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If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O'Brien and its Stories of The Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War was a time in history where many different opinions caused opportunity for Americans to disagree with the government and each other. Individuals either chose to support the war or not and the largest impact was made by the people that decided to disagree. Unorganized demonstrations were formed to illustrate the hatred felt towards the Vietnam War. The different perspectives of the war from individual to individual varied so much that there was not just one reason to disagree with the Vietnam War. Even though Americans had many various reasons to dislike the war, their repulsion towards it brought them together to protest and state their feelings to the public.

Tim Obrien’s If I Die in a Combat Zone brings the Vietnam War to life as if the reader is actually taking part in the war as a soldier. Obrien’s experiences throughout the war with his fellow American soldiers was unlike any other occurrences that had happened in war throughout American history. The description of the issues, mentally and physically, that are brought upon the soldiers involved with the war are petrifying, but help bring respect to them and what they did for America. Obrien’s dedication for his country was proven throughout the book when he decided not to dodge the draft, but to stick it out instead. The story of Obrien’s difficult trek through the Vietnam War proved how terrifying the experience actually was to an individual that was involved.

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Obrien stated, “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.” (Obrien, If I Die in a Combat Zone pg. 23) The Vietnam War was extremely violent and unlike anything that the human mind could grasp. One of the biggest fears of the soldiers was the sole fact of becoming lost and being separated from the rest of the group. Spending the night alone in the forest was a recipe for disaster and was an almost guaranteed death. Knowing that thousands of deaths had already occurred and many soldiers were unaccounted for, it was a frightening thought that the next death could be anyone. “When the plane leaves the ground, you join everyone in a ritualistic shout, trying to squeeze whatever drama you can out of leaving Vietnam.” (Obrien If I Die in a Combat Zone pg. 206) This idea illustrates how even the sense of leaving Vietnam was not enough to help the soldiers cope with the fact of war. The violent thoughts of the many deaths that occurred in the war was difficult for them to think about. Since the Vietnam War was also considered a slow process and progress was not being made as quickly as individuals wanted it to, it was also upsetting to see husbands, brothers, sons, and friends being taken into the war through the draft.

The SNCC had an extremely strong opinion on the Vietnam War as well. The group stated, “The murder of Samuel Young, in Tuskegee, Alabama, is no different than the murder of peasants in Vietnam, for both Young and the Vietnamese sought, and are seeking, to secure the rights guaranteed them by law.” (Takin’ It to The Streets, Bloom & Breines page 193) The SNCC felt as if the blacks had been treated the same that the United States was currently treating the Vietnamese. They also stated, “The United States government bears a great part of the responsibility for these deaths.” (Takin’ It to The Streets, Bloom & Breines page 193) The violence associated with the war reminded the SNCC members of the violence that had occurred during the civil rights movement.

It was not understood by the SNCC how the United States was capable of fighting for another country’s freedom, when they could not guarantee their own citizen’s the rights that they deserved. Sympathy was raised for the Vietnamese and the members of the organization could strongly relate to the people in Vietnam. The United States seemed hypocritical when the government was set on “preserving freedom in the world.” The SNCC illustrated that they felt concerned with the draft because the men would be sent by a country that has “false freedom” to fight for another country’s freedom.

The perspective of Tim Obrien was a first hand experience that many American’s could sympathize with. Many men were sent into the Vietnam War believing that they were indestructible and could do anything. This false hope showed strongly when it was found that the probability of returning wounded or not returning at all was a strong reality. The SNCC however, did not understand this point of view, but used their knowledge of how the Vietnamese people were being treated throughout the process of gaining their freedom. Their comparison towards being treated the same by their fellow Americans was the way that they understood why the Vietnam War was not something that America should be involved in at the time.

The two different perspectives between the SNCC and Tim Obrien seem as if they are completely different, but they compare in a strong way. Both of the situations forced the individuals involved, Obrien and members of the SNCC, to have tough feelings towards the Vietnam War. When the war is thought of in a bad way, the soldiers that were involved are the first perspective that comes to mind. The awful scenarios that they were placed in and the immoral things that they were involved with makes people feel sorry for them in the sense that they had to participate without choice. The SNCC’s perspective is not usually thought of when the Vietnam War is discussed. The SNCC was originally created to fight for civil rights, but when controversy began with the war, questions began to arise from the organization. This led to comparisons to rights in America and brought a whole new group into the demonstrations towards the war.

Although various perspectives were had through poets, soldiers, political figures, and others during the Vietnam War, each of their differences brought them together to form one opinion. The demonstrations were filled with individuals that were a part of the protest for different reasons, but the initial reason was the war.


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