These research papers are on various topics related to the book.
The Things They Carried
During the Vietnam War, the fighting men carried many things. They
ranged from guns, ammo, to even kool-aid. They carried these things to help
them fight the enemy and for comfort, but not all of these things helped these
men. They also carried thoughts, memories, and even emotions about girls, the
war, and their life in general. While carrying all of these things, they were
expected to fight a war, a war that some of them did not care about, or even
“As an RTO, Mitchell Sanders carried the PRC-25 radio, a killer, 26
pounds with its battery.
As a medic, Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and
plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the
things a medic must carry, including M&M’s for especially bad wounds,
for a total weight of nearly 20 pounds.
As a big man, therefore a machine gunner, Henry Dobbins carried the
M-60, which weighed 23 pounds unloaded, but which was almost always loaded. In
addition Dobbins carried between 10 and 15 pounds of ammunition draped in
belts across his chest and shoulders” (O'Brien 5).
These men carried a heavy load just to be doing something that there
country told them that they had to do. Most did not choose to go off and were
drafted at age nineteen and one half (http://members.tripod.com/~shad744/nam2.html).
They were chosen on a system that the government chose, was given a draft card
that the government chose, and told to go fight a war that their government
chose. During this time the nineteen-year-old kids were suppose to be able to
handle seeing people being blown up, shot at, or even tortured right in front
of their eyes, just because their government said so? They had to carry all of
these thoughts, images, and sounds in their heads and go on fighting for days
straight. Rat Kiley, a medic who was put in the field as a medic to help the
wounded everyday ended up going nuts. He could not take seeing the men blow up
everyday. He was sent to help them or help pick what was left up of them left
to give them a free ride back home, if it was bad enough.
The men also were assigned to shifts on pitch-dark nights when all they
would do was go up a road, when they could not see their hand in front of
their face. How are soldiers going to shoot the enemy if they cannot even see
past the end of the M-16 barrel (O'Brien 220)? Many of them men went crazy
under these circumstances. They would carry wire just to tie between them so
they would not get ahead or behind their patrol.
Many of the man also carried picture, letters, or even for one soldier,
Henry Dobbins, pantyhose that his girlfriend sent him. He would sometimes
sleep with the pantyhose on his face the way an infant would sleep with a
blanket (O’Brien 117-118). This would help him calm down and forget about
everything that he had seen that day. Many of these men would have girls that
they would write home to, to forget about the things they had seen, done, or
felt was apart of them. One even found a way to get his seventeen-year-old
girlfriend over to his rear area in Vietnam. Yes, he found a way to get his
girl to the base that he was at, but Vietnam had a way of getting to her the
way that it gets to the men. She would wonder about what is out there and
carry that with her all through the day. She would carry the wonders of what
it was actually like to be out on a patrol, and later find out for herself,
what it would feel like knowing that u had the control over someone’s life
or death. These emotions that stayed with her eventually turned her into a
thing that no one had seen before, a person that ended up walking off into the
mountains and never coming back (O’Brien 115).
To this day, soldiers still look back at the war and have different
opinions about it. One critic even wrote, ”O’Brien’s contradictory
depictions of violence produce the thematic assertion of the moral confusions
imposed by the war” (Wesley Truth and Fiction in Tim O’Brien If I Die
In A Combat Zone and The Things They Carried). O’Brien put it the
way it was to him, the way he remembered it, and the way he still carries it
with him today. He put the reality of what happened in the war into a book, so
we could comprehend what he and all of the other soldiers still carry around
with them today.
Overall, the soldiers carried many things into war with them. They
carried guns, ammo, and other supplies that would help them win the battle
they were fighting. They were trained and pushed to preform their very best
for all of the physical tortures that they would ever face. The problem lied
in their minds and hearts. They were afraid that they might die and never see
their loved ones again. They were afraid that there life might go down the
drain and that no one would ever remember that they lived a day on earth. Some
of the men still alive from Vietnam today still bear the memories about what
happened. They do not have to carry any guns in their arms, they do not have
to worry about who or what is behind them ready to strike at any moment. They
still remember doing all of these things though. They still remember the
people they shot and killed, they still remember the faces on the children all
around them. The truth is that they do, and always will carry these things
around with them in their mind, for these are the hardest things to put down.
These are the things that drive people to insanity or killing themselves.
These are the things they carried.
Tim. The Things They Carried. New York, NY:
Broadway Books, 1998
Vietnam War on My Home front.”
29 April 2003
Wesley, Marilyn. “Truth
and Fiction in Tim O’Brien’s If I
Die in a Combat Zone and The Things They Carried.”
