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The Things They Carried

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marc talbott

on 17 June 2013

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Transcript of The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried
By Tim O'Brien
The Author
Tim O'Brien
Born in 1946 in Austin, Minnesota and grew up in the small town of Worthington, Minnesota
Graduated from Macalester College in 1968 and received his draft notice shortly after.
Served as an infantryman in the US Army from February 1969 through March 1970
Returned and pursued graduate studies in government at Harvard University
Has since written a memoir about his time in the war and six novels involving the Vietnam Conflict.
The Things They Carried
Written and published 20 years after O'Brien's service in the war
A work of fiction
JEFFREY BROWN: It just feels like the truth. There's a character named Tim O'Brien, who is serving and is later a writer.

TIM O'BRIEN: Yes. That was part of my -- I suppose, my strategy in writing this book.

I wanted to write a work of fiction that would feel to the reader as if this had occurred or, in a way, is occurring as I read it. And, so, I would use every strategy I could think of, invention, and dialogue, and using my own name, dedicating the book to the characters, as a way of giving a reader a sense of witnessed experience.

I was a soldier in Vietnam. But the stories in the book are, for the most part, invented. Yet, they're launched out of a world I once knew.
PBS NewsHour Interview: Looking Back at the Vietnam War with Author, Veteran Tim O'Brien
Why Tim O'Brien Writes War Stories
"The act of writing had led me through a swirl of memories that might otherwise have ended in paralysis or worse. By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened... and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain" (O'Brien 152).
Helps him cope with his memories of the war
Allows readers to more fully understand the concept of war
"For me, the way to approach a subject such as Vietnam is through storytelling. It's one thing to watch a newscast or read a newspaper or a magazine article, where things are fairly abstract... My goal is to try to, so much as I can, capture the heart and the stomach and the back of the throat of readers who can lie in bed at night and participate in a story. When I have a book I enjoy, I'm partly in the book. I'm not just observing it" (Looking Back at the Vietnam War with Author, Veteran Tim O'Brien).
Essential Question
What impacts did the Vietnam Conflict and the individual have on each other throughout the Vietnam Conflict?
3 types of individuals during a war
The Participants
The Encouragement
The Nay-Sayers
Those who are physically involved in the war
The men in the armies
The citizens of the war-effected area
Doctors, people who transport supplies to the soldiers, etc.
People who support the war.
People who strongly oppose the war.
Citizens who could be put at risk from the war
Citizens who believe the war is unjust
Can range from 'It doesn't seem right' to full-blown protest
The Anti-War Movement
How did people protest?
Disobedience to the draft
"An extended meeting usually held on a college campus for lectures, debates, and discussions to raise awareness of or express a position on a social or political issue" (Merriam Webster).
Teach-ins began at the University of Michigan in 1965 and spread to other campuses.
Between 1963 and 1973, over nine-thousand men were prosecuted for refusing the draft.

