The Things They Carried1

In 1959 Americans saw that Vietnam was experiencing a civil war that had split the country into North and South Vietnam. Reasons for American involvement in the war stemmed from the threat of the Communist party found in North Vietnam. The United States believed that if the South Vietnamese fell under Communist rule then surrounding countries would also be invaded and this influence of Communism would create a domino theory that would spread throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. In 1965 America decided to increase their involvement in the War effort and changed their military strategy in an effort to end the war quicker.

This book tells of stories that were inspired by the Vietnam War. While many of the stories were fiction, OBrien uses elaborate imagery to convey a true feeling of the Vietnam War through a soldiers eyes. He actually did serve in the Vietnam War and many of his accounts were non-fictional as well. The Things They Carried is a book that contains the emotions, capacity, and reasoning of the American soldier during the Vietnam War, while vividly describing the driving forces and experiences that influenced them throughout it as well as its lasting impact on their lives.
OBrien describes the situation presented in Vietnam War with incredible detail and powerful verbal illustration. Often he notes that some of the stories arent totally true but the feeling that can be associated with his fictional material can be related to the same feeling of actually being in the war. These men did carry heavy baggage both physically and psychologically. These men experienced a full scale war that was made up of the same stuff as nightmares. Incredible atrocities happened before these soldiers eyes on an almost daily basis. In effect, these mens personalities became cruder and senses duller every time they became exposed to the recurring carnage that was witnessed. These men werent just fighting Vietnamese, they were fighting insanity. Everyday was a step closer to going over the edge and many did just that.

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For many a soldiers, emotional traumas began well before they even stepped foot in Vietnam. With the draft in full effect Americans were enlisting and fought for the cause whether they believed in it or not or even knew what that cause was. In On the Rainy River OBrien finds that his future plans of going to school in Harvard may not be realized when he receives a letter in the mail saying that he had been drafted to go to Vietnam. He struggles with the thought of fighting in a war that he doesnt agree with and wrestles with the idea of fleeing the country and heading to Canada in order to avoid the draft. While at work OBrien snaps and immediately walks out. He packs his clothes, leaves a very short note for his parents, and starts making his way to the Canadian border. OBrien decides that he needed a place to rest just before he crossed over so he shows up on the door step of an old inn keeper named Elroy. Elroy senses trouble and takes OBrien in for a few days. The two become closer over that short period. Elroy new what kind of a dilemma OBrien was in without either of them saying a word so the old man offered money to OBrien to help him along his way. Elroy planned a fishing trip on OBriens soon to be last day with him. The fishing spot picked out was not but twenty feet from the banks of Canada. OBrien came to a point when he had to make the decision of either fleeing to Canada and leaving everything he knew behind or going off to Vietnam and fight a war that he felt was not justified. He was emotionally torn but OBrien returned home the next day.

If I were put in his exact same position I would feel the same way. Giving up his future, all the work he put into creating that future, and not being a supporter of the war would be strong evidence to hit the border, but at that point I would rather go to war and have a chance of picking up where I left off rather than starting from square one in someplace that would never truly be home.

People thought that the sacrifice of being drafted so they could come back home with honor instead of hiding out would be worth fighting for. I think that if people knew the wars full implications then they might be thinking twice about that decision. Many of the veterans that went to the war describe it in the same way. They thought that it was one of the lowest places on earth. Moral standards were at all time lows in that place what was shocking in the states seemed to be routine in Vietnam. Horrifying, gory, fear, black, wet, shrapnel, sludge, quiet and boom were all words used to describe Vietnam.
Realistically speaking the stakes of this war werent as high as predicted. In my opinion of the domino theory as being the sole reason for American involvement in the war is a weak excuse. I say this because I dont think that communism would have been a threat in these underdeveloped nations which according to geographic location posed even less of a threat to the United States and the other strong democratic nations of the world. What makes this war a further tragedy was that it became a test of the presidents pride. It seems as if the majority of the reason for being in the war had shifted from the motive of the domino theory to the even more disgusting prospect of not ending the war because Nixon didnt want to go down as the first president to lose a war in the history of the U.S. despite protesting at home and advisors telling him that it was a war that America could not win. Of course its easy to say this knowing what I know now and not being able to fully relate to the norms and values of Americans during this time.
Living back then I would have protested the war because in my opinion war should be a form of defense and that defense doesnt include sending U.S. soldiers half way around the globe into deadly foreign territory for the sake of a theory. Everyone knows that an opinion is useless if you couldnt voice that opinion so I would do so by doing things that would get the attention of the politicians in power and vote for the ones that were opposed to the war. Id also participate in peaceful protests to show my disapproval.
A powerful excerpt from this book was Speaking of Courage and the notes that followed it. It illustrated Americas attitude of the war effort and tells a sad story of Veterans that came back to a society that could care less if you fought in the war or not. It also tells of some of the more long term effects the war had on some of the Veterans who returned. Norman Bowker had come home from one of the most intense places in the world, but when he returned it seemed like nobody wanted to listen. For him everything stood still. There was no more adrenaline rush or war zone. He wanted to come back and start where he had left off. The things that he experienced in the war didnt seem to let him do that. He just didnt have the same drive. He lived with his parents, drove his dads car, couldnt keep a steady job and all of these things added up to a feeling that fighting was nothing but a useless waste of time that would change him forever. He wanted to come back and be a hero. He wanted simply to tell his story. He aid that there was no place for him to go. He died tragically by hanging himself. Throughout this book OBrien speaks of the dark and twisted things that he witnessed in Vietnam but I think that the other half of this tragedy came when Veterans who put so much on the line, including their psyches, came back looking for a way back into society but failed to make the transition.
The Vietnam War ended in 1973 but its long term effects for many of the veterans resulted in disaster. Since the war ended it is estimated that 20,000 veterans have committed suicide which could be added to a casualty list that included 58,000 veterans lives lost in Vietnam. When Nixon withdrew the United States from the war, communism did spread to South Vietnam and the famous domino theory didnt hold up as well as expected. The Asian countries of Cambodia and Laos were the only two that communism had spread to after the war had ended.
OBrians The Things They Carried is one of the most informative books that I have read that was able to clearly paint a picture of the Vietnam War through the eyes of a soldier. This book did impress me. I myself am not a fan of war books and even in many cases war movies, but the language used and the stories selected were entertaining enough to keep my attention for hours on end. I think that this is a great book if anyone wanted to learn more about the genre of the Vietnam War.


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