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Story Telling: The Teller Holds the Truth

After reading The Things We Carried by Tim O’ Brien, we discussed the reality of story telling and I began to think about how interesting the genre of story telling is because of the idea of credibility.  When you listen to a war veteran tell a story, you typically do not jump to conclusions of them lying, or inventing details, but as we saw from Tim O’ Brien, the story truth and the happening truth can really be very different.  We approached the though that story truth is that O’ Brient feels guilty for engaging in warfare, and for the things he did in Vietnam. The happening truth is that he went to war, and was afraid to look, for fear of what he would see.   These ideas are interesting when you think of story telling and how the listener must make a deicsion to believe the teller, even though there is no way of knowing the story is story truth, the way it goes bestin the story, or happening truth.

This idea of story telling can be applied across all war accounts we read throughout the semester. However, I think Ishmael Beah’s use of story telling is used in a much different, but very effective way.  I went to the lecture in which Mr. Beah graced the audience with his glowing white smile and chrasismatic presence masking the scars he has from his life as a child soldier.  What is so shocking to me is that Ishmael Beah experienced a horrifying childhood, received rehabilitation for his psychological needs, grew older, and now he travels around the world telling his story.  At one point in his lecture he said, “It’s not easy, it’s very difficult that everyone knows my story, and that I have to constantly remember it.” This reminded me of Tim O’ Brien’s book and the way he repeats his stories, giving the same details over and over again.  Although Ismael Beah’s purpose is to raise awareness of child soliders and to connect a problem in the far off continent of Africa with people in the United States who can help, and Tim O’Brien’s purpose is coping, and trying to come to grips with the things he did, they both have the same outlet for similar relief.  If their stories are not locked inside of their minds, eating away at their sanity, then the stories must be on their lips so as to relieve the human mind of the stressful stories they possess.

To link this to current affairs in Iraq, I chose to look at one story from a military blog telling a story about a friend who served his country on three seperate occasions. He says that he wants to tell his friend, Jon Stiles’ story because of the magnitude of his patriotism. He writes,

“Jon Stiles was not remarkable in many respects. He looked like a normal Joe. He wasn’t flamboyant, he didn’t cry out for attention, and he wasn’t a seeker of anything except service. He returned to the Army at a reduced rank without complaint. You cannot spot a hero by his looks or hear it in his words. You see it only in his actions. Jon clung to his ideals and values tenaciously, and while he laid his life on freedom’s altar willingly, you can believe that his life was not willingly forfeit. It had to be taken from him. Jon had a lot to live for.”


This account is another example of the role that story telling plays in wartime and in the lives of soldiers.  Although we may not realize it, the narration of this soldier’s death could be ficticious, disreguarding any amount of detials because of the minds ability to repress memories one does not want to cope with.  In this case, the solider wants to commend his friend for his nobility and i think the situation is slightly different: the purpose for telling a story is not to make himself feel better, but to honor his friend and brother.

Click here to see the blog



I have had to do a blog for an education class but through the completion of these blog entires, I feel that doing this throughout the semester allowed me to make many more connections through the literature we read, and also through the lens of the Iraq War. Often times I would sit down to write a blog and find myself drowning in information about the Iraq war on my good reader RSS feed. It seems that in college, time is not offered to just read news for extended periods of time, and as a citizen of the United States, not knowing what is going on in my own country, that is pathetic. I feel like this war blog has allowed me to make personal connections and draw on personal knowledge to allow critical thinking to occur in ways that I do not think it normally would. I absolutely think this assignment of the war blog has contributed to my learing in this class, and I also appreciate the conversation that took place between classmates, and also Professor Rozema. It’s always pleasing to have feedback on something that you invested much time into during the semester. I’m not sure if i will continue to post weekly in my war blog, but if i find connections in other novel i read, i’m sure i will be compelled to create a new post.

The Threat Remains The Same (Stephanie)











Never Leave A Soldier Behind

Throughout the time I was reading The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, my mind kept wandering to all the various things soldiers, marines, sailors, coast guards, and pilots carry.  I thought about all the personal items given to these soliders by husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, parents, siblings, children, neighbors and even strangers. The American public and military families have sent food, candy, pictures, suffed animals, cds, books, magazines, books, cards, toys, Christmas trees…so many things.  But do these things make up for what the military personnel really carry? Do material possessions mask the emotional changes endured during war? Those fighthing in wars, especially in Iraq carry around a lot more than just their pack, flak jacket, and a picture of a newborn son in their helmet.