On May 12, 1964, twelve young men publicly burnt their draft cards in New York City to protest the war. They were arrested.
On April 17, 1965 the Students for a Democratic Society and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee led the first of several anti-war marches in Washington, D.C., with about 25,000 protesters.
On November 15, 1969, there was an anti-war rally of about 500,000 in Washington, D.C. in what is believed to be the largest anti-war demonstration to date.
In 1970, in what was named the National Student Strike, college and high school campuses were shut down by student strikes, and both violent and non-violent protests that involved more than 4 million students across the nation.
Tim O'Brien
Was pressured to go to war by the inevitable shame he'd receive by not going
Mainly wanted to stay alive
Why Did People Protest?
Lieutenant Jimmy Cross
Citizens weren’t really sure why the US was involved in Vietnam, as this quote from The Things They Carried illustrates
“The American war in Vietnam seemed to me wrong. Certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons. I saw no unity of purpose, no consensus on matters of philosophy or history or law... It was my view then, and still is now, that you don't make war without knowing why” (O'Brien 38).
The War Didn’t Make Sense
Commanding officer of Alpha Company
Enrolled at the ROTC
Reserve Officer Training Corps
No passion for the war or commanding men
Made mistakes that cost men their lives
Let the outside world take over his mind
Carried letters from a girl named Martha
Citizens were reading about (and witnessing) destruction, not progress, as the main result of the war.
George McGovern was a US Representative, a US senator, and the presidential nominee for Democratic Party in the 1972 elections
("McGOVERN, George Stanley - Biographical Information")
“We seem bent upon saving the Vietnamese from
Ho Chi Minh*
, even if we have to kill them and demolish their country to do it... I do not intend to remain silent in the face of what I regard as a policy of madness which, sooner or later, will envelop my son and American youth by the millions for years to come” (McGovern, speech to US Senate, April 25, 1967).
Napalm: A jelly-like substance that sticks to anything and can burn for up to ten minutes.
Use of Chemical Weapons in the US Army
Agent Orange: A toxic chemical herbicide used to kill plants and agriculture and pollute water sources.
Agent Orange was also very harmful to people, and resulted in many Vietnamese deaths, horrible mutilations of Vietnamese citizens and US troops, and wide-spread birth defects.
A book of 22 vignettes
Follows exploits of Alpha Company around Vietnam
Not strictly linear, but some stories connect to each other
Half Native American, half White
Carried an old hatchet and a bible
Was liked by the whole company
Tim O'Brien's best friend.
In 1965 the US started strategically bombing parts of Northern Vietnam
This catalyzed the anti-war movement; support increased tremendously immediately following the first bombings
Norman Bowker
Tells O'Brien to write about the night Kiowa died
Carried a diary
Won seven medals
Wanted to win a Silver Star so his dad would be proud
Rat Kiley
Medic of Alpha Company until he was injured.
Exaggerated stories greatly
Preferred being stationed in a medical detachment over being in a company
Deals with death and wounds commonly
Carried M&Ms and Brandy
Powerful Voices in the Anti-War Movement
John Lennon
Muhammad Ali
Some of the More Notable Stories
"On the Rainy River"
Receives his draft notice shortly after graduating from college
Flees north for Canada from his hometown in Minnesota
Reaches the Tip Top Lodge, a lodge on the Rainy River which borders the US and Canada
Opportunity to escape
Conflicting emotions about evading the draft due to shame and guilt
"Bobbing there on the Rainy River, looking back at the Minnesota shore, I felt a sudden swell of helplessness come over me, a drowning sensation, as if I had toppled overboard" (O'Brien 57)
Doesn't flee, returns home and goes to Vietnam
"The Man I Killed"
O'Brien describes a young Vietnamese soldier he killed
He stares at the soldier and imagines what the soldier's life must have been like
Kiowa tries to get O'Brien to leave the soldier alone
Intense feeling of guilt
"His jaw was in his throat, his one eye was shut and the other was a star-shaped hole" (O'Brien 126).
O'Brien describes how he killed the Vietnamese soldier
Still struggles with morality of killing the soldier
Still has visions of the young soldier before he was killed
Sends message of how the war had lasting impacts on the soldiers
"Speaking of Courage"
After the war, Norman Bowker is driving around the lake in his hometown
Struggling to fit back into society after war
Imagining telling his dad about the night in the shitfield
"Norman Bowker remembered how he had taken hold of Kiowa's boot and pulled hard, but how the smell was simply too much, and how he'd backed off and in that way had lost the Silver Star" (O'Brien 153).
Drives around the lake twelve times as he wrestles with his thoughts
Norman Bowker hangs himself three years after asking O'Brien to write "Speaking of Courage"
Physical and Emotional Burdens
Fact VS Fiction
O'Brien makes it impossible to know which stories are true and which are false
The facts of a war story are arbitrary
The style and themes matter
The mere telling of the story shows how war changed these men and what the story meant to them
To O'Brien, stories had the power to bring back the past and share experiences
Allow readers to identify with the author's feelings
They were all burdened with huge packs
Some men carried at least sixty pounds at all times
"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" (O'Brien 21).
They carried the burdens of memories after the war
Norman Bowker in "Speaking of Courage" and "Notes"
Tim O'Brien in "The Man I Killed" and "Ambush"
(October 9, 1940- December 8, 1980)
The Beatles
Being part of this hugely popular band, John was already extremely famous and well known by the time the Anti-War Movement appeared
He used this celebrity status to change the way people thought about issues of the day
John and Yoko
Lennon's focus on the anti-war movement set off in 1969 after he married Yoko Ono
Started with "Bed-ins for Peace", where Lennon and Ono sat in bed for two weeks straight and engaged in discussions about world peace with the World Wide Media
The first of these was on their honeymoon in Amsterdam
"Give Peace a Chance"
At their second Bed-in, Lennon wrote and recorded the refrain for "Give Peace a Chance."
This song became a universal chant at anti-Vietnam was demonstrations
In October of 1971, Lennon released the album Imagine, which consisted of many of his songs calling for world peace.
"I don't wanna be a soldier"
"Give Peace a Chance"
And more
John's Impact
Influenced people and promoted peace by using music as his medium
Used his celebrity status for causes greater that his own enrichment
"We think that peace is only got by peaceful methods, and to fight the establishment with their own weapons is no good" ( John Lennon).
John Lennon on Peaceful Protest
Authorial Information
Most of the information I used for the John Lennon section of this presentation comes from the article
"John Lennon: The Last Great Anti-War Activist"
by John W. Whitehead, who is an attorney and author. He has written, debated and is widely practiced in the area of constitutional law and human rights.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, was born on January 17th, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ali grew up in the segregated south. This exposure to racial prejudice and discrimination led to his passion for boxing, as he was forced to learn how to


