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If I Die In A Combat Zone: Box Me Up And Ship Me Home (1999)

If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1999)
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Rating
3.94 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0767904435 (ISBN13: 9780767904438)
languge
English
publisher
broadway books
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If I Die In A Combat Zone: Box Me Up ...
If I Die In A Combat Zone: Box Me Up And Ship Me Home (1999)

About book: For me, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is the most powerful book that I have every read and it's the standard against which I judge all things O'Brien. In The Things They Carried, O'Brien utilizes a nonlinear and fragmented narrative structure, magical realism, and the power of storytelling to capture the visceral truth that telling the real story can't quite capture. For O'Brien, we must sometimes turn to fiction to capture what is "emotionally true" and, in doing so, be less concerned with an objective reality. In a way, If I Die in a Combat Zone makes this point for him. Written 15 years before Things, If I Die is a memoir of Tim O'Brien's experience in the Vietnam War. There is no metafiction razzle-dazzle, but rather a straight-forward, linear narrative that begins when O'Brien is drafted and ends as he boards the Freedom Bird headed toward home. It's powerful stuff, but not nearly as powerful as his fiction work. Despite that, anything by Tim O'Brien is better than almost anything else out there--fiction or non-fiction.Having grown up in the post-World War II glow of American military might, O'Brien was raised in the ask-no-questions patriotic culture of the Midwest. Real men were expected to fight. Real men were supposed to look forward to war. Real men craved the opportunity to serve their country and protect their families. O'Brien doesn't reject these values, but these views are complicated by his own philosophical inclinations. He questions the nature of bravery, as well as how American intervention in Vietnam is protecting the average American's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the aftermath, he's left with no certain answers: "Now, war ended, all I am left with are simple, unprofound scraps of truth. Men die. Fear hurts and humiliates. It is hard to be brave. It is hard to know what bravery is. Dead human beings are heavy and awkward to carry . . . Is that the stuff for a morality lesson, even for a theme? . . . Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories." And that's what O'Brien does in the novel--he tells war stories. He tells of the tedious days of repetition, punctuated by brief bursts of action; he tells of military incompetence and the frustration of not knowing who the enemy is in a land where farmers by day picked up guns at night; he tells of how cruel being sent on R&R was, knowing the brief return to normality would not last. And he does all of this without being preachy; he simply shows us what life was like for the average soldier and leaves us to draw our own conclusions. His language is at once poetic and precise, getting to the heart of all things. No one can capture the peculiar mix of fear, adrenaline fed excitement, and remorse of a soldier's most introspective moments like O'Brien. At one point, O'Brien ruminates on Ernest Hemingway's fascination with war: "Some say Ernest Hemingway was obsessed by the need to show bravery in battle. It started, they say, somewhere in World War I and ended when he passed his final test in Idaho. If the man was obsessed with the notion of courage, that was a fault. But, reading Hemingway's war journalism and his war stories, you get the sense that he was simply concerned about bravery, hence about cowardice, and that seems a virtue, a sublime and profound concern that few men have." It's a concern that permeates all of O'Brien's work and his treatment of it is indeed sublime.Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder and at Shelf Inflicted

