Why are Veterans Important: the Review of 'The Things They Carried'

“They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often they carried each other, the wounded or weak”. This is an example of one of the effects of war, which is explored throughout 'The Things They Carried' by Tim O’Brien. O’Brien’s book is a composite novel drawing upon his experiences from a one year tour in Vietnam. The book is divided into many short stories that are only tenuously connected at times, following the journey of a platoon in Vietnam. The platoon includes a fictional O’Brien. The Vietnam War started in 1955, but the book was written a while after in the 1990s, partially as a response to the ignorance surrounding the Vietnam War. The war itself was highly politicized and criticized by the public, and some deemed it unnecessary. Research suggests that the public’s view of the war as well as lack of government support negatively affected soldiers returning home from the Vietnam War. Tim O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried' shows why are veterans important, also, this essay shows the effects of war on soldiers during and after combat, as well as what can be done to help them return to civilian life.

O'Brien's Depiction of Why are Veterans Important 

O'Brien emphasizes the significance of veterans by humanizing them and delving into their personal stories. The characters in the novel are intricately developed, with their backgrounds, fears, and aspirations revealed. Through their individual accounts, readers gain insight into the complex emotions, psychological trauma, and moral dilemmas faced by soldiers in combat. This human connection helps to foster empathy and understanding towards veterans, recognizing their unique and invaluable perspective.

Moreover, 'The Things They Carried' underscores the importance of veterans in preserving collective memory and bearing witness to history. O'Brien's storytelling serves as a testament to the experiences and realities of soldiers, giving voice to their struggles and sacrifices. By sharing their stories, the novel ensures that the impact of war is not forgotten or overlooked, urging society to acknowledge and honor the contributions of veterans.

The Way American Government Failed to Support Veterans

Soldiers returning from Vietnam received a lack of support from both civilians and the government in dealing with both physical and mental trauma such as PTSD. In “The US Government Is Failing Miserably At Helping Veterans,” Michael Kelley highlights in what ways the government is failing to help veterans.

“A record 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for service-related injuries and millions of other veterans remain ineligible for compensation and benefits”. The article and graph shows that even though the government has tried to improve services for veterans through spendings, more soldiers than ever before are developing PTSD. The government finding a better system could be used to better help returning veterans. Fortunately, the increase in veterans searching for benefits is a result of greater awareness of mental conditions. It is also because of better medicine, allowing more soldiers to survive life changing wounds and be forever physically reminded of their trauma. “Due to impressive advances in battlefield medicine, mortality rates among those injured have dropped from 30 percent in World War II and 24 percent in Vietnam to around 10 percent in the current wars”. Another factor of the poor mental health of Vietnam Veterans can be attributed to civilians. The article “Vietnam: One Soldier's Story” discusses the thoughts that went through the minds of those drafted for the Vietnam War. According to “Vietnam: One Soldier's Story,” many of the men drafted for the war did not care about what they were fighting for. If they did join the war, it was because their friends did. One such drafted man named Troyer was subjected to a Viet Cong raid. Even after all he went through, Troyer’s knew that when he came home, he would not be received as a hero. Troyer is an example of the experiences many soldiers went through. The death and destruction he saw during his service affected the rest of his life profoundly. Even so, upon returning home he was not recognized for his sacrifice or even welcomed by anyone other than his family. This article proves that the lack of an ideological focus or cause for participating in the Vietnam War negatively affected the mental health of American veterans after the war, as it made the public opinion of the war and the people who fought in it extremely low. Communication with civilians that was already difficult was made even worse. According to Veterans and PTSD, “7% of veterans have both post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury”, showing that not only is PTSD a factor of the struggle to civilian life, so too is the prevalence of brain trauma within American veterans. A more startling fact is that “More active duty personnel die by own hand than combat in 2012”, proving how the pain of war is significant after combat. Yet another example of the destructive effects of war is shown by McNamara. She states that rates of PTSD among war veterans’ relatives are “twice as high' as those of war veterans, proving that not only does war trauma affect veterans’ quality of life, it is detrimental to that of the family as well. To address the problems of life after war, in “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” from 'The Things They Carried', Rat Kiley tells the men that “You come over clean and you get dirty and then afterward it’s never the same. A question of degree”. This is referring to a girl named Mary Anne, who went to Vietnam to be with her boyfriend. As time passes, she becomes more immersed in the war, even going on night raids and ambushes. She is addicted to the thrill of it. Eventually she disappears forever. She started as a sweet innocent girl, but the war changed her beyond recognition. This transformation is undergone by all of the male soldiers as well. This shows it does not matter who a man was before the war: however innocent they were, the war would change them and affect their lives long after they left. Even so, measures can be taken to help veterans recover and assimilate back into civilian life.

