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Throughout all of history, humans have been unable to maintain peace and have always resorted to the inevitable state of war. War has changed of lives of every person who has every lived, and will continue to do so as man struggles to fight the survival of the fittest. Millions of innocent people have literally been the casualties to the idea of war, and billions have had there lives changes forever. Every day people watch movies, read books, and hear reports of war in the media, but how can one ever truly understand what war is without being forced to takes the lives of fellow humans, while at the same time learning to cope with living conditions, being in completely unknown places, and staring death in the face everyday. There are many different scarring aspects of war that can take a man and turn him into a completely different person.
In the world we live in the worse act a man can do is to take the life of a fellow human. As gruesome and wrong that it sounds to take ones life, it has become a practice that people in wars of all centuries have become extremely familiar with. Imagine being a typical twenty year old student, maybe about to get married and start a family, and three months later being forced to kill just so you can stay alive and make it home. Going from having complete freedom to being given orders and now having the freedom to commit what we consider one of the harshest crimes. Although this is an astonishing revolution
for some, there are also those who can see someone die and think of it as just another number, and not even be phased. A case of this situation would be, "You scrambled his sorry self, look at that, you did, you laid him out like Shredded fuckin' Wheat" (O'Brien 2). However while this statement was being recited, an emotionless Tim stared blankly at young man whose life he himself had just taken. As he look at the young mans body he began to tell himself the story of the young man's life.
"He had been born, maybe, in 1946 in the village on My Khe He was not a Communist. He was a citizen and a soldier." He continues to go on and state "He was not a fighter, his health was poor, his body small and frail.
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Although the soldier knew none of this for fact, but was convinced of it because that's all his conscious told him. He had no choice but to except the fact that it was his sole action that took that mans life. The shear mental force of coming to realization with this fact is one that can be devastating to a person's live, and have an ever lasting affect. The reality of this can also be looked at from another point of view which a fellow soldier brings up, "You want to trade places with him? Turn it all upside down-you want that? I mean, be honest?" (13). realistically the soldier knows he would much rather have killed that man than spared his own life, there is some haunting truth that still dawns upon him.
As it has come to be proven in many cases, situations like these can cause men to be terrorized by it forever, and in severe cases take there own lives.
This is only one of the many aspects apparent in wars. While fighting for your own survival with almost every move you make, you are presented with many other extremely horrific features of war. While looking over a man that you don't know and have just killed can be a dramatic encounter, it is almost guaranteed that you will be forced to deal with a different aspect of death. That is the death of someone you know, maybe a fellow soldier you have fought besides in many battles, a best friend, or even just a fellow citizen in the same uniform as you.
In "How to Tell a True War Story", Tim O'Brien recounts a story of a fellow soldier and his best friend. They had been messing around one day and were playing a game they had done so frequently. The two men were named Curt Lemon and Bob "Rat" Kiley. On this particular day Lemon accidentally stepped on a booby trapped 105 round, and has O'Brien turned see Lemon step out of the shade and into bright sunlight. "His face was suddenly brown and shining and when he died it was beautiful, the way the sunlight came around him and lifted him up and sucked him high into a tree full of mosses and vines and white blossoms" (17). For O'Brien this became a sense of relief, and what he would use to help justify Lemon's death, not only for himself but for Lemon as well. Although the man's life has perished, the sense of him stepping into the light and being sucked up into what is implied as heaven becomes a way of dealing with the death. In response to his death Kiley writes a letter to his sister informing him of what a good friend and how courageous of a soldier he was. After getting no response after two
months Kiley becomes enraged and refers to the girl as a "dumb cooze". Although we don't know if Kiley would act this way even if not in a war situation and if he didn't write her the letter to inform of his bests friends death, one can imply that his verbal abuse is directly an affect of the war, and one that did not used to be present in him.
Later that week Kiley brutally attacks a baby VC water buffalo. "He stepped back and shot it through the right front knee" (72) "He shot it in the hindquarters and in the little hump in its back. He shot it twice in the flank. It wasn't to kill; it was to hurt" (72) this is an extremely powerful statement, and is really able to put that pain in the pit of the reader's stomach. This is a perfect example of the chain effect of Curt Lemon's death. Surely no one can sit there and apply so much unjustifiable pain to an innocent animal without having so hatred that is overwhelming and at the same time unbearable to live with. "Nothing moved expect the eyes, which were enormous, the pupils shiny black and dumb. Rat Kiley was crying. He tried to say something, but then cradled his rifle and went off by himself" (72). This was proof, at least to O'Brien and me, of the corrupting aspects of war, and how it can take any person, turn his emotion upside down, and completely change them.
This is something that humans have always dealt with, and by the looks of it always will. Many soldiers have lived to tell their battle stories, whether they be devastating or honorable, but the affects of war on man are ones that cannot be reinvented in a movie or book. Legally we are forced into these situations were we must kill or be killed, and for the most part that's what it can come down to. Learning to deal with having to see friends die right before your eyes, sleeping in the woods for days, being in
the trenches under heavy machine gun fire. War is a very scary topic and one that can alter a man for his life. Going from one set of rules you have abided by your whole life, and it all being thrown out the window is a drastic mental change. A change that has harsh unbearable affects, and can forever change a man's senses.