"The way I figure it, we got to stick together over here." He had three rings on the hand he waved in the air. "I can't trust no whitey to watch my back when the deal goes down." (2.29)
This unnamed guy Perry and Peewee meet is a little intense, what with wanting them to swear a blood oath and everything. But his wariness of white people doesn't come from nowhere. Perry and Peewee don't know it yet, but they're going to face prejudiced soldiers (::cough::Brunner::cough::) later during their time in Vietnam, and they're no strangers to discrimination having grown up in segregated America. Blood may be taking it a bit far, but racism is real and dangerous in this book.
"These gooks will probably be having supper with the VIETCONG by the time we sit down to chow," Brunner said. "How come when you say 'gooks' it sounds like 'n*****' to me?" Johnson asked. (4.117-118)
Johnson has a point. Both words are racist slurs that have origins in American imperialism. And they're both not very polite.
"That is a fag solution, only capable of coming from the mind of a fag," Brunner said. "Hey Corporal," Lobel got up on one elbow. "Just because I don't have my serial number tattooed on my genitals does not mean I'm a fag." (4.58-59)
Back home the World seemed to be splitting up between people who wanted to make love and people who wanted to tear the cities down. A lot of it was blacks against whites, and we didn't talk about that too much, but we felt it.
Over the summer a kid in Harlem had been killed by a white police officer and there had been some riots. I told Mama in a letter to tell Kenny to be careful. Sometimes he had a fresh mouth, and I didn't want him hurt. (13.14-15)
As if Perry doesn't have enough to worry about in Vietnam, he also has to worry about his family getting caught in the crossfire of a race riot back at home. Yikes. Race riots were usually sparked by some incident of prejudice, and sometimes included violence that could be random and cruel. Definitely a good day to stay indoors.
"You know, I never thought much about black people before I got into the army. I don't think I was prejudiced or anything—I just didn't think much about black people." "Well, we're here," I said. (14.67-68)
Wow. Gearhart's really not holding back. At least what he's saying is coming from a place of remorse. He feels truly guilty for accidentally setting off the flare that gave away their position and caused the death of Turner, a black man. Not the greatest cause for thinking through your values, but at least he's getting there.
Johnson outlined the problem. "Me, Peewee, Perry, and Monaco is the n*****s of this outfit," he said. "We got to keep a serious watch on our asses." I believed him. Monaco was Italian, but he was the same as the black guys in Dongan's eyes. Maybe because he got along with us so well, I don't know. (17.92-93)
Looks like Dongan's prejudice extends beyond black people. Italian Americans also faced prejudice in the 1960s. That, plus being friends with the black members of the platoon, might as well add up to a death sentence, they worry.
Peewee (Harold Gates)
"What the f*** does that mean?" Peewee asked. "We get a Cong, we supposed to kill his ass twice?" "No, monkey face, it means that we're supposed to kill as many of these gooks as we can," Brunner said. "You going to 'monkey face' your way right to Arlington Cemetery," Peewee said. (17.138-140)
Brunner's always said racist things, but do you think he would have called Peewee "monkey face" earlier in the book? Now that they have a possibly racist commander (Dongan), Brunner seems to be getting worse. Don't encourage him.
"You guys think we're going to have a race problem over here?" Lobel asked. "Not as long as everybody over here got them a gun," Peewee said. Lobel stood up. "Well, just in case we do," he said. "I want you to know you got the Jew on your side." (17.111-113)
Dongan didn't invite Lobel for a beer because he thought he might be gay. But whether he is or not, the reason that Lobel identifies with the black men in his platoon is his Jewish heritage. When it comes to the white members of his platoon, that makes Lobel feel more like an outsider than part of the group, so he buddies up with the other outsiders. At least they've got each other.
When he talked about Dongan, I listened. "First thing he done was to sit down and have him a beer with Brunner, then he had him a beer with Walowick. He don't like Lobel because he think Lobel's a faggot. He even ask me if he was a faggot." (18.28-29)
Once again, Lobel's being left on the outside—this time because of Dongan's homophobia.
Peewee (Harold Gates)
"Johnson asked him to his damn face," Peewee said. "He asked him how come he put a brother on point and another brother in the damn rear with the sixty?" I looked at Monaco, he looked back at me. "What did he say?" "Dongan—that's his name—" Peewee said, "he said he do what he think he should do and it ain't for Johnson to tell him what to do." (17.38-41)
Dongan puts the black men in the most vulnerable positions in their formation. In other words, if the group is fired at, Johnson and Peewee are the most likely to die. Thanks a lot, Dongan.