Ali's first boxing match was in 1954
In 1956 he won the Golden Gloves Tournament of Novices
Three years later, he won the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions
The following year, 1960, Ali won the Olympic Gold medal
The Early Years
The 1960s
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see. -Ali
Ali was considered unstoppable in the 1960s and, in 1964, became the Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Also in 1964, Ali decided to convert to Islam and joined a black Muslim group called The Nation of Islam
Muhammad Ali and the Draft
In 1966, Ali received his draft notice and refused it for two reasons:
1.) Fighting in the Vietnam Conflict clashed with his religious beliefs
2.) He did not believe that black people should fight for the US
"No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder kill and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slave masters over dark people the world over. This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end." —Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali punishment was to be stripped of his Heavyweight World Champion title and sentenced to 5 years in prison because put his personal values ahead of his career and continued to fight the draft.
Muhammad Ali voiced the argument of many black people in America who were being faced with the draft.
Essential Answer
The Vietnam Conflict impacted the individual through the controversial tactics that the US used in Vietnam, which acted as a stimulus for protest throughout the populace. Individuals impacted the Vietnam conflict by using their voices to decrease support for the war and by banding together to hinder further US involvement in Vietnam.
If I had more time...
The Veterans of the Vietnam War (Protest Group)
Bob Dylan and Protest Music
How anti-Vietnam protest music still effects us today
Soldiers and Vietnam
"The effectiveness of American soldiers in Vietnam was undermined not by a lack of skill or courage, but by local conditions, uncertain military objectives, the highly politicised [sic] nature of the war and the inventiveness of their enemy. The sub-tropical climate, terrain and fauna all exacted a toll on American troops" ("Vietnam War Soldiers").
“… the shortness of tours invariably retarded the service’s ability to learn how to cope effectively with insurgency. As John Paul Vann noted, 'The United States has not been in Vietnam for nine years, but for one year nine times'" ("The Army and Vietnam").
John Luckey
84 Charlie 20 = Motion picture photographer
Was still a soldier in the combat zone
Interviewed by Sharon Raynor from the University of North Carolina:
"Do you think you were well-prepared for what you saw while in Vietnam?"
"No. No, I had very little weapon familiarization. I spent like two to three days holding an M16 in basic training, and I was away from it for several months while I was at school. Then I was given a two-day familiarization course before I was sent back to Vietnam. So, I had a total of five days with an M16 in my hand before I went over. So I wasn’t very well prepared for that" ("A Soldier's Experience in Vietnam: John Luckey").
Factors on Outcome