The concept of carrying and war paint a much different image in my brain.  When i hear the word carry I think of a soldier flinging a fellow over his shoulder. Wounded in combat and unable to run to safety. I envision a casket being carried by an honor guard, a draped American flag waving in the breeze.  I realize that these encounters with death experienced by military men and women will be carried with them in their heart and mind for the rest of their lives. This idea came to me as I read a caption on a photograph of 6 Reserve Soldiers carried a comrade’s casket. The caption reading, “The flag-draped coffins were carried by troops from a military transport plane as family members watched the ceremony in silence.”

The idea illustrated by the military in a sense is build upon some definition of carrying. You as an American patriot carry the responsibility and urge to defend your country’s freedom. You must teach your family and friends to carry on with out you while you are away. You leave your life as you know it carrying next to nothing, only the bare essentials. You arrive at bootcamp and carry your sore body in a 5 mile hump as you learn the ways of warfare. When those in your training section cannot hack the new life, you help carry them to success. You leave for deployment carrying only a pack and a few memories of home. You also carry doubts about fighting in a war, fear you will not make it home, and pride in the American way of life.

In The Things We Carried, O’Brien often tells his stories over and over again, pounding details into the reader’s mind.  THese stories are experiences stuck in his mind, that in a sense he must carry forever.  Because they are locked in his mind, the more he talks about them, the more he is able to ease the load he bears, and to lay some of the weight of war on the listener. He carries the stories about war and keeps them with him, they will always be engrained in his mind.

In conclusion, Tim O’Brien writes a lot about the things soldiers carried: tangible and intangible. Often times its the tangible things that curb the seriousness and weight of the intangible. To close, I found an interview that was aired on ABC news. A reporter interviewed several soldiers asking them what they had with them. They each gave a description of a personal item they had from home, one soldiers said,

             “I carry me and my girlfriend’s picture in my wallet, and I carry her teddy bear in my left cargo pocket,” a    fellow     young soldier named Deal reveals. He pulls a tiny white bear from his pants pocket, its Velcro hands fastened in bear prayer above the red bow on its head. “It’s going to keep me grounded, let me know what I’m coming home to. What I need to come home to,” he explains. The bear disappears in his cupped hands, dried at the knuckles by the desert. A year before the last Gulf War, Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien published The Things They Carried. The book’s title refers not to the things a soldier has to carry, but to the one or two precious items he chooses to bring along as he goes to war. Some things about going into combat never change.”

The soldiers carry personal things, and also carry images and feelings they will never forget.

Soldiers’ Possessions Click here

Soldiers carry comrade


Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

When i looked at the list of books we had to read for this class, i knew that Since You Went Away was going to be one of my favorites.  Primarily becuase I dated a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps for 2 years and during that time he spent over a year in Iraq through the course of two deployments.  As a result, we spent much of our young, puppy love relationship corresponding through letters and emails. I have read many other military books including Dream When You Are Feeling Blue and The Long Road Home, and I can safely say this is my favorite genre to read about.  The war brings characteristics out of people that allow you to see further into how they feel and what types of sacrifices people are willing to make for love.  I related much of the correspondence in Since You Went Away to the letters Vera Brittain wrote to Roland.  For example, when Vera Brittain took a job working to help feel closer to Roland, she asked his approval and opinion about it. In Since You Went Away, Polly Crow writes,

“..I’m thinking seriously of going to work in some defense plant there on the swing shift so i can be at home during the day with Bill as he needs me–would like to know what you think of hte idea, if you can write. I’d much rather have an office job but I couldn’t be with Bill whereas I could if I worked at nite which I have decided is the best plan as I can’t save anything by not working and i want to have something for us when you get home so you can enjoy life for a while…”

This is an interesting comment because it displays the ideology of women during world war II and how they had given their lives to their husbands, boyfriends, fiances, etc. that were in the military. ALso, one topic among many women throughout this book was the issue of money and finances. I found a blog of a military girlfriend who was concerned and asking advice from a Military wife who had been married to military man for many years and she also served in the army and was an army daughter. The concerned military girlfriend writes,

“My boyfriend has just been accepted into the army officer program and leaves for training in less than a week. We are not engaged, but do live together and I plan on going with him to where he is assigned on base in Germany. I guess I am wondering how possible this move will be without us being married. Marriage is not out of the question for us but we don’t want to rush it or do it for the wrong reasons. Do military girlfriends have rights and benefits just as spouses do? Is marriage necessary in moving to another country? ”

In response to this, the woman well-versed in military affairs told her that in order to get the benefits of the military including shopping at the commissary and PX you need to have a military I.D. This is only issued when you are married into the military. Even in order to get on the base or post, a military girlfriend would need to be escorted by her boyfriend at all times.  This also takes me back to a previous post i made about why young military couples feel so rushed to jump into marriage. Many of the girls writing to boyfriends in Since you Went Away also commented on how they could not wait for their boyfriend to come home so that they could get married.

