Vietnam Veteran Analysis in If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O'Brien

Book Summary O'Brien, Tim. If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. New York City: Broadway Books; Reprint Edition, (August 24, 2011).

Vietnam Veteran Tim O'Brien gave us this very interesting and personal experience of what he had to face during his one year deployment in Vietnam. He goes about explaining what life was like in the heavy combat zones where he was face to face with his enemy, what it was like to walk through minefields in My Lai, and how horrified he was to crawl through the twisting and winding tunnels that the Viet Cong were using just under his feet.

These experiences gave him a front row seat to what death and suffering were really like; an overall test of his morality and sanity. This test of morality goes right along with his recruitment experience.

Tim O'Brien was strongly opposed to the war efforts over in Vietnam. He gives us a very descriptive idea of what his plan was for avoiding enlistment.

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How he planned on abandoning his family, friends, Culture, and Freedoms, all so he could avoid facing the inevitable pain of war. A last minute decision lead to him going; he decided that throwing it all away was not what he was ready to do. He wanted to remain the man he is and face reality. O'Brien previously to his decision wrote up numerous notes to his friends and family telling them that he planned on avoiding the draft by exiling himself from his true identity and running just a few weeks before his trip to Vietnam.

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But instead, he chose to burn the papers and fulfill his duty. I think this book is perfect for reading along with this class. Tim O'Brien talks about everything about the war from the perspective of a basic infantryman. The beginning of the book goes over O'Brien's childhood and education. This serves to help us, the reader, understand that Tim is just a person like you and me who values his life and wants to do the right thing.

So when O'Brien recites his plan to dodge the draft, we have to remember that this is what he puts at risk, his identity. There were many people during this time that dodged the draft. Each one with their own strings of history and experiences; and to think thousands of people through all that away is mindboggling to me. I do wish we spoke about that more in this class, if it is already not planned on. Because to me, learning about peoples experiences similar to Tim's is a very important aspect of the war, which is outlined heavily in this book.

The most important aspect of the book for me is hearing about O'Brien's, Captain Johansen's, and the rest of Alpha teams' sacrifices, loyalty, and teamwork they went through when they were on the front lines.

O'Brien's straightforward, attention to detail writing paints this terrifying portrait of what his squad was facing. "When you are ordered to march through areas such as Pinkville--GI slang for Song My, parent village of My Lai ... you do some thinking. You hallucinate. You look ahead a few paces and wonder what your legs will resemble if there is more to the earth in that spot than silicates and nitrogen. Will the pain be unbearable? Will you scream or fall silent? Will you be afraid to look at your own body, afraid of the sight of your own red flesh and white bone? You wonder if the medic remembered his morphine." This gives the reader a perfect understanding of the mental state of the men. How O'Brien experienced his own personal experience of hell; and not knowing how to react to seeing your own insides.

Although I thought the book was very good, there could have been some improvements. The first few chapters feel a bit too drawn out and seemed stale at some points. Almost as if he was just venting or ranting about what he likes and dislikes; how he was always right about the war not going well. To me, it seemed as though he was reassuring himself that he what he is doing by fighting is heroic and the best choice he could have made to serve his country. I do appreciate and respect O'Brien's experiences, but I do think he could have cut out most of the beginning of the book because he was spending too much time personifying his character. So in summary, I wish O'Brien focused more on fleshing out the other people in his squad like Barney, an eccentric soldier who was more or less a glass half full kind of guy who was able to maintain his sense of humor while being shot at.

I think the main reason Tim O'Brien Joined the war was because his family. He would always talk about his family through the book, mainly about his dad, the World War II Veteran. His mother served in the WAVES (the women's section of the US Naval Reserve, established in 1942.) so I think making the decision to serve his country instead of escaping to Canada or Sweden, was heavily influenced by his families history.


Updated: May 03, 2023
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Vietnam Veteran Analysis in If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O'Brien. (2022, Apr 12). Retrieved from

Vietnam Veteran Analysis in If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O'Brien essay
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