Sunday, April 3, 2011

If I Die in a Combat Zone, (Box Me Up and Ship Me Home)

Fourth Tim O'Brien book I've read in the past six weeks. Probably that's enough for me unless he comes out with a new one. For now I'll skip the other two or three novels he's written. This completes my initial jump into Vietnam War literature, something I was way, way behind on.

In order of how I liked these books...

The Things They Carried ... SO glad I read it. Would recommend it to anyone.
In the Lake of the Woods
If I Die...
Chasing After Caciatto

"If I Die in a Combat Zone" is a memoir, published in 1975 and an account, not tremendously detailed in a day-to-day way but very detailed at moments, of O'Brien's time as a grunt in Southeast Asia in 1969. His feelings about the war, "a wrong war," and his fear as a foot soldier, he does not hide.

His comments are simple but so clear. Stuff like ...

"It's sad when you learn you're not much of a hero." "Is a man once and for always a coward? Once and for always a hero? "It is more likely that men act cowardly and, at other times, act with courage, each in different measure, each with varying consistency. The men who do well on the average, perhaps with one moment of glory, those men are brave... "You promise, almost moving your lips, to do better next time; that by itself is a kind of courage."

And he is quite the sentence writer and moment catcher:

"The first sergeant, probably to show us he had guts and could take charge, walked up front with the company commander and the RTOs, and we moved slowly. "I was watching the first sergeant. He lurched backward, and dirt and a cloud of red smoke sprayed up around his thighs. He stood and gaped at the short explosion. He didn't say anything. As if he were trying to back out of the shrapnel and noise, he took three steps. Then his legs disintegrated under him, and he fell heavily on his back. "It exploded right under him. No one felt any particular loss when the helicopter landed and we packed him aboard."

And finally...

"You learned, as old men tell it in front of the courthouse, that war is not all bad; it may not make a man of you, but it teaches you that manhood is not something to scoff..."