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! ! Erin Donlon Comp 101 Prof.

Dzielawa 8 February 2014

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'#!()*+,!+#!+,-!.+#)/! A true war story can never be fully told. A war story can be written based off of just the facts, but that wont necessarily be completely true. A soldier can tell his experiences of war, but that also wont be wholly true, either. No matter what, a piece will be missing; the story will never satisfy the reader. In Tim OBriens article How to Tell a True War Story, OBrien goes through his rules to tell a true war story, but his rules tend to contradict one another and can prove impossible to follow. He states that a true war story must be embarrassing, unbelievable, and unending while also being comforting, credible, and fleeting. The reader learns that there are large differences between what most people think of as a war story, complete with heroism and courage, and also what is honest about how the soldiers deal with the horrors of war. He claims that there is no way to tell a true war story, as there is no way to truly explain all there is to war and its many complexities. War tends to mean different things to different people, and in every war story people can find their own truths. Some of OBriens rules are that a true war story cannot be believed and that it also does not generalize. One of the most prevalent rules, though, is a true war story is never moral (1). He later goes on to say that there can be morals to a war story, but they will eventually become negated by the need to find a deeper meaning to the story and the overall moral. Mitchell Sanders, a character in the story, said, in a true war story, if theres a moral at all its like the thread that makes the cloth. You cant tease it out. You cant extract the meaning without
Erin Donlon! 4/28/14 7:30 PM !"#"$"%&'ies

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unraveling the deeper meaning (6). The meaning behind that statement was that if the reader is looking for just one thing to define a true war story, they couldnt. The moral is as stuck in the story as a thread is stuck in cloth. It is true that people do try to find reasoning in every point of life because no one wants to live in a world where terrible things happen for no reason, but the author suggests that there is no moral or good that comes out of war and that trying to find something like that in a war story is futile. One thing that is expected out of a war story is that the soldiers will always be the protagonists; that they can do no wrong and they will always be the heroes. OBrien would like you to reconsider that assumption. Consider Rat Kiley, a spunky young soldier who most enjoys his comic books and goofing off with his best friend, Curt Lemon. That is until Curt Lemon steps on a land mine and dies. The greatest example of Rats moral decline is his experience with the baby water buffalo. One day when the men are humping through the jungle they come upon a baby water buffalo. Immediately curious, Rat goes up to the buffalo and offers it one of his rations. When the water buffalo doesnt seem interested, he shoots through one of its knees. The water buffalo doesnt make a sound and manages to get back up, only for Rat to shoot its ear off and continue to torture the poor, innocent animal. All the while the rest of the squad was just standing there watching this happen. The whole platoon stood there watching, feeling all kinds of things, but there wasnt a great deal of pity for the baby water buffalo. Lemon was dead (6), wrote OBrien on witnessing the torture happen. This goes to show that societys perception of the great heroic soldier may not be all they really conceive it to be. Yes, soldiers do put their lives on the line to go to war, but the experiences of war can make them jaded and sadistic, as shown by Rat Kiley. No moral person would torture a baby animal, even out of grief, as Kiley did. The pure horror of reading about what happened to the buffalo
Erin Donlon! 4/28/14 7:32 PM !"#"$"%&' Erin Donlon! 4/28/14 7:31 PM !"#"$"%&'cannot

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likely shocks the reader into not even slightly doubting the truth to that anecdote, and there truly is no way to extract a deeper meaning from Kileys pain. 2,-+,-)!,34!5*63-$7-!8-%3-9-4!5!:5)!4+#)/!4,#*%6!8-!#;!$#!3<=#)+5$7-!+#!5$!5*+,#)>! 54!+,-!+)*-4+!+)*+,!4--<4!<*$65$-!5$6!<56-!*=. OBrien postulates that any listener or reader of a war story only cares about the truth of a story if they need that story to be true. OBrien makes a great example of this with this statement, for example, weve all heard this one. Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast and saves his three buddies. Is it true? The answer matters (9). What he means by that statement is that in certain stories a reader wants the good to will out and for everyone to be all right at the end of the day. If you heard that story and it turned out that the soldier who gave his life for his friends failed to save them because the blast from the grenade was too large, that story would not satisfy. That story would leave you with a hole in your gut and would make you feel worse for the wear. Stories have a power to affect ones day and ones outlook on the world. Sometimes its better just to sugar coat them and tell the reader that, yes, the soldier did save his fellow soldiers from the blast of the grenade. One of the last rules that OBrien has is that true war stories do not generalize (6). Any old person can state that war is hell, and mean it, but that does not necessarily elicit an emotional response. Also, war may not be hell to everyone. He states that even though people may argue that war is an ugly, grotesque thing, it can also be beautiful in the sheer grandeur of combat. All the flashes of guns and bombs, the harmonies of gunpowder going off, and the symmetrical dance of troops marching he views as beautiful. OBrien states like a killer forest fire, like cancer under a microscope, any battle or bombing raid or artillery barrage has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference- a powerful, impeccable beauty- and a true war

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story will tell the truth about this, though the truth is ugly (7). A great example of this was the description of Curt Lemons death from OBriens point of view. Curt Lemon died when he stepped on a land mine, but that is not how OBrien remembers it. How he remembers is it like this, but, if I could ever get the story right, how the sun seemed to gather around him and pick him up and lift him into a tree, if I could somehow recreate the fatal whiteness of that light, the quick glare, the obvious cause and effect, then you would believe the last thing Lemon believed, which for him mustve been the final truth (9). Just his description alone describes why a true war story can never be told because even if a person tells every part of their story in precise detail, no one would believe it. If OBrien had ever told someone that his friend Lemon hadnt died by stepping on a rigged 105 round, but by being lifted up by light into the trees, who would believe him? It is much easier to believe that Lemon died by stepping on a landmine, even if, to OBrien, that is not what happened. Telling a true war story is no easy feat, if an impossible one, to take on. A storyteller can write or say every detail of what they remember about their experiences, and yet the story may not be true. A historian can write down everything that factually happened in a battlefield, but that completely excludes the soldiers perspectives on what had happened. No one-way of telling a war story is right, and no one-way of telling a war story is wrong. There will always be a lack of a deeper meaning that the audience is searching hopelessly for, there may not be the heroic and courageous soldier sparing his life for the lives of others, and there will always be contradictions on how the story is eventually told. What there always will be though, is honesty. War stories may not have a moral, but at least they are being honest in telling you that not everything in life is good. Rat Kiley was being honest with himself when he hurt that water buffalo to ease the pain of the loss of his best friend. Curt Lemon may have not been lifted into

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the heavens by a beam of light, but that doesnt mean that thats not what OBrien thinks honestly happened. Tim OBrien was right in stating that there is no way to tell a true war story, but an honest one is nice to come by because it isnt trying to masquerade as the truth.

Citations O'Brien, Tim. "How To Tell A True War Story." Trans. Array The Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. 174-183. Print.