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The Things They Carried vs. Chess

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Andy Rutherford

on 19 February 2013

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Transcript of The Things They Carried vs. Chess

The Things They Carried vs. Chess If the title wasn't clear enough, the purpose of this presentation is to compare the Vietnam war and TTTC with chess. How is it that the novel and Chess can be compared? Firstly this quote, meant to contrast war with the game of checkers..... “… playing checkers… there was… something restful and orderly… there were red checkers and black checkers.” (p 31). In other words, the author is makes the comparison in
the book, so comparing and contrasting the two is not out of the question So let's get our compare and contrast on! Comparing the Two The point of comparing the two is to show
how little in common they have so as to further highlight the contrast section First- Vietnam was a war, or a series of battles, and chess is a battle of the mind Both war and chess are set up so that a player or country's goal is to eliminate the opponent. In other words, war is not a game of self improvement, but of struggle, and it is the same with chess. This is evident because in war, the goal is either to defend yourself, thereby thwarting your opponent, or to attack your opponent, thereby defeating your opponent. In chess, the sole goal is to take your opponents king, and defeat your opponent. So we see that both war and chess are focused on the defeating of one's opponent. The way the war in Vietnam was presented
to the public, and duality within chess
are similar- obviously in chess there are black
and white pieces that battle each other, but it
is also true that the The U.S government
also made a similar comparison- that this war
was a war between the ideas of
Democracy and Communism. 1st Piece Comparison-Pawns and Foot Soldiers
In chess, pawns are pieces that are easily sacrificed. They are the most common, and the least useful pieces (at least individually.) The equivalent in chess (as will be discussed later) is the foot soldier, and they too are, individually, nearly valueless parts in the war effort that are easily sacrificed for the greater good. They die all the time and nobody throws up a fuss (examples being- Ted Lavender, Curt Lemon, and the man O'Brien killed because there was no special press or fanfare for any of their deaths.)
Foot soldiers are also the most common type of soldier in the army, just like the pawns are to the other pieces on the board. Now it is time to Contrast The main point to understand is that, in war there are
ambiguities, or times when the events that take place, or the people fighting the war are not so straight forward, whereas Chess is often straightforward. O'Brien sums up this contrast well when he states that "The truths are contradictory. It can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque. But in truth war is also beauty” (p. 77). The First Contrast- Pawn vs. Foot Soldier (since this has already been discussed in the comparison section.) Just about all of the characters in the novel are foot soldiers. O'Brien, Ted Lavender, Mitch Sanders, and so on. They are all people with different personalities (for instance, O'Brien likes to write and is an artist, Ted Lavender is a Frightened man who turns to Drugs, and Mitch Sanders is someone who always tries to find the moral in everything.) Each man has something different to carry, 1st Piece Contrast- Pawns and Foot Soldiers- Foot Soldiers
Foot soldiers make up the greater number of the characters in the novel. O'Brien, Ted Lavender, and Mitch Sanders are all foot soldiers, each with his own personality. O'Brien is a writer, Ted Lavender is a frightened man who tries to get through the war by using drugs, and Mitch Sanders is a man who tries to find a moral in everything while constantly making sadistic jokes. 1st contrast- Pawns and Foot Soldiers- Foot Soldiers cont.
Each has his own dreams, and carries different items in his bag. The foot soldiers have doubts like O'Brien did when he ran to Elroy's house wondering if he ought to join the arm or run away, and they have moments of tragedy when they try to rationalize going forward like Norman Bowker did when Kiowa died. Norman's difficulty in rationalization is shown when he thought "sometimes the bravest thing on earth was just to sit through the night and feel the cold in your bones" (p. 141).In summary, they are complicated people who simply try to rationalize their way through each day. 2nd Comparison- Castles and Military Bases
This comparison works best talking not about what a castle is, or how to moves, but rather what it can do. A castle has the ability to switch places with the king, so as to move it out of the center of the board, and into the corner where it is safer. Similarly, bases were places where soldiers could go to get out of danger, and kick back and relax. First contrast-foot soldiers and pawns- pawns
Unlike the true foot soldiers in TTTC, pawns are perfect or ideal foot soldiers. They feel no doubt (can a chess piece feel doubt?) and all look alike. They all move the same way (only one step forward at a time) and attack the same way (diagonally) with a few exceptions. Pawns all act the same, and are the same, whereas foot soldiers are individuals. 3rd Piece Comparison- Knights and Soldier's Honor
Among soldiers, there is (at least in the U.S. army) supposed to be a code of honor, or a set of rules about how they operate, especially morally- for instance they would behave responsibly in enemy territory, as they would in friendly territory. Knights (the people obviously, not the pieces) too are famous for their code of honor, which asks them to never break a vow, be kind to women, and so on. The actual chess piece has little to compare to it in the war. 4th Piece Comparison- Bishops and Religion in Vietnam
