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Moral issues in the things they carried

The Things They Carried Q&A

Certainly I did not feel uplifted in the sense that I wanted to go and fight a war. Were they in fact true war stories or did fiction circumvent this requirement?

  • The very act of apologizing becomes an act of conquest and, therefore, justification — look how deeply sorry the American soldier feels about what he did!
  • Soldiers can do this because they truly believe a war story — like war itself — has no inherent moral so they can use these movies and literature as they see fit.

The debate is not so much pro-war versus anti-war, but the authentic versus the non-authentic, with each side accusing each other of the same lack of authenticity. A true war story is always moral.

  1. Of course it does.
  2. Encouraging young writers, young soldiers and young civilians to believe such amoral stories exist or might be someday written is a dangerous American tradition that we would be well advised to stop. There is no need to keep them down on the farm as the Internet and television already took them off the farm.
  3. Encouraging young writers, young soldiers and young civilians to believe such amoral stories exist or might be someday written is a dangerous American tradition that we would be well advised to stop. How uniquely and inspirationally American this introspection is!
  4. A true war story is always moral. They use the fiction of the amoral war story to fantasize about what they would to in a world without morals.
  5. Of course it does. Encouraging young writers, young soldiers and young civilians to believe such amoral stories exist or might be someday written is a dangerous American tradition that we would be well advised to stop.

Encouraging young writers, young soldiers and young civilians to believe such amoral stories exist or might be someday written is a dangerous American tradition that we would be well advised to stop.

Though nominally a work of fiction, The Things They Carried obsesses over the idea of a true war story. If considered as a whole, The Things They Carried must be read as a condemnation of the Vietnam War, himself for fighting in the war, and war in general.

This is why people are so drawn to the novel — it encourages readers into empathy and introspection; it makes them think about war and its consequences. Yet in the intervening years something has changed. They have been turned into War Art, divorced from their original motivation, their original justification, and, unbelievably, have been used to justify exactly what they sought to condemn.

This is possible, I believe, because Americans sincerely imagine true war stories to be without morals, an experience rather than a re-presentation, which can be enjoyed or appreciated rather than confronted.

A liberal can enjoy Lone Survivor and a conservative can appreciate Platoon. This would be a fine moment of open dialogue if any attempt were made by either party to engage with the moral and intellectual arguments in these movies.

Sadly, this is not the case.

The viewers shut down that part of the brain and simply enjoy being party to pure violence for several hours. They use the fiction of the amoral war story to fantasize about what they would to in a world without morals. They pretend at broadmindedness while uncomprehendingly confirming their own desultory morality.

This disconnect extends to the soldiers as well as civilians. There is no need to keep them down on the farm as the Internet and television already took them off the farm. They knew of Kubrick, Stone and Coppola before they even volunteered.

A True War Story Does Have a Moral

They can laugh hysterically at Team America and then order their soldiers to do exactly what the movie mocked without feeling the least sense of contradiction. Soldiers can do this because they truly believe a war story — like war itself — has no inherent moral so they can use these movies and literature as they see fit. Wolff cannot quite pin down the best way to tell a story about the role he played in the destruction of a Vietnamese village.

Wolff feels terribly sorry for what he did, but even as he tells the reader about his sorrow, he pauses to ask: The very act of apologizing becomes an act of conquest and, therefore, justification — look how deeply sorry the American soldier feels about what he did! How uniquely and inspirationally American this introspection is! To do so would divorce war and those who fought in it from any larger context of morality.

These stories allow us to learn much about ourselves all the while thinking not at all about changing who we are. Do not ask if it does or does not have a moral. Of course it does. Ask yourself instead what the moral is and if you agree with it. He regularly contributes to and helps edit the Wrath Bearing Tree along with a philosopher and a journalist.