The Things They Carried
How we cite our quotes:
I was terrified. There were no thoughts about killing. The grenade was to make him go away – just evaporate – and I leaned back and felt my mind go empty and then felt it fill up again. (The Man I Killed.4)
There's no way that the young man on the trail is a danger to Tim. He doesn't even know that Tim's there. Tim kills him not because of morality or politics, because he's generally terrified and weak, and just wants the young man to go away. Again, we have a situation where the brave thing to do would be not to kill somebody.
Sometimes, like that night in the shit field, the difference between courage and cowardice was something small and stupid. The way the earth bubbled. And the smell. (Speaking of Courage.63-4)
It's kind of crazy to think that the difference between courage and cowardice could be something small. We usually think of the difference as a vast gulf; there are heroes, and there are weaklings. But Norman says that something as simple as a smell can turn a hero into a coward. It's terrifying.
He wished he could have explained some of this. How he had been braver than he ever thought possible, but how he had not been so brave as he wanted to be. The distinction was important. (Speaking of Courage.126)
There's a tension here between what soldiers think of as brave and what non-soldiers think of as brave. While Norman may have been pretty freakin' brave, he wasn't brave enough, and that's what kills him. That's what he can't explain.