Lullabies for Lieutenants

by Abigail Pfeiffer on July 28, 2010

Lullabies for Lieutenants-Franklin Cox

Franklin Cox’s memoir “Lullabies for Lieutenants: Memoir of a Marine Forward Obserever in Vietnam, 1965-1966” is a gripping account of his year in Vietnam as a forward observer.  Each chapter deals with a specific part of his tour and addresses the tactical part of war as well as the human part of war.  The reader begins this memoir as Cox and his fellow Marines land at Danang on July 7th, 1965.  We follow Cox all the way through the ending of his tour in May of 1966.

What is so striking about this memoir is how Cox addresses the negatives of war, such as the destruction of homes, the taking of human life, and the negligent leadership that inevitably leads to Marine’s dying, while also addressing the few positives that come from war, such as the incredible brotherhood shared by Marines. As someone who has never been in combat, Cox paints a clear picture in the mind of the reader regarding the strategic part of war and being a forward observer, as well as the human condition during war.

Chapter 7 demonstrates this human condition as Cox describes an old woman in Ha Dong village.  In this village Cox meets Linh, the matriarch of the village.  This chapter shows the reader how humans can be connected even with a language barrier and a war raging all around.  The reader is essentially taken on a journey through the waiting that is a big part of war, to the terrifying moments that punctuate that waiting, to the thoughts and dreams of the men who were dropped into Vietnam by their government.

The book does not end with Cox’s tour ending.  Cox goes on to write about his experiences after war, about the anger that was inside him from Vietnam in his civilian life, and how this anger worked for and against him.  He writes about how: “The American military has never come to terms with the principles necessary to win over the people, not in Asia decades ago, and not in the Muslim world today.” (page 198). All the firepower in the world is not enough to win a war if we do not understand our enemy, humanity, or history.  Cox wrote how Ho Chi Minh understood this human condition when Ho said: “If the Grasshopper does not stop fighting the Elephant, the Elephant will die of exhaustion.” (page 198). This certainly applies to the Vietnam War.  Cox ends the book by telling the reader “Know thine enemy.”

Vietnam has showed us how superior firepower does not make up for this lack of knowledge of our enemy. We need to appreciate history, learn from it, and apply those lessons to better our future.

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