A True War Story

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Trauma is a many layered thing. There are many ways to cope with it, and many ways people can experience it. In war there is obviously a lot of suffering, and many ways to deal with the aftermath of being in war. In “How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien, the narrator repeats the story of the death of one of his comrades several times within it, changing the details with each telling. This story is less about how to tell a war story, and more about how to cope with life after facing war and how to cope with death in war. In this story the narrator tells the story of the gruesome death of a fellow soldier, Curt Lemon. In the many tellings of the story it can be gathered that Lemon died by stepping on a boobytrap, while he was playing …show more content…

This is described in the story when the narrator states, “And then afterward, when you go to tell about it, there is always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed” (3). It’s the idea of trying to find a truth, or some meaning behind this meaningless slaughter and killing that happened during the war. But with each telling it seems that the narrator might be stepping further from the truth and that this story should be questioned on its validity. As Rosemary King explains in her article, “On one hand, O 'Brien is asking how a listener can distinguish whether a story is a factual retelling of events; on the other he outlines "how to tell" a war story” (182). King is describing how O’Brien is saying it’s impossible to tell what is and isn’t factual in a war story, and how he is at the same time explaining how to tell a “true war story.” The narrator describes how point of these stories often doesn’t hit you till much later by stating, “Often in a true war story there is not even a point, or else the point doesn’t hit you until twenty years later, in your sleep, and you wake up and shake your wife and start telling the story to her, except when you get to the end you’ve forgotten the point again. And then for a long time you lie …show more content…

Ted Engelmann describes in his article “Who Are Our Fathers?” his own post-war experience, “I can honestly say that I was in an angry fog as a result of the war. I could function, but I had little direction or purpose. For several years I was very angry and could not talk to anyone about my feelings” (165). After experiencing combat there is a lot of trauma and ill effects to cope with. Furthermore, in order to cope with the ill-effects of the war Engelmann used the method of returning to Vietnam and photographing the places he had been. He describes how he felt once he left Vietnam for the final time after his last trip to take photographs by saying, “There was a quiet and empty space inside me where there once had been the nagging torment of my own war in Viet Nam. It was with me no more” (Engelmann 171). Once he had visited all the places he had once been and faced his old demons, he was able to walk away from the torment of the war. This is similar to the narrator’s method of telling and retelling, it is through facing the demons of his past that he is able to pass through the suffering and cope with it. Similar to how Engelmann describes life post-war, the narrator describes how it feels in war by stating, “For the common soldier, at least, war has the feel—the spiritual texture—of a great ghostly fog, thick and permanent. There is no clarity. Everything swirls. The old

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