip Caputo, after leaving the Marine Corps in 1967, became a writer for the Chicago Tribune and later, a war correspondent. What these men did in war affected what they later did in life - Caputo actually returned to Vietnam in the 1970s and was among the last people evacuated when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. For these men, war set the tone for what they would do in life.
Caputo, Philip. A Rumor of War. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1977, 1996.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Screenplay by Pen Densham and John Watson. Dir. Kevin Reynolds. Perf. Kevin Costner, Morgan Freedman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christian Slater and Alan Rickman. Warner Brothers, 1991.
Robertson, Jennifer. Lady of the Forest. Clifton, New Jersey: Kensington, 1992.
Spielvogel, Jackson J. and William J. Duiker. World History to 1500. United States: Wadsworth/Thomas Learning, 2001.
CNN Cold War - Interviews: Lt. Philip Caputo. CNN. November 27, 2001. < http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/episodes/11/interviews/caputo/>
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Screenplay by Pen Densham and John Watson. Dir. Kevin Reynolds. Perf. Kevin Costner, Morgan Freedman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christian Slater and Alan Rickman. Warner Brothers, 1991. (see www.imdb.com for image)
Lady of the Forest. Clifton, New Jersey: Kensington, 1992. ( see www.amazon.com