The things we carry.

Being in this class has really caused me to look and think about war and what does to people in a whole new light. I have always known that war existed. I have always just thought about war in the sense that it just existed. I never gave a second thought to the people who have fought in these wars. I never gave a thought to the innocent civilians who were caught up amid the fire. After reading the book “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, I looked at things in a whole new light. These people that fought brought so many horrible memories and stories home with them when they were done fighting. Everyone copes with the trauma in a different way. Some need to talk to someone. Others write. Others, unfortunately, do not find a way to cope and will eventually do something drastic, such as killing them self, or drinking a lot, or doing drugs.

Soldiers had to carry a lot of things with them. They had to carry their weapons, food, medical supplies, and so on. Different people carried different things, along with the necessary items.

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. (O’Brien 2)

O’Brien goes on to say that some men carried extra rations, while others carried extra hygiene items, and others carried drugs with them. They carried things to pass the time.

They carried USO stationary and pencils and pens. They carried Sterno, safety pins, trip flares, signal flares, spools of wire, razor blades, chewing tobacco, liberated joss sticks and statuettes of the smiling Buddha, candles, fingernail clippers, and much more. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Conduct. (14)

They also carried things they didn’t want to carry.

They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. (14)

They carried things that were on the inside.

They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Greif, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. (21)

That last part of that sentence really struck me. The things they carried on the inside of them weighed them down too. They won’t be able to forget this for the rest of their lives. Tim O’Brien wrote to cope.

I am 43 and I am writer now.

That line is mentioned throughout the book, multiple times. He writes. He writes war stories to cope.

In one of his chapters, he mentions a soldier who fought with him, who eventually ends up killing himself. O’Brien wrote a chapter about him, someone who needs a person to talk to, and couldn’t find anyone. That chapter hit me really hard. My heart dropped when I read that he had committed suicide.

When I was reading this book, I was thinking about the people of Darfur. I wonder what and how they could be coping. How are the survivors of this horrible genocide coping? What are they carrying with them?

In an article titled “Sudan: The Passion of the Present: Darfur survivors speak out” a Darfur survivor spoke of things that are engrained and burned into his memory forever.

The keynote speaker, Daoud Hari, fled his village in 2003, after months of bombing by the Sudanese government. His brother was killed in the conflict. He risked his life to relay the reality of Darfur to reporters from The New York Times and [the] BBC, and was imprisoned while translating for The Chicago Tribune.

“The U.S. is the country who has the power to protect the people of Darfur,” Hari said. “But nothing has been done.”

Hari gave chilling accounts of rape, kidnapping, and beheadings. Another speaker noted that he recently returned to his home village to find no one there.

How would you cope? Would you be able to? Would you be able to live every day, remembering the horrible and crude things you have seen?


The Things They Carried
By, Tim O’Brien

“Sudan: The Passion of the Present: Darfur survivors speak out”


~ by pepmo1428 on April 13, 2009.

3 Responses to “The things we carry.”

  1. This is such an interesting post. I too found it striking to think about the things that soldiers and people who fight in wars bring home with them from the war. Often we overlook the things they keep with them, especially the physical things. We do not realize that a picture of a child, or wife, or a small stuffed animal might be the difference between a good day and the day when you give up hope for living. I especially pay attention to this because of my personal experience. As i often refer back to the experience of dating a Marine, I draw on the memories i have. He carried a small bible, a picture of his family, a picture of him and I and a small, plastic puppy dog i gave him in the pocket of his camis. Also, the intangible things they carry. When he came back, he had nightmares. He struggled to be in public places like restaruants and movie theaters without becoming anxious. He fought a lot.Wars have the ability to give soldiers heavy luggage…that they can never set down. I like that you found a similar account of personal experience and coping of a cilivilian in darfur. It effects everyone no matter how much we wish it would go unnoticed.

  2. […] Stephanie […]

  3. I definetly agree with you about never really giving war much thought. The things they carried definetly brought the realities of war home to me. Aside from the atrocities of war it was an amazing book. The story of the girl who joined up with the rangers really sticks with me. I swear i sometimes wonder if she is still out there somewhere in Vietnam, crouched in the jungle waiting to ambush a tiger.

    You made a very intresting connection with Darfur. I know the situation is seemingly hopeless there but i was just wondering what do you thing the U.S. response should be. If we go in there Im sure we would be greated like heros but i wonder if eventually our need to colonize would take over and we would be in another quandry like Iraq or Vietnam.


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