52 Books: Book 30

While at the beach I read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Not exactly a light, beachy read, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The book is written by a veteran of the Vietnam war. The work is fiction but draws on O’Brien’s personal experiences in the form of essays that lead you through the war experience. This is the first war-type of book that I have read that I felt really got at the emotion of what is like to be a soldier. The first essay goes into what the men carried: weapons, photographs, memories and also fear. The essays touch on what it is like to: contemplate dodging the draft; fight a war you don’t understand and don’t believe in; watch your friends die; etc. I thought it was very well written and definitely worth the time to read it.

Excerpts from the book:
…They carried all they could bear, and then some, including the silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.

…for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry.

They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing – these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the hardest burden of all, for it could never be put down…

The only certainty that summer was moral confusion. It was my view then, and still is, that you don’t make war without knowing why. Knowledge, of course, is always imperfect, but it seems to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can’t unfix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can’t make them undead.

To generalize about war is to generalize about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells you the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life.
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