Wars have made an immense impression on the world today. The United States of
America was born through war, and it now lives through war. Wars have split countries and even created factions within religions. Perhaps one of the most overlooked consequences of wars are the effects it has on the people who fight them. War is a hellish thing. Only a few people return from wars without changing. In The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien, explains the burdens of war through symbolism. The physical and psychological consequences war has on soldiers transforms them into shadows of their former selves.
During times of war, disease is one of the multiple ways soldiers are killed or permanently injured. People often think the only bullets and explosives kill soldiers, but that’s not always the case. Tim O'Brien wrote, “There were a million ways to die. Getting shot was one way. Boobytraps and landmines and gangrene and shock and polio from a VC virus”(187).
Tim O’Brien, the character, is thinking about all the dangers of war after he finds out his fellow soldier, Morty Phillips, died from an ailment thought to be polio. This section of the book was included to show the readers that fighting the Vietnamese was more than just fighting the opposing soldiers. Soldiers had to fight the conditions in Vietnam as well as the North
Vietnamese. Unsanitary conditions followed soldiers everywhere during times of war such as the shit field or the dirty river. In environments such as these people are highly susceptible to dangerous diseases such as polio. While polio had killed Morty, people who survive polio can be paralyzed changing the rest of their lives. In addition, the close quarter conditions of war aids the spread of disease through a squad of troops. One virus can cripple an entire unit, but people are never told stories about how disease and war collide. Although some diseases leave people
with permanent injuries such a paralysis that stays with soldiers for the rest of their lives. The psychological consequences that war carries can be far more damaging to a soldiers life.
Fighting a war takes away a soldiers sense of humanity. Soldiers and commanders often attempt to dehumanize the enemy through the use of slang and even humor such as high fiving the old man. In doing so the soldiers dehumanize themselves. Part of being human is feeling guilt. Soldiers are instructed to feel no guilt for killing other soldiers in the game of war. In losing part of their humanity, soldiers die inside. Norman Bowker manifested his separation from humanity in his letter which stated, “My life, I mean. It’s almost like I got killed in
Nam”(150). After the war, Norman returned to his hometown which had remained unchanged by the war. Norman didn’t feel as at home in the town as he had before the war because the war had changed him. He left his old self behind in Vietnam. He felt as if he didn’t belong because he was only a soldier now. Norman had lost his pity for other humans. He wrote, “God this is starting to sound like some jerkoff vet crying in his beer.” The war had taken his humanity and left him as an empty corpse. Norman and thousands of other Vietnam vets committed suicide because they didn’t feel like people anymore. After returning from war, some soldiers experience a different curse of war.