Poor military choices
Untrained soldiers
Home-field advantage
Very crucial advantage (Civil War)
Young soldiers
One man killed was 16 years old (CACF)
Essential Answer
The actions of US soldiers during the Vietnam Conflict left lasting negative impacts on the environment and economy of Vietnam which in turn negatively impacted Vietnamese citizens.
US Exit from Vietnam
In April of 1975, the US pulled out from Saigon
Fled in helicopters
Left Vietnam as a poor communist state ravaged by war
North and South Vietnam was reunited
Agent Orange
US forces sprayed herbicides over the Vietnamese forests in an effort to defoliate and expose Viet Cong forces from 1961-70
Agent Orange - "A concoction of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, two exceedingly toxic weed killers. One of them, 2,4,5-T, was contaminated by TCDD-dioxin, the most potent molecule in the industrial world's chemical arsenal" - Evaggelos Vallianatos, Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pitzer College
A powerful herbicide that contains dioxin which is extremely harmful to people
In 1969, about 4000 sq. mi. of forest were destroyed by Agent Orange

Dioxin - any of several persistent toxic heterocyclic hydrocarbons that occur especially as by-products of various industrial processes (as pesticide manufacture and paper making) and waste incineration
Impact on the Land
Destroyed more than six million acres of forest
Entire area of Vietnam is only around seventy million acres
Massive effects on farming and food production
"Testing of the soil near Da Nang's airport, where farmers say they have been unable to grow rice or fruit trees for decades, showed dioxin levels there as much as 100 times above acceptable international standards" - Anthony Faiola, Bureau Chief to the Washington Post
"The country suffered from persistent outbreaks of famine even though the government imported thousands of tons of food annually " - Dr. Bui Tat Thang, Director of the Development Strategy Institute
Impact on Vietnamese Citizens
Impact on Vietnamese Citizens
According to a study done by the Vietnamese government in 2004, a child born in Sathay, a village that was heavily sprayed with Agent Orange, is ten to twenty times more likely to be born with a birth defect

There are an estimated 4 million dioxin victims in Vietnam
“Vietnamese women have experienced disorders and complications during pregnancy, including miscarriages, still births, premature births, and severe fetal malformations” – Dr. Nguyen Trong Nhan, Vietnamese doctor who treats victims of Agent Orange
Vietnam After the War
Vietnam remained communist
For ten years after the war, Vietnam had a centrally led market
Struggled to develop during this time period
"Lieutenant Jimmy Cross led his men into the village of Than Khe. They burned everything. They shot chickens and dogs, they trashed the village well, they called in artillery and watched the wreckage" (O'Brien 16).
Mai Lai
Vietnam Economy 1975-1985
Government focused on centralizing economy and developing industry
Didn't protect personal interest
Economy struggled
"In the period from 1976 to 1980, for instance, average GNP was half the rate of population growth and national income grew at about one-fifth... the quality of life was poor and getting worse" - Dr. Bui Tat Thang
Impact on Soldiers

Stanford EDGE (ethics of development in a global environment) program
In-depth research papers on specific topics:

"And as the War wore on, it seemed that the fear and anxiety built up to a point were they could no longer tolerate it. The soldiers grew tired of worrying about death and became desensitized to the thought of dying" ("The Psychological Point of View").
War turned soldiers into ruthless killing machines

Desensitized soldiers to death
"Most US soldiers ‘in country’ had seen fellow servicemen, sometimes their friends, killed or disfigured by sniper fire, mines or booby-traps. But the Viet Cong who laid these traps were reluctant to engage in conventional warfare, so American soldiers felt deprived of the opportunity for retaliation or ‘payback’. Some units experienced a breakdown in discipline. The practice of ‘fragging’ – killing or injuring superior officers by intentionally activating a fragmentation grenade close by – was relatively common" ("Vietnam War Soldiers").
"Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong"
Stress in
"Speaking of Courage"/"Notes"
Vietnam Economy 1986-Present
"Such absolute crap. I mean, who in his right mind wants a 'parade?' Or getting his back clapped by a bunch of patriotic idiots who don't know jack about what it feels like to kill people or get shot at or sleep in the rain or watch your buddy go down underneath the mud? Who 'needs' it?" (O'Brien 156).
After a decade of struggling, Vietnam underwent reform
Shifted economy to a open and market-oriented economy
Vietnam now has an essentially capitalist market despite being officially communist
Signed a trade agreement with the US in 1999
Joined the World Trade Organization
First found in war veterans
"PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers" ("Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)").
Norman Bowker
Tim O'Brien (character and author)

