Monday, June 28, 2010
How to Tell a True War Story
Tim O’Brien does a wonderful job with How to Tell a True War Story. I especially enjoyed how O’Brien tells the story of Curt Lemon’s death in three different forms. With each of the different versions you learn more about what happened. In between his descriptions of what happened to Curt Lemon, O’Brien brilliantly adds in Sanders story of the six men in the mountains and their spooky tale. Throughout the story O’Brien adds insight into what makes a good war story, but at the same time leaves the reader guessing as to what the true war story really is.
“ A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If the story seems moral, do not believe it.”(O’Brien 68). O’Brien begins the story of Curt Lemon by talking about Curt lemon’s best friend “Rat”, and how he writes a heartfelt letter to Lemon’s sister. During this part of the story the reader learns what type of person Curt Lemon was and how much he meant to “Rat”. The story ends with Lemon’s sister never writing back causing “Rat” to be disappointed and angry with her. As O’Brien reminisces about the day Lemon dies, he describes how they stopped for a rest and Lemon and “Rat” decided to play a game under the shade of a large tree. The story ends with O’Brien hearing a noise then looking over at Lemon. It is the next part that really captivated me as a reader. O’Brien says the sunlight came around him and lifted him into the tree. I feel that was the most beautiful description of a person’s death that I have ever read. This part of the story ends with that, leaving the reader wondering what truly happened.
“ In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.”(O’Brien 71). O’Brien strays from the Curt Lemon story at this point to tell of Sander’s war story. Sanders tell a story of six men who are on a mission to sit in the mountain jungle and listen for enemy movement. The six soldiers hunker down not saying a peep for a week. During this week they start to hear strange noises, noises that should not be heard in the jungle. The noise starts off as music and then the sounds of a cocktail party. The men can’t take it anymore and end up calling in all sorts of artillery and air strikes in the area. When they dust settles in the morning they discover no bodies or signs that anything or anybody was on that mountain causing the noises. The men return back to the base when a Colonel demands answers to why they order the artillery and air strikes. The men just stare at him, salute, and walk away. Sanders Admits to embellishing a bit on the story but swears that it is true for the most part. O’Brien and Sanders then struggle to find the moral of the story, only to come to the conclusion that the moral is nothing just the silence created by the lack of a moral.
“ In a true war story, if there is a moral at all, it’s like the thread that makes the cloth. You can’t tease it out. You can’t extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning. And in the end, really, there is nothing much to say about a true war story, except maybe “Oh”.” (O’Brien 77). O’Brien returns to the story of Curt Lemon and how he had stepped on a booby trap and exploded into the tree. O’Brien also tells of how “Rat” reacted to Lemon’s death. “Rat” caught a baby water buffalo and proceeded to torture it by shooting it over and over with non-lethal shots. I assume this part of the story was to show the evils that men do when subjected to the atrocities of war. “ Over here, man, every sin’s real fresh and Original.” ( O’Brien 80 ).
I feel that O’Brien’s reason for this chapter or story was to show the reader that a war story is just that a war story. It can be told in many ways. It can change each time by the storyteller’s recollection or different embellishments to make the story better. O’Brien says that it is not whether you believe the story or not, but if you ask “ Was the story true?”, then you have your answer. O’Brien is saying that the story, whether true or not, is only true if you want to believe it. O’Brien also goes on to talk about how war is as much beautiful as it is ugly. When a soldier is near death he is also closer to life, noticing all the beauties around him. That beauty is what also makes a war story true, all the little details, like the sun shining on Lemon’s face just before he explodes into a hundred pieces. I really had a difficult time trying to understand O’Brien’s description of a true war story, but what I think it boils down to is that there is no true way to tell a war story, and if there were, it wouldn’t be true at all.
Posted by chris mattson at 1:07 PM