The author of this novel, O’Brien recounts his experiences from the Vietnam war. Joining the war was a battle in itself for O’Brien, as after receiving his draft notice in June of 1968, he almost fled because he was so opposed to the war itself. O’Brien describes himself as “too good for this war, too smart, too compassionate”.
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This was an later realized flaw of the Vietnam war, lasting roughly 20 years, that of it’s questionable purpose. One of the main issues raised in this personal perspective novel is the act of peer pressure and embarrassment regarding the war. This is shown best in this quote from O’Brien near the start of the book – They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment. Within this chapter of the book, O’Brien explains the emotional baggage that the soldiers carry, whilst risking their lives for their country. O’Brien suggests that a barely hidden coward is common within the soldiers. He explores the idea that men go to war not to be heroes for their country, but to avoid embarrassment. They are almost forced, due to the cowardly stereotype that accompanies not enlisting.
These ideas are further strengthened early in the novel, within a particularly prominent chapter On The Rainy River, O’Brien has fled his hometown and made it to a lodge just before the Canadian border.
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