Essential Answer
The outcome of the Vietnam Conflict was impacted by the unpreparedness of US troops and the US' poor military strategy, which produced the unlikely victory for the Communist forces. The Vietnam Conflict impacted individual soldiers due to the haunting nature of the war, which left soldiers with mental disabilities such as PTSD.
Further Studies
by Major Andrew Krepinevich
How PTSD data from Vietnam Vets is used today

Further Research
Impact on politics
Effects of the Vietnam Conflict on neighboring countries like Cambodia or Laos
Vietnam-China Border War
"War is hell" (O'Brien 80)
Essential Question
What impacts did the Vietnam Conflict and the individual have on each other throughout the Vietnam Conflict?
Essential Answer
The actions of US soldiers during the Vietnam Conflict left lasting negative impacts on the environment and economy of Vietnam which in turn negatively impacted Vietnamese citizens.
Richard McNally, professor of psychology at Harvard University:

"One way the researchers [proved the prevalence of PTSD] was to look at Vietnam veterans still dealing with PTSD in 1990. Doing this revealed that 28 percent of veterans with the highest levels of combat exposure were still suffering from PTSD, compared to only 1 percent of those with the least exposure" ("Mental Casualties of Vietnam War Persist").
"The Nation"
("Napalm, Agent Orange- The Vietnam War")
("The United States Antiwar Movement and the Vietnam War")
(John W. Whitehead)
(John W. Whitehead)
(John W. Whitehead)
(John W. Whitehead)
(John W. Whitehead)
("Muhammad Ali Biography")
("Muhammad Ali Biography")
("Muhammad Ali Biography")
("Muhammad Ali Biography")
(Tim O'Brien Biography)
Who Was Protesting?
In July, 1967, a Gallup poll reported that 52% of Americans disapproved of President Johnson's handling of the war, and 41% thought the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops to Vietnam ("Gallup").
("Nov. 15, 1969 | Anti-Vietnam War Demonstration Held")
The Size of the Protests
However, the case went to the US Supreme Court, which reversed the conviction, in the case
Clay vs. The US
, in June, 1971.
“I saw pictures of that Washington demonstration on British TV, with all those people singing it, forever and not stopping. It was one of the biggest moments of my life" (John Lennon).
*Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader and president of North Vietnam (1945-1969)
John Paul Vann- Lieutenant Colonel who served in Vietnam

US Held the Upper Hand
Better funding
The US was a world power
More troops
Anti-Communist forces (including US) had approximately 1.8 million troops ("Vietnam Marines 1965–73")
Communist forces had less than 500,000 ("Vietnam War After Action Reports")
Better weapons
The Viet Cong (NorthVietnamese) army used improvised weapons and relied on creativity
Used bicycles to transport materials and weapons
The US had the knowledge and resources to create superior weapons
("1969 Draft Lottery")
("War Photography")
("Tim O’Brien to give reading at Wittliff Collections")
("First Lieutenant, O-2 (color), U.S. Air Force graphic")
("Jaw Bone Battle Ax")
("Awards Received by Task Unit 77.4.3")
("German Style Medic Bag")
("Tunnels in the Jungle")
("In the Jungles of Asia, the Vietnam War is far from over")
Possibility of another draft
Jennifer Llewellyn BA MA DipEd (Diploma of Education):
Jennifer Llewellyn:
("Fall of Saigon")
("Agent Orange’s toxic legacy lingers on")
("Vietnamese in China support dioxin victims")
("Vietnam Flag")
vignette - a short story (as seen in The Canterbury Tales)

("Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey – The Final Part – Kon Tum to Kham Duc and Hoi An")
("Viet Nam 1970-71")
("Woody Back From Patrol")
Domino Theory
Domino Theory - a theory that if one nation becomes Communist-controlled the neighboring nations will also become Communist-controlled
Led to US involvement in Vietnam in an effort to prevent the spread of communism
("Map of Vietnam")
("Rainy River")
Full transcript