If I Die in a Combat Zone
“It was no decision, no chain of ideas or reasons, that steered me into the war. It was an intellectual and physical stand-off, and I did not have the energy to see it to an end”(O’Brien 22). This nearly sums up Tim O’Brien’s If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. In O’Brien’s autobiographical novel of his grueling tour and duty during the Vietnam War, we constantly see him struggle with his moral and ethical beliefs while participating in a war he believes is unjust, clearly becoming the main theme of this work, along with courage and the meaning of it to Tim.
Tim is very strong in his belief that the war is not right. He discusses this with many people searching for answers while deciding whether or not he would dodge the draft and flee to Canada. Knowing the consequences he would face and bring upon his family, he makes the decision to go to basic training. While is basic training, he puts together a thorough plan and budget to desert the US Army by fleeing from Canada to Norway. Unable to build the courage to desert the Army, he goes in search of guidance through the Army and makes appointments to meet with the Army
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Chaplain and Battalion Commander. He gets none, they believe he is Just a young soldier afraid of dying and do not understand or agree with his beliefs at all. This is when Tim becomes aware of the fact that the US military does not provide moral counsel for its soldiers on the frontlines, the Army only intends to produce infantrymen that do not ask why or who they kill, nor demand to understand the effects it may have on their physical or mental health.
There’s an example of this when O’Brien becomes involved in the war and begins to struggle with rage against he Vietnamese as he witnesses one after another of his fellow soldiers die. Though being outraged with his enemy, he realizes that reacting in vengeance upon villagers is morally wrong. O’Brien also closely examines the meaning of courage during basic training and his duty in Vietnam. O’Brien’s definition of courage comes from his platonic readings, which believes that true bravery consists of wisdom, bravery, courage, and temperance.
Many soldiers related courage to their manliness; if they were not brave and made cowardly acts during the battle, it simply robbed them of their manhood Linderman 8). Making courageous acts was seen by other soldiers, unfortunately for Tim it was not. During his duty, Tim realizes he is not brave enough to stand up for his moral beliefs, losing the respect for his family seems to heavily outweigh his ethical beliefs and he does not want to disappoint anyone.
This failure to be courageous fuels him into an obsession of analyzing his quest in Vietnam and whether his acts are courageous or not. O’Brien says, “Proper courage is wise courage. It’s acting wisely, acting wisely when fear would have a man act otherwise. ” After finding himself face down on the ground during battle many times and clearly not being courageous, he begins looking into other people in search of bravery he does not possess.
O’Brien finds this in Captain Johansen who he considers to be a living war hero because he is wise and brave in battle. By the definition of courage understanding why their decision was made and knowing the consequences that may follow. This, O’Brien concludes, is the type of courage he does not possess. Although O’Brien never fully gains the ability to do what he believes is truly right, he oes catch himself being morally wrong a few times and tries to change it.
The best example being exacting vengeance upon the villagers which he clearly knows is wrong. He also has this problem when it comes to being courageous. Even though he does not have the courage to stand up for his morals and what he believes is right, he produces the courage to fght back against the Viet Cong. This may not have been the courage he set out to find, but it’s what he got. Just as many US soldiers set off not knowing they would return home with mental problems that would follow them the rest of their life.