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How Memories of Vietnam are Represented in The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

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The Vietnam War greatly changed America forever. It was the second longest war in American History, lasting about 10 years. Not only was the Vietnam war a long war, but it was quite possibly one of the most violent wars fought in history,, which of course nobody really wanted to be a part of, especially when they didn’t know what they were fighting for. This is shown in the novel The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien , whom shares his memories of the Vietnam war through this novel.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a war novel based on his experiences in the Vietnam war. For O’Brien the draft was probably one of the most difficult things he had to deal with in his life. This conflict is most closely demonstrated in the chapter On The Rainy River. O’Brien is faced with the decision of either going to Vietnam after being drafted or running away to Canada. It is a moment of self-realization for himself. This is a moment he will play over and over again in his life because he realizes that he is scared and ashamed at the same time. O’Brien sits in the middle of the river weighing his options. Going to Canada would mean leaving his family, relinquishing his citizenship but going to war would mean he was a coward. O’Brien was against the war because he didn’t know why there even was a war, it went against his morals. He was “set for life” (41), he “felt no sense of impending crisis” (41) . This draft caused an internal and moral crisis for O’Brien.

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Men were drafted and sent to fight in the Vietnam War under the terms of the Selective Training and Service Act, which was passed by Congress in 1940. It wasn’t a matter of if anyone wanted to go to war. If one was drafted, they had to go and if they refused they were put in jail for draft evasion. The Selective Service System (SSS) was established as the operating body of the draft in 1917 for World War I and continues to be the primary body through which men must register after the age of 18. This was preceded by the National Conscription Act of 1863 that created a lottery system where men could have been drafted for the Civil War. “During the Vietnam War about two-thirds of American troops were volunteered, the rest were selected for military service through the drafts. In the beginning of the war, the names of all American men in draft-age were collected by the Selective Service” (https://thevietnamwar.info/vietnam-war-draft/) . Many people thought that the draft was unfair and unconstitutional. There were some ways to delay going to war including physical illness and being enrolled in college. “Many of the ways in which draft-age men received deferments favored those who were wealthy and well educated” (https://wayzata.k12.mn.us/cms/lib/MN01001540/Centricity/Domain/953/The%20Vietnam%20War%20and%20the%20Draft%20Reading.pdf).

As a result of the Vietnam war, it is not required that men go to war involuntarily. Although men still have to register with the SSS, many citizens, men and women enlist in the military voluntarily. It takes a great deal of courage and nationalism to do so. O’Brien claims he was a coward for not wanting to fight for his country, with the reason that he didn’t know what he was fighting for. Other men in history have been known to make America proud in the military. Although Vietnam technically wasn’t a war, it certainly left an impact on America forever.

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