Weight of the Vietnam War

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Human beings have never been able to negotiate on common topics in their lifetimes, resulting in differences with options sought by peaceful agreements or violent actions. Disagreements range from the smallest unit, the family, to the international level between different countries. Wars between nations are waged with the assistance of soldiers whose primary function is to defend their subjects. The militia has progressed from bearing stones and sticks to M16 assault rifles over the years; but, regardless of the nature of the battle and the time in which it occurs, one item has still been borne constantly, and it is the weight of the war itself. The memories and terrors that every soldier carries and experiences in the war immensely outweigh any weapon. In “The Things They Carried” written by the former American soldier Tim O’Brien’s, he dramatically discusses the traumas and the horrors that they underwent during the Vietnam War. He utilizes omnipotent narration in explaining to the readers the revulsions of the war in the frankest manner. In this paper, the subject of the weight of the war that the participants involved in the Vietnam War will be analyzed with the support of credible sources.

Through the omnipotence, the readers can get a foretaste into the public and private lives of the US soldiers before and during the Vietnam War; however, the narrator does not provide the Vietnamese soldier’s side. Throughout the short stories, he explains the traumatizing memories that they all went through. The author himself participated in the war and also utilizes fictional characters in his narration to may be to avoid remembering the hell that the war put him and others. Similar to how Ted Lavender carried tranquilizers and other items to lessen his unweighed fear, O’Brien utilizes the characters in the book as his tranquilizers to the horrors that he also went through the war (O’Brien 4). All the character involved bore the scars of the war, and their stories reflect the burdens that the author has been carrying in his life. He points out that “They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried” (O’Brien 5). Even though the author talks literally regarding the tools and objects that they carried, and he also includes the emotional baggage that all the soldiers faced. In the discussion, he only dwells on American perspectives by allowing the readers to view the war from only one side that is what the American soldiers faced themselves. O’Brien is biased in his narration despite telling his experience in the war, and he could have based some stories to at least the Vietnamese soldiers. A good story has to tell all side and avoid taking sides that he did in the novel (“Freedom from Bias – Handbook of Journalism”). Nonetheless, at least he managed to tell the public who had no idea about what the war was like but in an incomplete manner.

According to Dictionary.com, a warrior is defined as “a person experienced in, engaged in, or devoted to war” (“The Definition of Warrior”). During the ancient periods, being given the opportunity to be a warrior was a gracious and heroic quest. Warriors or soldiers such as the Spartans were known for their phalanx formation, ancient Greek style of fighting, and their bravery in times of war (Spartan). Nonetheless, the glory and bravery is conspicuously absent in O’Brien’s book and instead is filled with fear among the soldiers, which depicts the modern warfare. The author writes that “It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment. They crawled into tunnels and walked point and advanced under fire” (O’Brien 13). Through his book, the writer manages to expose the true stories of war, unraveling what it is truly, a heavyweight and burden. The American soldiers faced something much worse than the Spartans; they had to deal with the emotional killing and fighting without reason. They were just like robots directed to carry out their duties.

For a war to commence, there has to be a grave reason that will instigate it. However, in “The Things They Carried,” a valid reason is not offered as to why the soldiers were in Vietnam or the explanation as to why the young men were putting their lives at risk for their country. The author fails to explain thus only placing us into the boots of the selected soldiers in the book. All is illustrated is how they killed some men in which O’Brien confessed to her daughter and some of them being killed (Ted Lavender). In Civil Obedience, Henry Thoreau illustrates “The mass of men serves the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases, there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or the moral sense, but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones, and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well” (Thoreau 10). The soldiers were treated as machines as they were thrown to a foreign land to go and kill in the name of serving and protecting their country. Thoreau points out that government despite having the intentions of protecting its citizens, it sometimes goes overboard especially in war issue whereby it send its citizens in wars that are not supposed to occur thereby most of them losing their lives. The good thing is that everyone now knows that it was a war that was even supposed to take place and the bad thing is that many people died and those who were involved together with their new generation will live to pay for the bad choices of their predecessors. The leaders did exaggerate issues regarding communism and underestimated the power of nationalism in the combat thus overpowered and defeated. Their cause led to the deaths of 58,200 soldiers (Morelock).

In “The Things They Carried, the role of women in overcoming the burdens related to war are well explained by O’Brien. Femininity manifestations are used in the book to act as consoling reminders of the soldier’s homes, which are safe places away from the war. In war, the majority of soldiers participate by placing their lives for the country; however, their hope lies in coming back to their country with the hope of being welcomed by their family members. In many men in the book, women seem to offer that reminder of fighting the war, winning it then coming back home to a solace where they will feel love as opposed to discord experienced in Vietnam. For instance, Henry Dobbins wear the stockings of his girlfriend by claiming that the smell and the feel, which he draws from them, remind him of a place that is safe far away from the war in Vietnam (O’Brien 75). Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, after a long hectic day at work, would wash his hands under the canteen to clean them before sitting down to go through the letters of his supposed love, Martha, who is a junior at a high school and imagining that they were camping together in the White Mountains. While thinking about her, he would taste the surroundings of the envelope’s flap envisioning that her lover’s tongue had been in that part (O’Brien 1). The authors approach shows how many Americans soldiers who go to war miss their home. When they are far away from home, all they do is to fight and kill or to killed thereby majority of them have to find some remedies to fill that gap. O’Brien shows how women in those soldiers’ lives provide comfort whereby in spite of being far away from them, some of them write comfort letters to them to provide them with encouragement and strength to continue fighting without giving up such as Martha.

