Posted by: Drew | March 25, 2009

Fight or Flight

~~What I want to talk about here is related to the previous post, but different enough that I thought it deserved a post unto itself.~~


The short story/chapter “On the Rainy River” from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is one of the most affecting literary pieces I’ve ever read. O’Brien drafted to fight in Vietnam, a war he opposes. He is afraid of death (particularly of dying in this war he does not at all support) and attempts to flee to Canada, like many draft dodgers of his day. Once at the border, he cannot bring himself to leave his country. The primary reason? The embarrassment and shame of not going off to fight.


What if there was a draft instituted today? Obama just said the war in Afghanistan could last several years (see: article mentioned in last post). Should there be, I see myself facing the same dilemma as O’Brien. This would especially be the case if the war in Iraq were to continue, as I am opposed to the war there. Afghanistan, though? I am not sure. I think I support what we’re doing there, but would I be willing to go off and fight for that cause? Combating terrorism seems a lofty cause, just as stemming the flow of communism seemed to be one during the Vietnam era. Both goals entail tough questions, though, like: Are these winnable wars? Do we know what victory looks like?


I find myself thinking the same thoughts O’Brien thought back in the summer of ’68. That, I suppose, is what made “On the Rainy River” affect me so much: I saw myself in Tim O’Brien. After all, I am not in any way cut out for the military. I am not what you would call physically imposing. I am not “out-doorsy”, as it were. I have never fired a gun. I don’t think I could bring myself to hunt and kill animals, much less human beings. Running away from service seems like a decent idea, especially if I were opposed to the war in which I was called to fight. The shame and embarrassment of not going off to fight does seem a real and crushing possibility though. We humans like to sometimes pretend we don’t care what others think, but we do.


“I was a coward. I went to war” (p. 61)


Such is the conclusion of “On the Rainy River.” Instead of being “brave” and standing up for his beliefs (that the war in Vietnam was not worth it), O’Brien “chickened out,” in effect, and served in the military. I could definitely see myself coming to a similar conclusion should there be a draft for the wars going on today.





  1. That is an interesting question you are posing to yourself in this post and actually one I have contemplated myself. Because I am female it is much easier to remove myself from the possibility of having to go to war and fight in wars I don’t agree with. But I do have two older brothers and I have thought about them having to go fight, especially when in the early days of the Bush administration politicians were throwing around the word draft.
    I, as the rest of my family, would be devastated if either of them had to go. Especially my father, who himself was drafted into Vietnam. He went on accord of that is what one did and he had a father who fought in WWII, so it really was not much of an option for him. He didn’t agree with the war, never has, and never will. I know he would never want my brothers put in the same position or me for that matter, because times are a changin’ in terms of who can be in the military.
    This is a question people should ask themselves and then maybe we would all think twice about what wars we support and how blind our patriotism is.

  2. This is an interesting post, Drew and it definitely brings up many questions.
    The line that took my most attention is when you said:

    “I support what we’re doing there, but would I be willing to go off and fight for that cause? Combating terrorism seems a lofty cause; just as stemming the flow of communism seemed to be one during the Vietnam era. Both goals entail tough questions, though, like: Are these winnable wars? Do we know what victory looks like?”

    Fantastic question, Drew; this is exactly the problem with unconventional wars. With regular army to army wars, things can be a bit clearer–at least you know your whom you are fighting. With the Vietnam war, however, things are a bit different, where an ideology was being fought–a philosophy. The good question, in my opinion, would be was the war in Vietnam a justified war, and I want to say decidedly not; it was a struggle for power that cost both the US and Vietnam a very heavy price. Similarly, the war against terrorism is questionable; is the war against ‘terrorism’ justified? Before we can answer this question, we must define terrorism, which, until today, has no clear definition. Killing people and the 9/11 terrorist attacks are clear terrorist attacks, but is fighting ‘occupation forces’ an act of terrorism? resistance is internationally legal and Americans were some of the first to fight against the British occupation; were they then terrorists? decidedly not. Similarly, today, we have to be careful when we attack or occupy a country, because whenever a country is viewed as an occupation force, it would be subjecting itself to ‘resistance’ by those who view it as an occupying force.

  3. I think Communism and what we’re doing in the Middle East right now have little in common other than that we’re fighting an opponent that we drastically underestimated. Had the Communists, as though they were a discernible entity, come to the United States and blown something up I think the support for the Vietnam War would have been greater. The unfortunate phrasing, “the War of Terror” in itself is almost futile in its wording. I think it was necessary for the US to retaliate after the Trade Center fell, but saying that we were going to clear the Middle East of terrorists sounds about as unrealistic as saying we’re going to clear the night sky of stars. The truth of the matter is that there will always be a “bad guy”. The myth of a Utopian Society is just that, a myth….a new kid on the block with world domination on his mind, or fighting the man will always exist. So regardless if I believe in all the reasons that my country decides to go to war or not, if the end results in a better safer world until the next “bad guy” comes along, I would serve my country.
    Then again, I am cut out for the military in a bunch of ways. I’m “outdoorsy”, have shot a rifle, have hunted and killed an animal, and physically fit.

  4. Like Drew I too find these aspects of O’Brien’s book to be compelling. There are many things that I do or do not do, for fear of what people might think of me. My petty situations are nothing compared to be asking to go to war, but I, and I am sure many others can easily relate. When you read books you try to find yourself through the characters and their story. I agree with Drew in that no just anyone should be sent to war. Some people like in Drews case have never even shot a gun, how do we expect them to shoot at people? And if they are unable to defend themselves then they will most likely die quickly which would be a complete waste of their life. Especially with it being against there will that they were sent.
    That may be my favorite line of the book: “I was a coward. I went to war” (61).
    It’s when you absolutely do not believe in something and you do it anyway, and you cannot help but think so low of yourself. It is the worse feeling in the world, and to him there was nothing heroic or patriotic about it.

  5. […] 15.04.2009 Filed under: Uncategorized — bizbet8 @ 6:23 AM  # 1     #2     #3     #4     […]

  6. […] Fight or Flight Published in: […]

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