Glimpses of Change Efforts and Progress

Effort and progress has been made since the Vietnam War by the U.S. government and the medical field, and are still being made. Effort and progress has been and is still being made by the U.S. Government and the medical field. Progress has been made since the Vietnam War by the U.S. government and the medical field, and is still being made. One example of government improvement is the Department of Veterans Affairs, which shows what compensations those who served in Vietnam can receive. Some can be given for exposure to Agent Orange, a herbicide that was used during to destroy the Viet Cong’s foliage cover. “Children of Veterans exposed to Agent Orange who have a birth defect including spina bifida, a congenital birth defect of the spine, and certain other birth defects may be entitled to VA benefits. These include monetary benefits, health care, and vocational rehabilitation services”. The Department of Veterans Affairs demonstrates one of the physical effects of the Vietnam War and how this specific case not only affected the soldiers, but their children as well. The Department of Veteran Affairs offers information on compensation that is available for veterans, showing that the government is trying to make reparations to help their soldiers. Another way to help veterans return to civilian life is to give them preparation before heading into combat. According to Adrian Blow, the coping mechanisms of couples is highly correlated to the chance of a veteran in the pair turning to drug abuse to cope with the stresses of war. Active coping, which is trying to deal directly with problems and obtain long-term solutions, when used before deployment, was related to the veteran not abusing drugs. This is in contrast to avoidant coping, which involves giving up and ignoring problems. Blow illustrates the effects of mindsets on the mental health of veterans before the war is a determining factor in their life after war. This information can be used to better prepare soldiers and their families for the strain war puts on their minds and relationships with each other. A medical advancement is shown in Understanding PTSD Among Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan by Erin P. Finley. It shows that exposure therapy is one of the most successful treatments for PTSD but illuminates a problem with it:

Beyond the difficulties of ensuring prompt access to care, treatment noncompliance and dropout are regular problems among OEF/OIF veterans nationwide. One recent study found that fewer than 10 percent of OEF/OIF veterans with a new PTSD diagnosis completed the recommended number of treatment sessions within the first year following their diagnosis.

This book proves the beneficial effects of post exposure therapy for PTSD, showing advancements in treating veterans for PTSD. Even so, there are problems ensuring veterans are diagnosed properly, obtain the needed treatment, or accept said treatment. Many are averse to thinking about their traumatic experiences and distrust clinicians as they never experienced war. Fortunately, the clinicians do their best to help and understand what veterans are going through, which has helped many veterans recover, and is shown by . Another example of the effectiveness of post-exposure therapy is shown in 'The Things They Carried' with the benefits of veterans sharing their experiences. O’ Brien notes that “I did not look on my work as therapy, and still don't. Yet when I received Norman Bowker's letter, it occurred to me that the act of writing had led me through a swirl of memories that might otherwise have ended in paralysis or worse”. Both the real and fictional O’Brien wrote about their experiences as a way to cope with their memories of war. Norman Bowker shows how contact with fellow soldiers instead of civilians is something that veterans desire, to have someone who understands their experiences. While Bowker eventually commits suicide, O’Brien writing about his experiences helps him to avoid PTSD and other issues his comrades struggled with.


In summary, 'The Things They Carried' underscores the profound importance of veterans by capturing their experiences, illuminating their struggles, and recognizing their enduring impact on individuals and society. Through his poignant narratives, O'Brien urges readers to reflect on the sacrifices and challenges faced by veterans, fostering a greater appreciation for their service and a commitment to supporting their well-being.

The effects of war on soldiers during and after combat, as well as what can be done to help them return to civilian life, is explored by Tim O’Brien in 'The Things They Carried'. One of the main hurdles for soldiers returning home is a lack of support and understanding from civilians and the government. Fortunately, the government and medical field has made effort and progress in supporting war veterans. According to Sandee LaMotte, Sam is a veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffers from PTSD. Sam works as a correctional officer, a federal employee. The recent government shutdown meant that he and other veterans did not get paid for weeks and struggled to support themselves and their families. Even worse was the fact that unless they had special permission, they could not leave work for a sick day or a doctor’s appointment, including therapy sessions. The article shows how veterans with PTSD depend on the government as well as that there is a lack of understanding of the disorder and the treatment required. One story in 'The Things They Carried' tells the story of the death of Curt Lemon. After his death, his friend Rat Kiley decides to write a letter to Lemon’s sister. “Rat pours his heart out. He says he loved the guy. He says the guy was his best friend in the world [...] He tells the guy’s sister he’ll look her up when the war’s over. So what happens? Rat mails the letter. He waits two months. The dumb [woman] never writes back”. 

03 July 2023
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