War a Go Go,
This review is from: If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (Paperback)
Whether academics would consider this a literary masterpiece or not, Tim's honesty and integrity make this a must-read account of his total Vietnam experience. I say total, because I found his description of his almost-AWOL phase to be one of the most fascinating parts of the book.
Morally and practically, his situation was infinitely more complex than that of a draft dodger, for whom there were known routes into Canada above all, and more clear cut decison processes involved. About 90,000 of the 100,000 draft dodgers fled to Canada, many of whom settled here long-term.
Yet as you read Tim's account of his guided tour of hell, you realize that, like all Vietnam Vets, and I have the honor of knowing many of both genders, his healing journey is one that he will not be undertaking alone. Sadly, there was nothing unique about his Vietnam experience, as he would be the first to tell you.
At one point, back in the late seventies, there was a statistic indicating that about 800,000 Vietnam Vets - about half the combat vets, were suffering from PTSD. Yet it became obvious that this figure, which did not even include the Army nurses and Docs who sewed everybody back together, was somewhat low. On reading If I Die, you can see how the Vietnam experience could stay with a person for the rest of his/her life, especially in view of the hostility that the Vets faced upon their return to 'The World'.
Vietnam was a tremendously divisive issue and the factors that Tim O'Brien had to balance during his almost-AWOL period, make you realize that the actual draft dodgers will also have their own healing to do. The only draft dodgers I have a problem with are the ones who fled to Canada, yet who claim to have done so because of their 'principles'.
No. The draft evaders with true integrity and principles either took the courageous step of joining the military as a Medic and refused to carry weapons, or like David Harris, Joan Baez's husband, went to jail for their principles - David was jailed for 3 years for Draft Evasion. The dodgers who ran to Canada did so because they were scared, pure and simple, and there is nothing wrong with being scared. Just don't lie about it - or you will never heal.
As for 'principles', if 100,000 people had forced the Government to jail them over the Vietnam issue, as David did, it might have made a difference. It might literally have ended the war years earlier, and saved young men like Tim from having to undergo such a psychologically damaging experience. Running away was a selfish act, but one which I do not judge - that is between them and God. Just don't try to sell me 'principles', boys. Ever.
Tim O'Brien is a great writer, and in If I Die, he really puts you in harm's way, among the trip-wire grenades, the panji stake pits, the minefields and the VC snipers. Yet hard as the Vietnam War was on the young draftees, the unforgivable thing is the fact that for many of these teenage soldiers, the hardest part was coming home. To quote from Paul Hardcastle's '19' (the average age of the combat soldier in Vietnam) "They fought the longest war in American history... None of them received a hero's welcome..."
Welcome home, Tim.