The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
The Things They Carried Warfare: The Vietnam War Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Story Title.Paragraph)
A true war story is never moral […] if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. (How to Tell a True War Story.8)
Tim O'Brien keeps introducing us to these characters that we love, that we'd want to hang out with. He tells us about the brotherhood among these characters. And now he's telling us that there's no rectitude or virtue in the war at all? It's a little confusing. Use Kiowa as an example, though: O'Brien takes the most virtuous, moral character in the book and drowns him in poop. When O'Brien says that the war isn't moral, he doesn't mean that none of the people in it are moral. He means that the war, itself, destroys morality.
In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It's a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn't, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness. (How to Tell a True War Story.19)
Here we get more about the crazy things that happen in war. We also hear that soldiers know they won't be believed when they talk about the war. They consciously make up "normal stuff" so that they have a chance of communicating with civilians.
In a true war story, if there's a moral at all, it's like the thread that makes the cloth. You can't tease it out. You can't extract meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning. And in the end, really, there's nothing much to say about a true war story, except maybe "Oh." (How to Tell a True War Story.63)
Tim O'Brien is kind of a little bit telling all of us who analyze stories to shut up and go home. If he's really succeeded in telling his true war story, then all there should be to this Shmoop guide is the word "Oh," in giant letters. Fortunately for us, how he makes us say "Oh" is as interesting and meaningful as any moral could be.