Study Guide

Platoon Versions of Reality

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Versions of Reality

TAYLOR: I think I made a big mistake coming here.

Really? You think? Here, Taylor's reality changes almost immediately. If before his arrival in Vietnam, the reality was the war was a noble effort, after a week in the bush he's had enough and realizes that he's entered a terrible, horrible, cruel place.

BARNES: Elias is a water walker, like them politicians in Washington trying to fight this war with one hand tied around their balls. Ain't no need or time for a courtroom out here.

For Barnes, both Elias and "them politicians in Washington" have no clear concept of the reality of Vietnam. They want to fight the war in a humane way; a way that Barnes believes does not square with the reality of the war or with his sense of what it will take to win.

TAYLOR: Day by day, I struggle to maintain not only my strength, but my sanity. It's all a blur. I have no energy to write. I don't know what's right and what's wrong anymore.

Taylor's reality—his sense of "what's right and what's wrong"—is destroyed by the war. He finds himself needing to adapt to a different world where the normal categories of right and wrong are hopelessly confused.

TAYLOR: Barnes was at the eye of our rage, and through him, our captain Ahab, he would set things right again, that day we loved him.

The reality of the war changes from time to time for Taylor. One day it's hell, another day it's straight from Melville's Moby Dick. The ways in which Taylor's perspective shifts imitates the horrific uncertainty of the jungle and the war.

ELIAS: Lieutenant, why the f*** didn't you do something?

WOLFE: What are you talking about ?

ELIAS: You know what the f*** I'm talking about

WOLFE: No I don't, I don't know what the f*** you're talking about

Lieutenant Wolfe believes what he wants to believe, and he wants to look the other way with regards to Barnes' murder of an innocent civilian. In his reality, nothing wrong happened. In his reality, there's no reason to file a report against a guy like Barnes, the platoon's natural leader.

RHAH: And dig this you assholes, and dig it good, Barnes been shot 7 times and he ain't dead, does that mean anything to you, huh? Barnes ain't meant to die. The only thing that can kill Barnes, is Barnes

Rhah summarizes the reality of Barnes to which many of the platoon's soldiers subscribe: Barnes is a guy straight out of a myth. It's like he can't die, even though he's been shot 7 times. He seems immortal, his only real enemy himself.

BARNES: Why do you smoke this s***? So's to escape from reality? Me I don't need this s***. I am reality. There's the way it oughta be, and there's the way it is.

Barnes boldly claims to be reality itself—the "way it is." That reality is the fact that they're fighting a bloody, terrible war, and there's no place in that war for the naiveté of guys like Taylor and Elias. The reality that Barnes identifies with is one in which it's okay to kills guys like Elias who kill the de facto leaders, the Barnes, of the platoon.

BUNNY: I told the padre the truth, man. I like it here. You get to do what you want, nobody f***s with you. The only worry you got is dying, and if that happens you won't know about it anyway so what the f*** man?

For Bunny, the reality of Vietnam is that it is a lawless, almost carefree place, a place where freedom reigns. This is a strange version of reality, but perhaps he looks at this way so that he can better cope with the very real possibility of his life being tragically cut short.

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