While the soldiers all have different methods of coping with the war, each method is crucial to allowing them to recover from the emotional stress that the war builds upon them. Rat Kiley, the medic of the troop, copes with the emotional burdens by carrying lighthearted items such as candy and comic books to distract himself from the actuality of the horror in the war. However, as these distractions are too trivial of a method of coping, Rat Kiley eventually loses his mind, shooting himself in the foot to get out of the war. In addition, Norman Bowker did not have an emotional outlet, as he could find anyone to talk about the war with. His inner turmoil causes him to commit suicide, further highlighting the importance of catharsis. For O’Brien, his method of coping with the events of the war is by writing the short stories. By telling the different stories of the soldiers, he is able to keep their memories alive and with him, even though some of them are no longer physically in the world.
When O’Brien first gets the draft notice, he decides to run away to Canada in an attempt to escape the war. However, when he gets to the Canadian border, he envisions all his friends and family judging him at the end of the war. Due to the pressures of society and the shame that he would feel if he did not go to war, O’Brien decides to be “a coward” (O’Brien 58) and go to war. He allows his fear of societal judgement and shame to overpower his fear of dying in a pointless war that he does not support. In addition, Curt Lemon fears the dentist due to past experiences but he forces himself to still go into the dental tent due to shame of his fear. It is not courage that makes him walk in but rather his need to prove himself in front of the rest of the troop. After he walks in, he faints. Later, he feels the need to prove himself again by insisting that he has a bad toothache and needs a perfectly fine tooth to be pulled out. Again, it is not courage that motivates him, but rather shame from external pressures.
Although O’Brien does discuss the physical burdens that the soldiers carry throughout the war, he focuses his short stories upon the effects of the emotional burdens. After the war, O’Brien visits Norman Bowker and Jimmy Cross and realizes that the soldiers do not live a single day without thinking about the war and the friends they lost, While Norman Bowker cannot forget Kiowa, Jimmy Cross cannot forget Ted Lavender and other men that he lost in his troop. These emotional burdens disconnect the soldiers from the rest of society. When Norman Bowker returns from war, he drives around his community mindlessly, unable to talk about his emotions with anyone. Because he is unable to release his emotional burden, Bowker commits suicide under the burden of the war. While the items they carry, the guns and the trinkets, only last through the war, the emotions they carry follow them to their return to society.