These issues hit especially close to home because of my experience with being a military girlfriend. Many people see stickers on young girls cars that say “I Love My Marine” and shrug the details off as being unimportant and involving young kids that know nothing about love.  Through Vera Brittain’s words and also the various women throughout World War II, and myself as proof, I know that the importance of military personnel, both men and women, need to feel the support, encouragement and love from home from families and girlfriends, fiances, and wives. These literary works allow the individuals who have not been effected by a war relationship to experience the feelings shared among lovers during a war.

Link to article


Graphic Novels, New Outlet of Expression

After we read Maus and had in depth discussion about whether or not we think that a graphic novel is an appropriate way to express an idea like the Holocaust, I began thinking about what the graphic novel does to an event with the depth of the Holocaust.  AS we discussed in class, the use of many different techniques to create the graphics contributes to the success of the novel.  If the artist would have simply scribbled some lines quickly, sure a graphic novel may not express the severity of something like the Holocaust.  Art Spiegeltman is able to create a mood through the use of line, texture, shading, shadows and many other artistic techniques.  These visual details are extremely effective because the eye and the emotions are closely connected and when the reader reads the text and then goes on to examine the images, much more is gained from the novel.  I began wonderding if these types of novels exist anywhere else in literature and for this blog, i’m going to take a look around to examine graphic novels and their effectiveness..

There was a segment done on NPR about the best graphic novels of 2008 and the comment made about graphic novels was, “No longer only for kids, nerds and baby boomers longing for a second childhood, graphic novels are showing themselves to be a medium of startling breadth and grace” (NPR). First on the list was Skyscrapers Of The Midwest which is about the unknown details of America’s farmlands.  If focuses on boys growing up in the mid west and how religion effects young people before they have found themselves. This book focuses on the lonely and confusing life which forces young men to discover the meaning of their existence. The illustrator, Cotter, uses pictures of kittens, skeletons, and robots which are similar to the depictions in Maus of pigs, dogs, mice, cats, etc.

Also on the list was Alan’s War by Emmanuel Guibert about an American G.I. who settled in France to live after World War II. NPR states, “What unfolded was a rambling narrative about friendship, romance and an American generation irreversibly changed by its exposure to Europe in the war years.”  When i took a look an excerpt from the novel, i was impressed by the images.  The soldiers are depicted mostly looking alike, and the military vehicles are cartoon-like. However, when the graphics focus on one specific person or soldier, the entire square is devoted to the details in their face, making them appear to be a human. Having wrinkles, a smile, a frown makes them very human and relatable.  Also, the artist uses actual scenic pictures to show images of where the soldiers were. This also makes the novel feel very realistic, it puts value on the fact that this is a TRUE story and that many soldiers lived this way, and many died this way also.  The part I found most interesting about this account was the simple language used.  It was very matter-of-fact and almost naive.  One graphic has a darkened picture of a broken bridge with the following text:

“There were a lot of accidents, especially at night. Many roads and bridges had been destroyed and in wartime, you don’t use your head lights. Some guys died because all of a sudden, in the dark, they’d find themselves at the end of a road and SPLASH, they’d fall in.  This simple language could illustrate two things to me. First, it could represent the sarcasm and the resentment felt during the war, that has continued with this G.I. for the rest of his life.  Or, it could also represent the simple language used during the war by the G.I.s most of them, unless they were like the British poets we read were not writing eloquent literature during the war, but using the most simple jargon familiar to all soldiers to get through their day.  Either way, i found this graphic novel to be incredibly well illustrated and designed for a memoir to the life of a G.I.

The use of a graphic novel to depict the Holocaust was in interesting way of expression used by Art Spiegelmen, similar to how the depiction of World War II was depicted by Emmanuel Guibert.  These accounts draw on the emotions and allow the reader to activate senses that are not involved when reading a novel with only text.  I think this genre of literature and can both very informative and powerful when representing serious events and ideas such as war and death. Click here to check out NPR’s Best Graphic Novels of 2008


Faith Lost During Night

Upon reading Elie Wiesel’s Night, my attention was brought to the irony of faith during the Holocaust.  Throughout Wiesel’s account, he addresses his stance on faith and in the beginning his faith is strong and he strives to be a well practiced Jewish follower.  As the Holocaust progresses and Wiesel starts his journey to becoming fully involved with the Holocaust, he starts to question his faith among many other things.  Essentially, being Jewish is what has gotten him into the place he is in and it becomes evident that it is very hard for him to keep believing in the same God he thought existed in his pre-Holocaust life because of the ways in which he is suffering.  Weisel tries to hold onto his faith throughout the massacre of his people. He says,

“I had new shoes myself. But they were covered with a thick coat of mud, they had not been noticed. I thanked God, in an improvised prayer, for having created mud in His infinite and wondrous universe” (38).