Wars are very unpredictable. Many soldiers bear the burden of being killed or killing someone on the battlefield in the name of serving their country by being patriotic. To lift the weight off their shoulders, they need to hold on to something, which is “The Things They Carried,” O’Brien utilizes symbolism to portray the soldier’s beliefs in the superstition that keep them fighting and overcoming the fears. Beliefs are used by humans to guide, protect, and lead them to the right path. For instance, Dobbins wears his girlfriend pantyhose in the book, which according to him has kept him safe away from any injury or scratch. In some events, he stepped on a bouncing Betty that did not explode (O’Brien 75). The superstition that he had was strong since he escaped death multiple times especially when holding on to the stockings. And in spite of the girl breaking up with him, he still holds on to the clothing showing how deep he was connected to his beliefs. Nonetheless, the author fails to provide the name of that woman, unlike other soldier’s women whose names have been mentioned throughout the book. He also shows the other side of human’s nature whereby not everyone can give up on their beliefs after facing some tragic events. For instance, Lt. Cross who carried a simple pebble as a luck charm given to him by Martha through one of the letters she wrote did not provide him with comfort especially after Ted Lavender died. The Lieutenant believed that he had loved Martha so much that he managed to forget the obligations that he had with his soldiers. He gave up on Martha thereby throwing away and burning all the items that reminded him of her. In the book, the author manages to show people the human nature that everyone possesses deep down their souls by showing that soldiers are just like the rest of us and are vulnerable to everything that we go through. Many people usually believe that the soldiers can never be afraid of death or in losing their loved ones.

The weight of the war usually burdens the soldiers together with their families. When soldiers are injured, they always remain with that pain in the rest of their lives, and when they die, their families are the ones who suffer the consequences. Their stories are always untold, and the only people who can know the real events are the soldiers themselves or their family members who are in contact with them. For instance, O’Brien faces the horror of killing someone in the war outside My Khe. He feels the guilt that keeps on disturbing his peace of mind thereby confessing the whole incident to his daughter; however, he, later on, reveals that he was lying (O’Brien 114). Meanwhile, he and his fellow soldiers had suffered traumas of watching Lavender die with others getting injured. Exposure or revealing the inner darker secrets always helps in the healing of the mind, soul, and body. Even though only 10 percent of Americans in the forces see the combat, a higher percentage of the soldiers who were involved in the battlefields suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (Junger). The condition is usually detrimental to their health thereby can lead to increase of suicide rates in the forces and soldiers killing maybe their co-workers or their families. It needs opening up whereby the help of a mental health therapist is highly required and family support. Though O’Brien managed to confide in his daughter and to the readers the traumas that he underwent through, he failed to show us the other approach of visiting a specialist. Therapists assist in a great deal in guiding the post-war soldiers who have PTSD. Some secrets are not usually revealed in family meetings that may compromise their relationships thus the importance of an outsider who understands them and is not bound by any relation.

Conclusion

The subject of the weight of the war that every soldier goes through in O’Brien’s book shows their emotional, physical, and spiritual weight that they carry. War is to be fought and with many people having the hope of winning but not losing or being killed. The pain of the war is usually felt by the soldiers and their families who always put their lives at risk to support, serve, and protect their countries from the dangers that it may bring upon their citizens. In the book, the burdens shown in this paper such as the unknown reason as to why the soldiers participated in Vietnam are well explained. The soldiers engaged in a battle that they did not understand thus some of them getting injured physically or emotionally while other dying for no reason. The weight has been shown that it can also be lifted off their shoulders like other events through the assistance of women who gave the soldiers comfort and reminded them of home despite the fears and trouble that they underwent while in Vietnam. Family members also provide that support especially when O’Brien confided to her daughter that he had killed someone in the war and later on manages to publish the truth in his book to show all the readers about his experiences. Beliefs also guide the soldiers thereby the author portraying the human nature that lies in everyone. Through the book, O’Brien manages to tell the readers through the lens of the soldiers in war by explaining the horror that the war had on them. It provides everyone with the same feeling that the soldier underwent; hence, understanding them better.

Works Cited

Junger, Sebastian. “How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond The Battlefield.” The Hive, 2015, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2015/05/ptsd-war-home-sebastian-junger.

“Freedom from Bias – Handbook of Journalism.” Handbook.Reuters.Com, 2017, http://handbook.reuters.com/index.php?title=Freedom_from_bias.

“The Definition of Warrior.” Dictionary.Com, 2017, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/warrior.

Spartans, Deconstructing. “Sparta – Ancient History – HISTORY.Com.” HISTORY.Com, 2017, http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/sparta.

Morelock, Jerry. “Strategy For Failure: America’s War In Vietnam | Historynet.” Historynet, 2017, http://www.historynet.com/strategy-failure-americas-war-vietnam.htm.

Thoreau, Henry David. On The Duty of Civil Disobedience. 1st ed., Heraklion Press, 2013.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. 1990, http//:www.savanna.auhsd.us/view/26051.pdf.

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