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be drafted into the war at a young age? Tim O’Brien experiences first hand the stresses and decisions that needed to be made when he first learned he was drafted for the Vietnam War in the summer of 1968. In the memoir If I Died in a Combat Zone: Box Me up and Ship Me Home, Tim O’Brien talked with his friends as he explains, “I was persuaded then, and I remain persuaded now, that the war was wrong. And since it was wrong and since people were dying as a result of it, it was evil” (18). O’Brien was torn between what he should, and should not do. Within himself he instilled all the values his parents have passed along and those reminiscing thoughts pulled him in the other direction. He said, “It was an intellectual and physical standoff, and I did not have the energy to see it to an end. I did not want to be a soldier, not even an observer of war. But neither did I want to upset a peculiar balance between the order I knew, the people I knew, and my own private world. It was not just that I valued the order. I also feared its opposite – inevitable chaos, censure, embarrassment, the end of everything that had happened in my life, the end of it all” (22). O’Brien decided to serve for his country.O’Brien tells his stories throughout the memoir of his personal encounters as a soldier and human being. He does not try to make himself sound like a hero of great magnitude; O’Brien was more interested in leaving Vietnam than actually being there. O’Brien’s work shows how truly negative he is about being at war, and the job he entails there. After being deployed into the Alpha company, 5th Battalion of the 46th Infantry, 198th Infantry Brigade, O’Brien describes his scenarios and events that took place there. One being, all the mines that were encountered by the infantrymen and the ways they work, and the torture and killings they produce. He says, “The Bouncing Betty is feared most. It is a common mine. It leaps out of its nest in the earth, and when it hits its apex, it explodes, reliable and deadly…The fellow takes another step and begins the next and his backside is bleeding and he’s dead. We call it “ol’ step and a half” (122). The reality of these mines is the deaths and tortures they produce are real. I was amazed at the fatalities and near death experiences soldiers came in counter with when they are faced with crossing these mines. Like every other soldier in his Alpha Company, O’Brien just works hard so he can get a job as a rear echelon officer. In which they can leave the battle zone, and move back towards safer cover. Throughout the book you will discover his adventure towards his return home. In the book, If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me up and Ship Me Home, Tim O’Brien writes about the personal experiences of what occurs at war, and the harsh realities of death and fighting. He questions, “Do dreams offer lessons? Do nightmares have themes, do we awaken and analyze them and live our lives and advice others as a result? Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories” (23).
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Reviews
Mark
War, what is it good for? Requested this from my local library on Veterans Day, and just plowed through it on my daily Metro grind this week. I'm not much of a memoir-reader generally, but I thought that it would be appropriate reading in honor of Veterans Day (well, sort of). In some ways it was your typical Vietnam-dysfunctional story that we have all heard before. I think the thing that was most interesting though was the personalization of the dysfunctional war story, and the thinking of a reluctant soldier involved in that war. he could have gotten a deferment, and he could have run to Norway (he had the plans together), but he shipped off to Vietnam. The story is very much focused on O'Brien, and the other individuals come and go briefly from the narrative. The picture of the memoir is narrow and doesn't dwell on the geopolitical issues of the era. Its about a soldier going through a war that in many ways seems to be several different repetitive patterns that never really accomplished anything - other than O'Brien surviving and being honest about how he did it.
Samantha Pron
In high school, I read Tim O'Brien's book "The Things They Carried" in a writing class. I fell in love with the book and have frequently read it since then. Sometimes I walk over to my book case, pick it up, flip to a random page and read a paragraph or two, completely enthralled with his words. This was not the case with "If I Die in a Combat Zone." As much as I still love his writing and the way that he plays with words, this book disappointed me. Perhaps if I had begun with this book first, it wouldn't have been and therefore, it is a bit unfair on my part to rate it so. This book lacked the poetical and lyrical flow of "The Things They Carried." It was more factual. It was still good and provided a great view of someone facing impending war and going to the front of a war that many viewed as baseless and a waste of human life. The death and brutality of the war came across well worded and you began to see him desensitizing himself to the horror, as he had to do to emotionally survive the war. Overall, it was a good book but probably not worth reading again.
Sheany
This book was assigned to me for one of the classes I'm taking this semester. We're learning about the 'Representations of the Experience of War', and so far it has to be one of my favorite classes ever (I've got an amazing instructor, and really need to be a better student in this class). Mrs. Hanson assigned us some great works that represents war experiences, and I must say I just never thought I'd learn so many new things. But let's get right to the book, shall we? I've never been one who enjoy nonfictions. A memoir, or a biography - I strictly read only those who offers a comedic point of view. Other than that, I can't remember from the top off my head. I enjoy reading more than most people, I think. I've always thought it was an important aspect of life and that it has helped and taught me countless times. But nonfictions? I've always preferred fictions over it. So, yes. The only reason I picked it up in the first place was because of the class. I don't think I would've discovered this book, or anything about O'Brien for that matter, anytime soon if it weren't for this class. And goshdarn, I'm just so glad that I ended up taking this class and reading the materials we're assigned to. O'Brien has a way with words, that much I can tell you. His experiences are vast, his memories are strong. He describes what he's been through in such a way that it took us right there where he was. He tells it in such a way as if you're listening to an uncle telling a story, or a friend telling you what he's been up to lately. It's just that good. He uses such words that remind me of the beautiful English Language, and with such an insight that gives us room to think about the kind of world we live in, the people we live with. We know right from the beginning that he despises the war. It was pretty easy to tell, since he mentions it a number of times. But he tells his story without trying to convince us of anything. He simply laid out things as it is, and lets us decide. Really, I don't think it's a matter of believing whether the Vietnam War was right or wrong, I think a lot of people simply held the same basic ideas. But that isn't why we read this book. I think we read this book to learn more about human nature, to read stories fresh off the combat zone - things you wouldn't have known otherwise. I think it's important, because it is this piece of history that isn't all facts, but more so an emotional, human experience. Things that don't just make you cringe in agony, but probes you to think about the decisions people make, and the people we are or will become.
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