How To Tell A True War Story By Tim O Brien

2218 Words9 Pages
In the essay, “How to Tell a True War Story,” Tim O’Brien tells several stories of war to illustrate to his readers the criteria for truth in storytelling. O’Brien offers his readers a guide to telling and determining war stories that are true, for the author, true does not necessarily mean actual or real. Instead, O’Brien tells us what a true war story is, but his requirements are not always clear precise—a true war story “never seems to end,” (O’Brien 273) “embarrasses you,” (270) “are contradictory,” (275) and have an “uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil” (270)—they are defined and given context by the author through the telling of his own accounts. The essayist Jon Krakauer offers up his own version of a war story, of sorts,…show more content…
The author contends that “If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever” (O’Brien 269). War, for O’Brien, is inherently devoid of morality; so any action occurring as a part of war is fruit from a poisonous tree—it is tainted and cannot be separated to be made clean, or right. True war stories acknowledge this. To say that there can be moral action as two sides are determined to kill more of them while they are trying to kill more of you, is an absurdity. The fighting and conflict, the struggle to maintain one’s humanity in the face of death and dying is challenging to say the least. Four times within “How to Tell a True War Story” O’Brien tells the story of Curt Lemon being killed by a landmine. Each time the story is told, there is a new variant, or one taken away; his changes in language, words, and details range from revolting to beautiful. Certain things change, but the story stays the same—there is death and loss everywhere. That is the story, the true war story. No matter how it is told, Lemon dies and Riley will never laugh with him again. Contrast this with Krakauer who writes Into the Wild after having already written a magazine article on Chris McCandless. Krakauers “Selections from into the Wild” could not be considered a true war story in the way that O’Brien defines it, because the selection itself is an act of morality. The magazine article Krakauer wrote prior to his writing of the essay can arguably be considered a true war story as it portrays an ill-prepared young man who is done in by his own arrogance. Many who read the article lacked sympathy for the fallen, and instead ridiculed him. People love stories of heroes, but they love stories of
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