Prior to the Vietnam War, the American people were mostly in favor of war. However, the Vietnam War was the first war to be televised, live, to the American people so they could see the horrific actions occurring during the war. This new-found information swiftly changed the American perception of those not involved with the army and didn’t know these events were common place. This caused a new generation of citizens opposed to war who were greatly against the war in Vietnam.
Tim O’Brien was against the war even in high school however, he was one of the brave soldiers that was drafted into the army to serve in the war. In If I Die in a Combat Zone, author Tim O’Brien argued that the Vietnam War was atrocious through his depictions of how stupid and pointless war is, how the war affected his mental state, and soldier’s experiences of traumatizing events that had happened during his life in Vietnam.
O’Brien sees that war is useless, senseless, ruins lives, and is most certainly not worth the lives lost. When they, the batch of soldiers that O’Brien was accompanied by, first get to Vietnam, it is the same relentless snipers shooting all the time, all day every day, they walked everywhere, getting nothing done except occupy. He thought that the time he spent in Vietnam, in the beginning, was very senseless as it was the same grueling thing every day with nothing of good value getting done. He received last-minute training towards the end of his week at Chu Lai and then is shipped to the Alpha Company. While he was in the Alpha Company, he discovered that death is at every corner. Every nook and cranny had mines in them, which could kill you very easily. He really finds out how important his life is to him and what actual danger he really is in. Such trauma like this can lead to PTSD, depression, and other terrible mental health issues.
Even O’Brien said it himself, “Now, war ended, all I am left with are simple, unprofound scraps of truth. Men die. Fear hurts and humiliates. It is hard to be brave. It is hard to know what bravery is. … Can the foot soldier teach anything important about the war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories.” (O’Brien 1975, 22) Normally, someone that hasn’t been through rough times and hardship would not say these sort of words. It is easy to tell that he has been negatively affected by the Vietnam war and what he had to go through. It, in a way, has ruined his life, especially his life right out of high school. Instead of going to college, getting a degree, and possibly jump starting his career, he had to go fight in Vietnam for some war he didn’t even agree with and fighting with people he doesn’t even know but now has to trust them with his life and vice versa. It doesn’t bode well with the human mind. War is not healthy for the average person.
The Vietnam war was not a very kind war, as wars go. The war was unforgiving because one wrong step could result in you, and anyone in a close proximity to you, being badly injured, if not dead. Therefore, during the war they sing songs that help them try to cope with the war they’ve been thrown into because, just like O’Brien, the reader has just been thrown into the war with no preparation, no warning, and he is just as confused as the reader is. To cope, they sing songs like; If I die in a combat zone, box me up and ship me home. An’ if I die on the Russian front, bury me with a Russian ****.” (O’Brien 1975, 44) Songs like this are unhealthy for the human mind because it proves that death is a very likely outcome for them all. If they don’t die, the man next to him very well might die. In the case that they do die, it’s no big deal, just ship them home. If, however, they happen do die on the Russian front, again, its war, death is everywhere, just bury them with some unlucky Russian lady.
During the war, and subsequent events afterwards, the lives that are lost is a huge cost, in O’Brien’s eyes, and is a cost that shouldn’t have to be paid for the resolution of the war. When O’Brien gets involved with the My Lai massacre, he hears about the atrocities that had occured, he is hurt by these events that took place and feels terrible for the families and those affected by the massacre. He believes that nobody should have to die for war, however, he is not in the position to make that decision so he does so anyway. O’Brien later in the book talks about the war as, “It is not a war fought for territory, nor for pieces of land what will be won and held. … If land is not won and if hearts are at best left indifferent; if the only obvious criterion of military success is body count…; if my legs make me more of a man, and they surely do, my soul and character and capacity to love notwithstanding; if any of this is truth, a soldier can only do his walking, laughing along the way and taking a funny, crooked step.” (O’Brien 1975, 127)
War is not helping him become a better man for his wife, kids, parents, siblings, it only makes him a better man for war. It’s just a huge cycle that leads to more and more people being hurt from war. O’Brien greatly disagrees with the concept of war, and especially the Vietnam war in particular. He conveyed this by showing how senseless war is, how the war negatively affected his mental state, and his experiences of the traumatic events that occured during his time in Vietnam.