How To Tell a True War Story

7 July 2016

The chapter “How to Tell a True War Story” tells various stories by different characters, on which the author, Tim O’Brian comments through metafictive statements such as “a true war story is never moral”. Through this short story within the book, the author offers the opportunity to understand the art of writing about War. The story with the “baby buffalo” is an excellent example of the sophisticated implementation of O’Brian’s ideas about “how to tell a true war story”.

I will examine each of the author’s instructions with regard to the story and analyze why this story is a “true war story” according to the author. “The [author has] told it before -many times, many versions’, but [now tells] what actually happened”. This immediately raises the question, why the author failed to tell the true story before: it might be the case that it was too embarrassing for him to tell. After all a soldier tortured an innocent animal, while the others were watching him without intervening.

How To Tell a True War Story Essay Example

In this sense O’Brian’s metafictive statement about embarrassment proves to be accurate in this case. Furthermore the fact that Curt Lemon played “catch with Rat” and “was dead” instantly after it, indicates emotional detachment of the author and the reader is left with many questions about this single sentence: How did this happen so quickly? Why is the author so emotionally detached from his death? Is it really what happened or is it what seemed to happen? After all if somebody dies in a war, it seems so quick and the factual and emotional truth is hard to separate.

It might very well be the case that the description about Lemon’s death is “skewed” because “what seems to happen becomes its own happening”: since Lemon died so unexpectedly, the author tells it in a way he “felt it to happen”. One moment alive another moment dead already. After Rat’s best friend died, he deals with his sorrow and emotional pain by torturing a harmless animal, a baby buffalo. His motivation: “wasn’t to kill, it was to hurt”. After “opening a can of C rations” for the buffalo, “he took careful aim and shot off an ear”.

Then “he shot twice in the flanks”. At the end “he shot off a tail and shot in the left front knee”. Although this is “evil and obscene” human behavior, “nobody said much”. Even the author describes the event emotionally isolated, without “having a moral or suggesting proper human behavior”. He merely explains what happened, “without offering abstractions or analysis”. While Rat’s deeds seem to be morally wrong and very cruel’ “it is hard to extract the meaning”. One really has to “look under to surface to unravel the deeper meaning”.

Seemingly the torture of the animal is unnecessary but it is the only way Rat can deal with the loss of his best friend. He is angry at the whole world for loosing him; after all he is only a “kid”. The story in this sense is not about war at all: we had no description of the enemy who killed Rat or any combat action. We are left with the sorrow and pain that the war caused. In this sense “a true war story is never about war. It’s about sunlight…love and memory”. All in all it is clear that almost every statement about “how to tell a true war story” is implemented in this single story.

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