“Effect of War”
By Tom Hill
War is a harsh imposition on the human psyche and can be both profound, long lasting in it’s repercussions. Tim O’Brien and Frank O’Connor illustrate these in their short stories “Guests of a Nation” and “The Things They Carried”. Each is a tale of a young soldier as he faces the realities and tribulations of times of war as well as the impact and emotional scars these experiences leave with them. Though these stories are depictions of men of differing nationalities, loyalties, and personalities, the conflicts they are embroiled within, as well as the belligerents they engage, are unrelated in locale and time, an infinitely profound and unshakable truth are at their core: War is hell, and none may without leaving a piece of themselves.
Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” features a young lieutenant, Jimmy Cross, commander of the Alpha Company during the Vietnam War. The essential theme of the indicatively titled story is the many ‘things’ the soldiers must carry and bear across the Land of Seagull & Fox, both physically and emotionally. O’Brien lists the standard issue equipment, personal effects, as well as the ever present abstract themes of duty, cowardice, rank, and personal history of each soldier. The tale impresses upon the reader the sheer ‘heaviness’ of the entire experience and of how the men ‘soldier on’ despite this. We find our protagonist distracted with an infatuation of Martha, a young university student with whom he shared an arguably one-sided relationship with before being deployed. This distraction and it’s subsequent neglect of the constant vigilance needed in the field in such a time of war ultimately leads to the death of Lavender, a member of his company. Shaken, Cross disavows the specter of Martha and takes up the mantle of duty with new conviction and the added weight of carrying the responsibility of Lavender’s death. He arrives at the conclusion that duty is to lead and not love and sets...