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The Things They Carried
Vietnam War was one of the hardest wars ever fought. There are several reasons for this statement. It was basically impossible to conquer the territory because there were no boundaries. The soldiers had to put up with the climate, land, diseases and most importantly themselves. This essay is about yet another reason: the relationship between the soldiers and the officers.
It is very reasonable to say that American soldiers entering the Vietnam were not disciplined enough. The average age of a soldier in Vietnam was eighteen. Nobody found it necessary to train these kids to handle all the problems they run into. The service ruined their late childhood and they had to grow up early! If anything went wrong, they would simply blame the officer in charge. Tim O'Brien illustrated this nicely in his story In The Field. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross felt guilty for Kiowa's death. He blamed himself for not thinking about his troops even though he did what he was supposed to do. Couple of soldiers were pissed off about Kiowa's death. They blamed it all on Lieutenant even though they knew it was not his fault. Then they let their emotions out and the situation turned to be out of control. O'Brien describes it syntactically. He is trying to persuade us that all the soldiers knew Jimmy was not guilty, but some soldiers just had to blame it on somebody.
" 'Some lieutenant,' Sanders said. 'Camps us in a toilet. Man don't know shit.'
'Nobody knew,' Bowker said.
'Maybe so, maybe not. Ten billion places we could've set up last night, the man picks a latrine.'
...'It wasn't the LT's fault,' Bowker said quietly.
'Nobody's. Nobody knew till afterward.' " (180).
This entire incident was by far the toughest on Jimmy Cross. He had to deal with himself and his corrupt soldiers. He was emotionally shook up with Kiowa's death and he did not appreciate Mitchell's reaction. Accidents like this one lead to a distant relationship between the officer and the soldiers. Soldiers usually protest and officers have to punish them. This of course leads to more violence and some of the outcomes can be deadly.
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This selection of The Things They Carried contains few good examples of the syntactic and paratactic styles of writing.
"Jimmy Cross did not want the responsibility of leading these men. He had never wanted it. In his sophomore year at Mount Sebastian College he had signed up for the Reserve Officer Training Corpse without much thought. An automatic thing: because his friends had joined, and because it was worth a few credits, and because it seemed preferable to letting the draft take him. He was unprepared. Twenty-four years old and his heart wasn't in it. Military matters meant nothing to him" (190).
This paragraph is a perfect example of syntactic style of writing. O'Brien wants to justify Lieutenant Cross. He really tried to tell us that LT did not plan or want Kiowa to die. He tried to tell us that it was some external force that caused Kiowa's death. The basic interpretation of his intention is that sometimes some things happen and you cannot prevent them no matter how hard you try. Lieutenant worked hard to follow the commands and those commands were costly for Kiowa. He was trained to follow orders precisely. Jimmy Cross had nothing to do with making those orders and O'Brien wants us to know that.
"At daybreak the platoon of eighteen soldiers formed into a loose rank and began wading side by side through the deep muck of the shit field. They moved slowly in the rain. Leaning forward, heads down, they used the butts of their weapons as probes, wading across the field to the river and then turning and wading back again. They were tired and miserable; all they wanted know was to get it finished" (185).
The above paragraph is a typical example of a paratactic writing. It is very clear, straightforward and self-explanatory. It describes the action of the group of soldiers and there is no hidden meaning between the words. O'Brien meant exactly what the words said.