Martha is not only a symbol of love, but a literal symbol of how distracting it can be to be separated from a wife, girlfriend, or daughter back home. This distraction for soldiers is rather eye opening. If they don’t put all their concentration into the war, they may lose soldiers just like in Ted Lavender's case. Just as Jimmy Cross, O’Brien also has a moment of distraction that causes him to realize the true relationship between life and death.
The male soldiers idealize the women and use their presence in letters and imagination as a reminder that a world does exist outside of Vietnam. In “Lives of the Dead” the aftermath of what occurred after a village was burnt down near the South China Sea leaves O’Brien feeling rather disturbed, then distracted, by yet another woman.
“Jensen kept after me, but I didn’t go near the body. I didn’t even look at it except by accident. For the rest of the day there was a still sickness inside me, but it wasn’t the old man’s corpse so much, it was the awesome act of greeting the dead. At one point, I remember, they sat the body up against the fence. They crossed his legs and talked to him… It was more than mockery. There was a formality to it, like a funeral without the sadness”