In the Book the Things they Carried Pictures how Men Face War

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Updated: Aug 21, 2022
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In the Book the Things they Carried Pictures how Men Face War essay

Baseball is known for being America’s past time. Where we see baseball players throw killer fastballs or hit a grand slam, but we also see tempers. Many players use different ways of expressing their emotions when getting striked out. For example, there are various methods they use like, chewing tobacco that will calm their nerves or others use anger and throw helmets on the floor. However this is not new, we see the different ways people deal with external conflict and how they form into a different person because of them. Although these literary works can vary from structural repertoire they form one main message of once naïve men who have been in violent combat, metamorph into a new being, who find various coping mechanisms during and after war.

The opening scene of Apocalypse Now, produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Kim Aubry, exhibit the characters reactions as they get off the helicopter and confront a hazardous war zone. Ironically, as bombs are being dropped in a very close proximity and toxic gas consumes the air, Colonel Bill Kilgore doesn’t flinch nor give a reaction when the deadly bomb crashes in the ground, as for his troops, they crouch down in fear of their lives. The new naïve soldiers juxtaposition the very experienced Lieutenant displays on how war can negatively affect a person’s reality. In the famous scene, Kilgore thinks “..the best smell is pompaid gas” in the morning, which is a brow raising statement, compared to a “normal” civilian who would say coffee for example is the best smell in the morning (Coppola and Aubry ).

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Here we see how being exposed to unbelievable combat can alter one’s idea of “normal” everyday life. In addition there is a brief scene where a Vietnamese mother, holding on to her young boy for dear life, runs to the soldiers for help while bullets are being fired in every direction. Instead of pushing her off like the other men, Kilgore yells “I’ll take care of this… and get that [gun] out of here”, he calls for a chopper to fly the woman and her son away to safety (Coppola and Aubry ). This act of kindness shows that even in the darkest of times, when all hope should be lost, there is still a shred of humanity left to be found. To stay sane Kilgore has an “insane” coping mechanism, where he treats life as an ironic joke, where death is inevitable in a moral less war. Where men are forced to die, but still able to hold on to the last bit of “innocence”.

In the novel, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, Michell Sanders, a “RTO” in the Vietnam War, deals with the chaos of war by having a conversation with one of his group members, Henry Dobbin, about finding the didactic purpose of war; by cutting off a dead Vietnamese boy’s thumb (O’ Brien ). The conversation begins with Sanders stating ,“ [do you know what the] “definite moral here [ is Dobbins ?]” , perplexed from the question Dobbins replies, “ I don’t see no moral” … “ [exactly] there it is man-Sanders”, there are no morals in a moral less war.(O’Brien). The “thumb” represents how war alters the mentality of once youthful boys into lupine men who’s actions reflect their disconnection from society back home.

Even Sanders was a once hopeless romantic, who “carried condoms” in his bag. Ironically, in war he wouldn’t have much use for them, but for the purpose in the novel it conveys he was once a “ normal” adolescent before he starting cutting body parts. (O’Brien) The “there it is” highlights Sanders method in how he copes – finding morals to stories or events-, because there is no “moral” for a nation to send thousands of young men to a sanguinary conflict that cannot be won and turn them into unrecognizable people. Even when they return home they will be reminded of the grisly images of the unspeakably things that occurred.

Continuing with the book “The Thing they Carried”, Ted Lavender is one of the young men in Lieutenant Cross’ group, who more than likely were drafted to Nam unwillingly. Lavender use of drugs was they way he kept sane. For instance, he “was [so] scared [he] carried tranquilizers… [and] dope” until his death (O’Brien). Ironically, when his mates describe his death it is conveyed as him “ dropp[ing] down [and ] the unweighted fear … [and] 34 rounds of [ammunition]” dragged his body to the ground without a flinch [O’Brien]. In addition, it highlights how he consumes so much “relaxers” to the point where he died, instead of screaming in pain or him struggling till his last breathe he is completely numb; he was just trying to coup with the mess happening around him. Evening his choice to “hump” extra bullets to be cautious and protect himself from enemies didn’t help to keep him alive; he went from a numb being who dreaded death every step he took to a dead, but liberated soul free of war (O’Brien).

The song “Sam Stone” by John Prine, tells the story of a war veteran who comes home as a changed man with new habits. Unfortunately instead of returning proudly to his “wife and family …with a Purple Heart [medal]” he brings his expensive coping mechanism (Prine). The Vietnam war is still one of the most controversial conflicts America has ever been involved with. Due to the question as to whether or not the red, white, and blue nation should have entwined itself in another country’s problem. When many soldiers returned they were spitted on and hated, so during Sam’s time serving in Nam “all his nerves shattered”, from experiencing horrific scenes out in the treacherous jungle. When he arrives back into everyday civilian life the use of dope and “grass… ease[s] the pain” where he is able to coexist with life happening around him ( Prine). Once a family man, he now acquires a “hundred dollar habit … [that leaves ] a hole in daddy’s arm where all [the family’s] money goes”. Eventually he “pops his last balloon” and overdoses “alone” because he lived a life “[ that] lost its fun” when he returned home as a different man from the one who left before the war; drugs was his escape from the pain and memories of war.

While the war was happening in Vietnam, back in the United States many college students formed peace protest organizations that opposed the war and what it stood for. Some of the older generations quickly rebutted the “rebellious” youth by oppressing their voice as unimportant. However, couldn’t we say this was their coping mechanism? Voicing their opinion, that wanted to be heard? To stand up for their fellow classmates who were forced in a lottery of death? In the end, every individual has his or her own way to cope with life happening around them, unfortunately at times they are assessed wrongly.

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In the Book the Things They Carried Pictures How Men Face War. (2022, Aug 21). Retrieved from