Book Review: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Four Stars out of Five

A 1990 memoir about Vietnam. A memoir is kind of true and kind of a lie. Boring parts left out, names changed, that sort of thing. Besides a war story is hard to tell straight because, even if you’re there, you’re not always sure what’s happening.

It’s a war story. Not blood-and-guts, though people die. Not heroism, though people are heroic. A very human reflection on a very inhuman activity. O’Brien captures the ambivalence of combat and danger. The bonding of warriors and the dealing with death and destruction.

One casualty of the “all-volunteer Army” is that those serving are no longer a cross-section of our greater population. I suspect few self-proclaimed “bleeding heart liberals” are volunteering.

Interesting parallels between my life and Tim’s. Both born in 1946. I too graduated with honors from college in the spring of 1968, planning to go to grad school. Like him I found myself facing almost certain induction. However, since I’d seen this coming, I contacted my draft board six months earlier, and had considered and acted on my options. I volunteered for training as an Air Force officer rather than take my chances with the infantry. A close friend allowed himself to be drafted and admitted that he was more concerned about his fellow GIs, often high on heroin, than about the Viet Cong.

My war experience was totally different than O’Brien’s. A year on a Royal Thai Air Force base near the Mekong River, supporting air special operations throughout the region. I was only in danger a couple of times and was too stupid to realize it until after the fact. One other difference is that, though I intended to get out as soon as possible, I stayed for thirty years, eventually participating in another war, 1990-91 in the Persian Gulf. And of course the Cold War.

Ought to require Congress and the President to read it before they commit someone else’s son or daughter to be killed. Few of them have any military service.

Good reading. Thoughtful. Poignant.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (Four Stars)

  1. Good review, accurate summary of a powerful war book that has stayed with us for years because it’s brilliant. “Bleeding heart liberals” seems like a dated description, a cliché. There are better descriptors for what you’re trying to say that would fit better with the piece.

    • Thanks. “Bleeding heart liberals” was his descriptor, hence the quotation marks.

  2. Love this! I teach TTC to my Juniors every year and they love the blurred lines between fiction and non-fiction. It’s a beautiful book. Thanks for the great review. If you’re ever interested in some other awesome book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!

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