Spring 2002: 1-18
Ms. Megan Martin
Tim O’Brien, veteran and author among other things, covers several themes in his novel The Things They Carried. The book bases itself on the psychological stress caused by the pressures and conflicting interests in the war. Emotions and morals are among the more obvious themes covered in the novel. Pain, embarrassment, love, hate, fear, bravery, frustration, loneliness, isolation, struggles with morality. All of these, and combinations of these are constantly covered in the book. O’Brien uses all of these themes and emotions to describe the raw and passionate feelings that the veterans felt during the war. It quickly became an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war, considered to be one of the most historically accurate portrayals of one of the most infamous wars in history.
Pain is one of the better know feelings about Vietnam. It still affects many Vietnam veterans in the form of posttraumatic stress syndrome. Because of this pain, it makes sense that O’Brien describes and reflects on the pains felt by him and others during the war. Pain is caused by so many of the emotions used in this book, that it becomes hard not to notice its’ importance in the book. The guilt caused by killing a man, even though he was trying to kill you, too. The mental anguish felt when watching your friend being scraped off of a tree. “They were just goofing. There was a noise, I suppose, which must’ve been the detonator, so I glanced behind me and watched Lemon step from the shade into bright sunlight. His face was suddenly brown and shining. A handsome kid, really. Sharp gray eyes, lean and narrow-waisted, and when he died it was almost beautiful, the way the sunlight came around him and lifted him up and sucked him high into a tree full of moss and vines and white blossoms.” (O’Brien p.70). These are the types of pains that can only be understood by feeling them yourself, the type of pain that lives with you forever, whether you want to remember it or not.
Embarrassment was likely one of the more hidden feelings in the war. In the chapter titled On the Rainy River, O’Brien goes into something so deep and embarrassing, that he was too ashamed to tell even his closest of friends, and family. He, being an anti-war man at the time, would have reasonably been opposed to fighting for a cause he didn’t believe in. ”The intensity of youth’s reaction against the war was shown in the spring of 1970. Almost all college campuses were disrupted, and some of the schools were forced to close, as students expressed their opposition to the U.S-South Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia.”(Butwell p.112g) He ran. Running was a popular choice for those who were opposed to, or just afraid of, war. “At some point in mid-July I began thinking seriously about Canada. The border lay a few hundred miles north, and eight-hour drive. Both my conscience and my instincts were telling me to make a break for it, just take off and run like hell and never stop.”(O’Brien p.44). In the book he fled to the border, but stopped to rest before he crossed. That rest lasted six days. He was in a constant fight with his conscience. He thought of his parents, the shame they would be faced with, because of their son’s cowardice. He could hear his townspeople and peers screaming at him. He couldn’t risk the embarrassment. He submitted. “I would go to war-I would kill any maybe did-because I was too embarrassed not too.”(O’Brien p.59.).
The emotion considered by most to be the strongest of all emotions, was the focus, and title of the second chapter. Love tells of a young lieutenant, and the object of his affection, a girl from his hometown, Martha. Among the things in which Lieutenant Cross humped were a good luck pebble, two photographs, and letters from Martha. “Lieutenant Cross kept to himself. He pictured Martha’s smooth young face, thinking he loved her more than anything, more than his men, and now Ted Lavender was dead because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her.”(O’Brien p.7). When emotions like love make you think more of home, and less of the war, mistakes tend to happen, they affect your ability to work. Lieutenant Cross found this out the hard way. He burned Martha’s pictures and letters. He would have to carry the pain of his mistake.
A struggle with one’s morality could be expected for any man. It all came down to one question. Could I kill another man? Should I kill and live with the heavy guilt and burden on my conscience, or not live at all. O’Brien chose to live, and kill, and kill he did. In the chapter The Man I Killed O’Brien goes over this experience. “His jaw was in his throat, his upper lip and teeth were gone, his one eye was shut, his other eye was a star-shaped hole, his eyebrows were thin and arched like a woman’s, his nose was undamaged, there was a slight tear at the lobe of one ear, his clean black hair was swept upward into a cowlick at the rear of the skull, his forehead was lightly freckled, his fingernails were clean, the skin at his left cheek was peeled back in three ragged strips, his right cheek was smooth and hairless, there was a butterfly on his chin, his neck was open to the spinal cord and the blood there was thick and shiny and it was this wound that had killed him.”(O’Brien p.124). Following this, he imagined what the man’s life had been like before this. He is stunned by what he has been forced to do.
Overall, this novel is about a young soldier who is bombarded by emotions and feelings about a war he wants nothing to do with. It covers nearly every emotion that can be experienced by a person. As with many other veterans, O’Brien experienced a loss so great, a burden so heavy, it is almost impossible to carry, but carry they did. They carried the burden of murders, the embarrassment of running, the bodies of their friends, and the memories that would haunt them for a lifetime.
