The Things They Carried

Posted: February 15, 2017

War is a situation where two nations or groups take up arms and fight each other for one reason or the other. The things they carried, a book by Tim O’Brien, focuses on war and the effects of war on people. Over the years, there have been several wars that resulted in human casualties and detriments to nations for example World War I and II, Korean War, Vietnam War among many others. All these wars invariably lead to horror, destruction, and mass slaughter. People in power marginalize the powerless during wars. In war histories, World War I is the cause of all other wars because it came to stand in for the other wars (Cock). The reason for World War I was colonization where the colonial powers wanted to maintain and expand their colonies. War is vicious, violent, bloody and dehumanizing. Nations that participate in war suffer from military trauma, emotional suffering and daily exposure to violence and death.

O'Brien's book tries to demonstrate the myths linked with warfare where men in their prime and of sound intellect, are exposed to inhumanity on levels that may result in entirely rational men losing their humanity. The phrase "war is hell" is frequently used throughout O'Brien's book. Regardless of the unfathomable murders happening on both sides of the war, there are those people who not only are kind-hearted and humane but are also willing to sacrifice themselves to ensure other people don’t have to go through the lifelong guilt and confusion associated with witnessing the death of others due to their choices. The things they carried tries to show that human conditions are fundamentally complex despite human conflict being the cause of violence.

In his book, even though moving on with their lives, many of the characters have not moved on from the Vietnam War. In a section of the book, Tim O’Brien and his daughter go back to Vietnam. They travel throughout the country. O’Brien goes to the field where he believes he lost everything. O’Brien shows that he is still attached to the war. He also has a constant personal preoccupation that is evident in the collection of stories in the book. There is another character called Norman Bowker. After going back home, Norman spent most of his time driving around in circles contemplating the events of the war. The war is his life, and he feels out of place in his home. Norman, later on, committed suicide. Jimmy Cross, another character in the book, visits O’Brien. They talked about their experiences and hardships. The encounter made O’Brien realize he wasn’t the only one unable to move on with his life (Chen 80). The three characters are used to demonstrate what the war has done to the soldiers who took part in the conflict.

Are human beings inevitably violent? In regards to wars, the question is one of the fundamental issues that we need to contemplate. Humans have a need to be close to each other. The community settings we all live in enables conflict. In my opinion conflict is inevitable but war is not. There is a constant supply of violence, strikes, political battles and wars in the media. Currently, there are at least twenty wars including the fight on terrorism. The atomic bomb had started manufacturing before the first automatic washing machine putting social priorities in question. Despite the advancements in technology acts of horrifying violence still occurs. During volatile situations, the community's belief in tolerance and forgiveness needs to be addressed. All these factors may lead one to believe that humans are prone to violence. But this conclusion only considers the fewer occasions when humans are not getting along. With all our different temperaments, values, habits and beliefs people mostly work together in harmony. Therefore, even though violence and war is a serious problem, Peace is a reality. Additionally, the argument that biologically people are violent has been refuted by scientists as documented in the Seville Statement on Violence (Adams). For these reasons, violence can be ignited and controlled using social forces.

As humans, we have to view conflict in a different way. A change of opinion is vital. Conflict is a way to strengthen our relations with each other rather than a way to weaken and divide. Tragedy has a way of bringing out the best in people. Victims of disturbing events usually rise above their situation with surprising strength and courage. Therefore, we need to learn how to mobilize the positive energy by encouraging compassion and reconciliation. Also, conflicts is a chance to learn. We need to get more aware of the bigger picture so as to view conflict in a lighter manner. So as to gain from conflict, there has to be a deeper understanding of the root of the conflict. Additionally, humans have to develop a peace culture (Cock) which will involve changing people's deep rooted perception that violence is the only way to resolve a conflict. We can develop better systems and continually improve them. Peace has to become a way of living. Since it's difficult to eradicate conflict altogether, we have to address it constructively.

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