Although he is being treated harshly, he is holding onto his faith in God and is still praising the world in which God created, even though the Nazis have created a living hell on earth, Wiesel is still searching for reliance on a higher power.

In 2006, a study was conducted by the army times to poll soldiers currently fighting in the Iraq war about their involvement in the war. It was found that: “83% of GIs polled by the newspaper thought that success in Iraq was likely. This year, that number had declined to 50%. Only 41% of soldiers polled today think that we should have invaded Iraq–down from 65% in 2003. This closely mirrors sentiment among civilians; only 45% of whom now believe that the war was a good idea” (Army Times). Although this does not reflect losing faith in a higher power, it does address that many soldiers today are losing faith in their country, and in their leader to finish the war, and draw peace from it.

Additionally, I took a look at the organization called “Iraq Veterans Against the War.” Here, there is a haven for anyone who joined the military after 9/11 is allowed to join and voice their opinion of the war and why they feel it needs to come to an end. I read several interesting accounts from veterans opposing the war, but one reminded me very much of Elie Weisel and his feelings during the Holocaust.

Cameron Halas writes, “If there was one thing that turned me against the war it was my faith in God” (Halas).  He goes on to discuss why God does not teach his people to fight, but rather helps his people to learn to accept differences and live together in harmony. He explains that as an American fighting for freedom, why is he not defending the right of Muslims in Iraq to practice being Muslim.  After all, being an American is a privilege because we are allowed to practice whatever religion we want, however we are oppressing Muslim people.  Halas implies that he began to feel guilty for fighting the war without following God’s teachings, so he began to focus more on why this conflict was happening and he included the teachings of God as his guide.  He continues his argument by saying that God said,  “‘Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God’ You can’t keep making excuses for one or the other, its either God or the War” (Halas).

I think this account draws on an interesting opinion of a soldier that is not the patriotic hero which often entertains our thoughts of military personnel.  Halas, like Weisel led a life that was based on is faith.  During tough times they both turned to God, but found that religion and faith as they had known it before the Holocaust and the Iraq war could not longer exist. They had to modify their beliefs to coincide with the religion their lives functioned around.  Weisel began to doubt whether there really was a God, and if so why was he not stopping the ungodly attacks against his people. Similarly, Halas realized that if he was to follow God’s teachings, he would have to change his opinion about the war, by opposing the occupation of iraq and searching for answers that could help him internalize he conflicts. These similar ideas of faith and how war forces individuals to question faith and their belief in God.



Throughout my research for the current war in Iraq, I have come across a common theme amoung all wars and amoung everyone involved. The theme of uncertainty rings true in every aspect of war including for sailors, soliders, marines, and for the families of all military personnel. I turn to Very Brittain’s Testament of Youth for further proof that uncertainty can be a frightening and yet sobering feeling.

Aside from being a young woman, and being uncertain about her future, Vera Brittain also fears the uncertainty in the relationship between her and her soldier. Similarly, Roland fears the uncertainty that the Army deals him. Members of the military are never promised anything and even when they recieve directions or dates to deploy, there is always the chance those statements could be changed. For Vera and Roland, there is so much uncertainty in their worlds that the only thing they have found that is concrete, is one another. I think this happens often in mlitary relationships.

When a couple must endure the difficulties felt through the distance and harshness of war, they realize, like Vera and Roland that although there is the possibilty of uncertainty in their personalities, meaning that there is potential that the war could change them, they find comfort in the strength of their love. Although Vera experiences the change she feels by diving head first into the responsibility of being a nurse, she relies on writing to Roland as stability in her life. Vera admits in a letter to Roland:
“I don’t mind anything really so long as I don’t lose my
personality-or even have it temporatily extinguished. And I don’t
think I can do that when i have You” (Brittain).
This quote is proof that Vera has accepted the innevitable change, but feels that Roland is her rock to resist loosing her true self.

Amoung my research, I found an article pertaining to uncertainty that is found in Iraq. Everytime a soldier goes out on a patrol, there is a the potential of them losing their life.

“MOSUL – Four U.S. soldiers and an interpreter were killed, and other people wounded, including two policemen, when a suicide

car bomber targeted a U.S. military patrol in western Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said. The attack occured near a

police  check point.”

There is a constant uncertainty that can be displayed in any and every aspect of war. I want to continue to look at the effects that certain details that effect uncertainty and how each group of people are effected.

Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth. 212

Statistics of daily casualties