· Notes and Analysis on The Things They Carried
Thomas Trevenen. January 8, 2001
· O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried.
Mifflin: Broadway Books, 1990
· “Vietnam War.” Encyclopedia Americana. 1988 ed. Vol. 28
2 May 2003
The Selective Service
The Selective Service, or the draft as it has come to be known, has brought up two main opinions. There are those for the draft, and those against it. Each has its own argument for why or why not the American government has the constitutional right to force young men to fight in a war. These views have caused many different reactions since the draft was first used.
The draft was first used in 1863, during the Civil War. At the time, in was known as conscription. You could avoid conscription by paying a one-time fee of three hundred dollars, or you could hire a substitute to fight in your place. The next time it was used was during World War I. It was started with the Selective Service Act of 1917. Under the act, all men between the ages of 21 and 30 had to register. These ages were later extended to include everyone between the ages of 18 and 45. A person could be exempted from registering if they had dependant families, were disabled, or met other qualifications. By the end of the war, 2.8 million men had registered for the draft (http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/history/A0844347.html).
Men were first required to register during peacetime under the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. This act said that a man could only be forced to serve for one
year, although it was extended to eighteen months in 1941. Once the country entered World War II, all men between the ages of 18 and 65 had to register, with all of those
who were between 18 and 45 eligible to be called to fight. In 1951, the Universal Military Training and Service Act required men between 18 ½ and 26 to register. They could be required to serve for two years. When the Military Selective Service Act of 1967 was passed, the age to register was lowered to 18. Another part of this act was that a person could defer service if they were still in school. In 1973, President Ford ended the draft due to the protests in America. In 1980, however, Congress decided to pass an act requiring all men 18 to 25 to register. In the case of a crisis, the draft could be reenacted and a lottery would be held to determine who would serve (http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/history/A0844347.html).
There are two different views on the draft. The first is in favor of the government calling up its citizens to fight. The supporters of this view state that it is a very efficient way to make sure that our armed forces have enough men to fight a war. The supporters say that the Selective Service is the only way that we would have had enough men to send during the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. They say that without these men who were forced to serve, we would have lost more of these wars other than Vietnam. According to these people and the government it is the right of a government to force its citizens to fight in defense of their country (www.sss.gov).
On the other hand, there is the opinion that the government should not be able to call up its young males to fight. These people reacted in many ways. Some of them went to the Pentagon to burn their draft cards even though they could be arrested (Holland 48).
Then there were those who when called up ran from the country. One example of this reaction is Tim O’Brien, the author of The Things They Carried. When he was called up, he had just been accepted to graduate school. Soon before he was to report, he decided to run to Canada to escape the draft. He stayed just south of Canada for about a week. On his last day up near the border, the owner of the lodge he had been staying at took him in a boat and they crossed the Canadian border. He was going to jump overboard to leave the United States when he realized that he would be a coward. He then decides to stay in the country and go to Vietnam (O’Brien 42-61).
Most people did not come the same realization as he did. Many people, including
boxer Muhammad Ali, refused to go to Vietnam and were known as draft dodgers. Many, including Ali, were looked at as cowards. As Ali said in an interview,” I tell them I didn't dodge the draft, I just avoided it," he says. "Vietnam turned out to be wrong and I ended up right... all you people who say I was wrong, I ended up right. The war was bad, I ended up right. I'm still the winner." Most of them did believe they were doing the right thing even though almost everyone else thought they were wrong. These people were really stood up for what America was for by standing for what they believed in even though it was not what everyone wanted them to do (http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2001/dec/ali/011219.ali.html).
The Selective service has been brought under much scrutiny since it was first used more than one hundred and fifty years ago. Many men have died in wars that they did not even want to fight in. There were many others who avoided fighting because it was not something that they believed in. These people all fought on different sides of a political and social battle that divided two generations during the 1960’s. All of these people fought for what they believed were American freedoms, either to live in a free country or to not be forced to fight against their will. These people have helped make this country the great country it is today. They are what America really was built upon and what it stands for.
“Selective service.” Fact monster. 2000.
<http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/history/A0844347.html> (April 28, 2003).
“Muhammad Ali.” NPR. December 19, 2001.
<http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2001/dec/ali/011219.ali.html> (April 30, 2003)
“Agency Mission.” Selective Service System. October 29 2002.
<http://www.sss.gov/> (May 2, 2003)
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York:
Broadway Books, 1990
Holland, Gini. The 1960’s. San Diego:
Lucent Books, 1999.