In war many find religion to be their rock, much like Kiowa did. Kiowa carried a bible with him wherever he went, and often talked about his faith with other people. In a similar form of support, bishops, in addition to being religiously themed pieces (a bishop is a position in the church) often support other pieces (like knights) as they move up the board as the have a wide area of movement (they can move as far as they want along a diagonal.) In the same way, religion comforted and supported many soldiers throughout the war. (retired) 5th Piece Comparison- The Queen and the Nuclear Bomb
The Queen is a piece that can move as far as she wants in any direction. Because of this it is considered the 2nd most valuable piece (after the king.) It is also the last piece that most players bring out into the open because they do not want to risk losing the queen. Similarly, the Nuclear Bomb is a versatile weapon (as it can be dropped anywhere and is very affective.) However, there is little discussion of using the nuclear bomb in Vietnam (mostly because no one wants to use those monstrosities ever again) but also because the U.S. government could not make it seem like the War in Vietnam was such a big deal or more large countries might have started to get involved. 2nd Piece Contrast- Castles and Military Bases
The major difference between the soldiers in the bases, and kings who have swapped with castles is that kings don't feel anything. The men who have been sent to the bases feel that they are safe, but are unhappy with themselves because they are no longer in the action. For example, O'Brien feels like he is no longer one of the guys when his former unit visits him during his stay back at the base. This may seem like a trivial contrast, but it detracts from the perception that real soldiers are like pawns, who are perfect soldiers who follow orders, and feel nothing. 3rd Piece Contrast- Knights and the Soldier's Code of Honor
The problem with this comparison was that the idea of a soldier's code of honor was severely shaken during the Vietnam war. The soldiers took drugs (like Mitch Sanders) and often committed horrible acts. As a matter of fact, one soldier feared for his life after injuring the other in a fight as is shown here when O'Brien writes "In other circumstances, it might have ended right there. But this was Vietnam, where guys carried guns, and Dave Jensen started to worry” (p. 56). Clearly if Dave Jensen is worried about his comrade shooting him, there is a much lower moral standard among soldiers. 4th Piece Contrast- the Bishop and Religion
Religion is not on the side of one particular country. The monks that allow the soldiers to stay at their abbey even though they are native to Vietnam. Besides, religion is not always a supporter of the war, because often religious individuals object to fighting in general. 5th Piece Contrast- The King and Victory
In chess victory is achieved by capturing your opponents king. The problem with the Vietnam war was that there was no identifiable king, or goal for victory. The government had no cohesive goal for the endgame. They were simply trying to eliminate enemy "pieces" since that was obvious, but had no finishing move. Therefore there is no "king" to contrast with, only the conspicuous lack of a king. Other Points of Difference:
The Vietnam war had more than eight countries involved in the war, whereas there are only two players in chess
The North Vietnamese played by different rules, and attacked in different ways, whereas in chess the rules are the same for both players.
The U.S. had more soldiers and weapons to start with and in chess both sides start with equal numbers of pieces. The Takeaway for the differences- the war in Vietnam was not exactly different from the more straightforward game of chess, it simply had layers of subtlety, and contradiction that Chess lacked. Some necessary background on the rules of chess There are six different types of pieces on a chess board
Pawns- there are eight of these on each side of the board, they can move on space forward at a time, but can only take pieces moving diagonally.
Rooks (or Castles)- there are two of these on each side of the board, they can move as many spaces as they want vertically and horizontally and can take pieces going both directions, but it cannot move diagonally.
Knights- there are two of these on each side of the board, they move in an L shape (three across3, and can jump over pieces,
Queens- there is only one of these on each side of the board, and it is by far the most valuable piece (excluding the king) because it can move as many spaces as it wants in any one direction.
Kings- there is only one of these on each side of the board, and it too can move in any direction, but if the king is taken the game is over, and player who took the king wins the game And now.... the citation page
"The Things They Carried", Amazon.com, Amazon inc., October 13, 2009, n.p. http://www.amazon.com/Things-They-Carried-Tim-OBrien/dp/0618706410
Old men playing chess, Flickr.com, Yahoo, n.d. n.p
Retirement lessons from Pope Benedict, MarketWatch.com, The Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2009,
Macros, Eoin Mac Aoidh's Gallery, eoinmac.com,
Kilkney Castle, Desktop Pictures, atmp.com, copyright 1995, 2012,
The Medieval Knight, Projects for students, thinkquest.com, n.d., n.p,
Chess King, photodictionary.com, copyright 2013, n.d., n.p,
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