Journal 24: Tim O' Brien "The Things They Carried"
I liked this story; it was long but interesting. All the little details like how much each item weighed kind of added to the realism; you can almost feel how heavy everything is. I thought it was strange how the speaker (who I never could figure out) kept using the time Lavender died as a time reference. Didn’t they have calendars and clocks there? It was difficult for me to relate to the characters in their particular setting; I’ve never been to war, I don’t even watch War movies. Saving Private Ryan? Never watched it. The closest I’ve been is the History Channel and they don’t really play those anymore. I could kind of relate to most of the content of page 236, where the speaker goes on about how they do things automatically now, how “their calculations were biological. They had no sense of strategy or mission.” They’ve just become so numb to everything their bodies just keep moving with “a kind of inertia.” I’ve felt like that; where you just go through the motions of being alive but you aren’t really thinking about anything. I’m sure we’ve all had days like that.
One line in particular caught my interest. “Imagination was a killer.” All the men are waiting for one of their own to emerge back from the tunnels after checking it. A while has gone by and they’re starting to get edge and I could feel that. I was expecting the guy to have died, been shot or killed, and imagining them having to dig him out or pulling him, bleeding, by his feet out of the tunnels and the description of the horrible gory scene. He was fine; Lavender died instead, quick and I’d assume painless (as instant death often is) and shocking for the witnesses. Imagination can be a killer; I was watching 1000 Ways to Die and they did a story about this man who was going to be shot by a firing squad for desertion. They had all the men shoot at once so no one man could be blamed. They all fired. The man dropped dead. The thing was, every man had missed; the man had died from the expectation. He heard the shots and his heart stopped. Imagination can kill.
Through out the story I thought about the things the men carried. I’m not talking solely about physically carrying, although that was interesting and could probably say a lot about the people who carry them, but mentally. The emotional burden. A lot of people come back changed from war, often for the worse. PTSD, shell shock, nightmares, whatever you want to attribute these people suffer. And not just after the war either; it takes a certain kind of apathy and numbness to kill a person, maybe not in the heat of the moment when adrenaline drives you and you really can’t stop and think too much just act or die, but afterwards, when the adrenaline goes away and you can do nothing but stop and live that moment over again. And it’s not survivors guilt, but another kind of guilt. The kind of guilt that comes from the fact that you’re glad it wasn’t you that died. You kind of go numb, deal with the death with something (crying, in private of course, or humor) or insane from all this.