"…Captain Stewart is the one eligible." "Eligible for what?" "For major," Sergeant Simpson said. "And his best chance of making it is while he over here. His tour is up the fifteenth day of March." "That's his problem," Peewee said. "If he don't pick up his body count soon," Sergeant Simpson started to get up, "It's going to be your problem." (4.136-140)
Captain Stewart's promotion depends, at least partially, on how many Vietcong soldiers his men kill. Morbid, huh? Basically, he'll get rewarded for putting his men into situations where they could do the most killing. Those situations aren't exactly the safest, that's for sure.
Later Monaco heard from Sergeant Simpson that Captain Stewart got us out of it. "You can't get a body count on a pacification run," Monaco said. (9.75-76)
Stewart is after one thing: body count. That might mean more free time for the platoon in the short term, but not going on pacification missions also means they'll only see Vietnamese in one way: as the enemy.
That afternoon, orders came through for Brunner and Lobel to be promoted to sergeant, and everybody else in the squad to be moved up to corporal. I didn't even know that Lobel had been a corporal. The word was that everybody was getting short on people. (11.96)
Considering what they've been through, the soldiers probably deserve their promotions. But really, should that be the reason soldiers should have gotten promoted? Because there aren't enough of them? Not the best system. Also, being short on people means lots of deaths. Not exactly reassuring to all the new sergeants and corporals.
Captain Stewart came around to check for casualties. He started talking about how we had to be more aggressive, how we had to go out to get the Vietcong. "We got to keep them up a few nights," he said. He patted Sergeant Simpson on the shoulder. When he left I could see that Sergeant Simpson didn't look good. "You okay, Sarge?" I asked. "That man bucking for major real bad," he said. "He gonna get somebody killed before he makes it." (12.29-33)
Sergeant Simpson's in a tough position. He's caught in the middle: above the other men in the platoon, but not high enough up the ladder to decide what missions they go on. Maybe he also doesn't like getting patted on the shoulder.
What Brew said about not having the nerve to go to Canada shook me. Here he was in Nam, getting shot at every day, afraid of every noise, every step, and yet he had been afraid of going to Canada. It shook me because I knew what he meant. Sometimes standing alone seemed to be the hardest thing in the world to do, even when being in the crowd meant you could be killed. (12.21)
If you were drafted in the '60s and chose not to go to war, the government wasn't like, "It's okay. We understand." It'd either be jail or fleeing to another country, leaving your family and community behind—maybe permanently. Perry's right that there was social pressure involved in making that decision, too. If you went to jail or ran away, how would people think of you?
"A newspaper," Walowick said. "Only thing in it is the stuff about guys burning their draft cards." "Faggots and commies," Brunner said. "Anybody who wouldn't stand up for their country is either a faggot or a Commie." "They're doing what they think is right," Monaco said. "Maybe they are right, who knows?" "That's why we got four and five-man squads," Brunner said. "'Cause those jerks are home smoking dope and burning their draft cards. You get blown away because you don't have a full squad, you can thank those creeps." (12.11-14)
Brunner doesn't come off as sympathetic at first, but once he finishes his rant, his anger is understandable. In his mind, draft dodgers lead to Americans being outnumbered in combat. That anger's personal.
"We'll set up here, Sergeant." Lieutenant Gearhart's voice stiffened. "We ain't got no cover here, sir." Sergeant Simpson looked at Gearhart. "There's cover there," Gearhart said. He pointed to a small trench along the side of the paddy. There were thin bushes next to it. Nothing that would stop a bullet. "We'll put sandbags behind the bushes." "You gonna get some people killed over here!" "Sergeant, I know what I'm doing." Gearhart took a step toward Simpson. "Now deploy the men." (13.50-54)
Gearhart forces his men into a visible, dangerous position just to show that he's the one in charge. Primadonna, much?
"How many you think we got?" he asked. "I know you can't be sure, just give me a number." I didn't know what to say. A picture of the paddies came into my mind. "Twenty? Thirty?" "Maybe not that many, sir?" "Maybe, but it could have been." "It could have been, sir." (14.55-60)
This here is called picking your battles. Perry knows they didn't kill anywhere near thirty people, but also that Stewart always amps up their body count. Instead of arguing with him and making an enemy, he goes with the flow and agrees to the hypothetical thirty kills. After all, Stewart would record a high body count either way.
"He found out that Captain Stewart is volunteering Alpha Company all over the place. He asked him what he's doing that for, and Captain Stewart said that if he didn't want to fight he shouldn't have extended." What Jamal said went down hard. We didn't mind doing our part because it had to be done, even though we always didn't have the answers to why we were doing it. But nobody wanted to go out and risk their lives so that Stewart could make major. (15.94-96)
It's one thing to do your part in the war. It's another to volunteer all the time, everywhere. Kind of sounds like a death wish. And the worst part is, the soldiers aren't doing the volunteering themselves: they're being volunteered. There's nothing they can do about it.
"The little Viet colonel gave Stewart a direct order to take some damn hill. Stewart said he wasn't going up first and the colonel called Division. "Now what going to happen?" Johnson asked. "Now we going up the damn hill first," Peewee said. (18.36-38)
Here's a rare case. Stewart is actually trying to protect the lives of his soldiers by not letting them be the first exposed to an unseen enemy. Too bad it doesn't work out.