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"How to tell a true war story"

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Tonesha Holland

on 27 May 2015

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Transcript of "How to tell a true war story"

According to O'Brien, how do you tell a true war story? What does he mean when he says that true war stories are never about war? In what sense is a "true" war story actually true? That is, in O'Brien's terms, what is the relationship between historical truth and fictional truth?
You tell a true war story by making the stomach believe. A true war story isn't about the elements of the war (napalm, barrages, etc.). It's about the emotions and effects that the war has on the soldier. War stories are fictional truth. Usually the details are embellished to get you to grasp onto the "true" story. (6, 9)
Find a few of O'Brien's elements of a "true war story." (such as, "A true war story is never moral.") Why does O'Brien believe these elements are important to a "true" war story?
There are elements of a "true war story" on pages 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10. O'Brien believes these are elements because he believes storytellers use the elements in order to get the reader to understand the real truth behind their stories.
Why is the baby water buffalo scene more disturbing than the death of one of O'Brien's platoon members, Curt Lemon?
Because it is more specific and not a generalization. It is very matter of fact. "He stepped back and shot it through the right knee" (6). Whereas Lemon's death is described in a more beautiful way. "...the sunlight came around him and lifted him up" (2).
O'Brien explains that this story was "not a war story. It was a love story." In what sense is this a "love story"? Why?
O'Brien (narrator) sees the beauty in everything as a way to cope with his feelings. These are not stories about the happenings. "Happeningness is irrelevant (9). They are stories about an immature, young soldier that can't cope with the death of his best friend and a group of men that can't cope with the landscape of Vietnam all the emotions that go with it.
What happened to Rat's friend, Curt Lemon? How does Rat deal with the death of his best friend?
Curt Lemon was killed by a booby-trapped 105 round while playing with Rat Kiley (6). Rat has an inability to sit with his emotions about it. He brutally wounds a water buffalo (6) and he writes a letter to Lemon's sister (1).
Why does this story begin with the line: : "This is true." How does that prepare you, as a reader, for the story? In what sense is "this" true?
This is in order to grab your attention and to set you up for the contrast you will experience later upon reading the entire story. It prepares you to pay close attention to the details. The "heart" of each story is true although the details may not always be so. (1, 8)
"How to tell a true war story"
guided reading questions
Full transcript