The Things They Carried by Tim OBrien Essay

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It is a hotly contested idea that just one war-themed book can adequately discuss the topic of Vietnam, and this idea is properly portrayed in this book. Fellow authors like Renny Christopher have condemned Tim O'Brien's story for paying more attention to the misery of the American soldiers and less interest in the Vietnamese. However, the core of "The Things They Carried," O'Brien's work is distinct. Another author, Heberle, who wrote "A Trauma Artist," based his work on how aggression has impacted on American politics, society and culture. Similarly, O'Brien's work also focuses on the distressing experiences endured by the American soldiers. "The Things They Carried" is popularly seen as one of the best written books on American life after the sufferings of the war (M. Heberle). However, what exactly makes the Vietnam War distinct compared to other wars which America fought in? What brought about an American victory in the Vietnam War? Was the enemy not as equipped and strong as the American military? In his story, O'Brien makes a case for a greater commendation of the brave men of the American force for their heroic feats during the war. Is O'Brien also of the opinion that the courageous acts of the soldiers should be the main point of interest? The conditions in which O'Brien and his fellow brothers-in-arms in Vietnam lived and the little regard for human life are the most evident themes in the story.

A Working Class War

The book's title is in agreement with one of the major theories that O'Brien postulates. The soldiers in the book carry a lot of stuff. Guns, ammunition, food, water, survival gear, personal gear including comics, sweets and letters from loved ones left behind at home, make up the physical load carried by the soldiers. However, they are more burdened by the emotional and psychological load of visions, goals, past nightmares and future aspirations. But with whom do they battle with this time? Most of them are youths who have been coerced into joining the war. A large number of them hailed from middle-class and pitiable families. Perhaps no other twentieth-century war in American history has involved such a number of middle-class citizens as the war of Vietnam. Organizations in charge of recruitment into the military drafted the middle-class children into the army while their more affluent mates attended college. Most youths from affluent and famous backgrounds were left out of the recruitment and only a very small number came forward. Therefore, one of America's most disliked conflicts was fought mostly by the teenage kids of factory workers, drivers, secretaries, wood-workers etc. (Appy 252)

The conventional norms of war were not followed in Vietnam, firstly the enemy didn't pose any form of danger to the Americans, the reason for the war wasn't clear and even the American people were split between supporting the government and expressing empathy towards the armed forces. Combining these with the fabrications of the media, which set up a campaign of deceit, propaganda and falsification of evidence, the U.S. Government and the Military successfully created a mental image of Vietnam and the threat it poses.
However, when the past and the future meet, even the truth gets diluted with a generally accepted belief and thoughts of disturbing accounts get tougher to extract.

Explaining the War

O'Brien'sbook talks about the burden the soldiers bear daily. These soldiers went through a lot with a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. O'Brien believes that this weight the soldiers bear is what advances them as it's only by pushing our bounds we get to know how much we can achieve. These youthful soldiers bear a lot with the smallest of their burdens being the weight of their equipment. A number of these men crack under the burden while others bear it with grace and survive.

"This was the wrong time and place. You needed everything you had to stay alive, and doing drugs wasn't one of them. If you were doing drugs, you could get shot out in the field during a fire fight or maybe get the whole squad killed" (de Groot 268).

The Viet Cong had to employ a new strategy in the Vietnam War after a firsthand experience of the terrible weapons the Americans owned. They employed a tactic called "hugging" on the American soldiers to prevent them from using their jets and heavy artillery. This swift change in tactic showed the tactical elasticity and ready-to-learn nature of the Viet Cong in sharp contrast to their American counterparts (Nagl 224). Notwithstanding the overhyped supremacy of American technology in terms of equipment and intelligence, the Viet Cong obviously dictated the conditions of the battle. The American troops wasted large amounts of time looking for the Vietnamese who in most cases determined when and where the battles were fought. A large number of American soldiers who were killed during the Vietnamese War were victims of enemy mines, tripwires and surprise attacks (Appy 252).

One of the individuals talked about in the book goes by the name Kiowa.He is a Native American, O'Brien's closest pal and arguably the most jovial soldier on the Alpha squad. Despite his many battles against the Viet Cong, he doesn't abhor any form of hate for them unlike his other companions. He tries to help the other soldiers in his company get rid of their hate as well and to be at peace with themselves. Sadly, Kiowa is killed when he gets buried in sewage. Kiowa's demise says it all about the pointless disasters of war. Kiowa dies without any form of grace, drowning after getting submerged under the filth of a sewage field which his….....

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Appy, Christian. "What They Carried On Patrol." Mcmohan, Robert. Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War. n.d. 252.

de Groot, Gerard. "A Grunt's Life." Mcmohan, Robert. Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War. n.d.

Gioia, Ted. The New Canon. n.d. 28 November 2016.

Hassebrock, Frank and Brenda Boyle. "Memory and Narrative: Reading The Things They Carried for Psyche and Persona." Journal of Language, Learning and Academic Writing (2009).

Heberle, Mark A. A Trauma Artist: Tim O'Brien And The Fiction of Vietnam. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001.

Heberle, Mark. A Trauma Artist: Tim O'Brien And The Fiction of Vietnam. Monograph Collection, 2001.

Kaplan, Steven. "The Undying Uncertainity of the Narrator in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried." EBSCO Publishing (1993): 43-52.

Kowalewski, Laurence. "Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried: Postmodern Fiction for a Postmodern War." Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (2011).

Nagl, John A. "The Tunnel Complexes of Than Khe - The Failure of the Counterinsurgency Warfare." Mcmohan, Robert. Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War. n.d.

O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990.

Wells, Linda. "The National Heroic and Soldierly Conduct." Character, Narrative, and the Liberal Arts in Journal of Education (2000).

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