Compare and Contrast Essay about War

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Jonathan Harnisch, a schizophrenic author, once stated that “The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others do not know anything about.” Harnisch redefines strength as one’s capability to remain mentally strong, and he emphasizes people’s tendency to overlook the internal struggles of others. Society has failed to deem the inner battle as a bigger obstacle than the more obvious physical battles one fights, resulting in the neglectance of the severity of mental health illnesses. Mental health is one of such inner battles that is often misunderstood and disregarded because it cannot be simply examined with a microscope or take an x-ray to determine the effects of the disease. Just as heart disease or cancer is considered a deadly sickness, mental illnesses are just as much of a threat to the community. By speaking from first hand experiences, the author of The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien, is able to explicitly and wholeheartedly express how different a soldier’s means of thinking is from that of a common man’s. In the chapter “On The Rainy Road”, O’Brien integrates an abundance of similes and anecdotes, as well as meticulously elaborates on the gruesome actions which he is obligated to complete during the Vietnam War Period in order to illustrate the dramatically different circumstances his generation is presented with. By conveying the underlying importance of the mental aspects of soldiers in war in detail, he is able to establish precedence of the soldiers’ mental war as proving to be more challenging than the physical war.

War is such a nebulous idea to many outsiders who have never had to experience the pain, turmoil, and loss which millions of soldiers undoubtedly experience; in reality, it is a much more complicated concept. From the outside, it looks like a physical battle soldiers fight in order to kill and conquer. It is perceived as a challenge of who can establish their dominance and power over one another. O’Brien is able to set apart the fears and concerns of the war before actually fighting in it through his anecdotal experience of receiving the news of getting drafted. He emphasizes the immense despair he faces even before experiencing the war in reality. “On The Rainy Road” is a unique part of the book due to the fact it is one of the few stories which explains the preconceived perceptions of war, which gives insight into the problems a soldier will have to overcome in the future. Immediately after receiving his draft notice on June 17,1968, O’brien describes his altered mental state by highlighting how his “emotions went from outrage to bewilderment to guilt to sorrow and then back again to outrage,” and how he “felt a sickness inside [him]. Real disease”(O’Brien 43). O’Brien is able to recall the emotions he was feeling after he hears the unfortunate news that destroys his hopes of a bright future, all of which reflect his pessimistic perspective. By letting his mind run through all the potential detriment that he may face, he becomes overwhelmed by the imminent terrors of the war. Therefore, Tim O’Brien is able to create a scared and shameful disposition by communicating the cowardice emotions he feels as he enters the war by feeling terrified instead of feeling confident. The parallelistic structure which is interwoven through the first quote speeds up the reading by making it seem like there is an endless amount of possibilities to the many different states of emotions those at war feel. O’Brien’s reminiscence in a plethora of emotions illustrates how his fears are too controlling of his body for him to even be able to overlook the troubling thoughts he feels before the wars’ damage. By reflecting on his distant thoughts, he can establish a persona earlier in the book in order to compare it to his post war persona which he later builds; he juxtaposes the fear of a scared, eighteen year old boy to the horrific past memories of a war guilt-ridden old man in order to get an idea of how the war can completely change a person deep down.

Equally important, O’Briens use of emphatic similes help advance his description of the uneasy feeling that is rooted in the hearts and in the conscience of almost every soldier, regardless of their “courage” or skill. He amplifies the “sudden swell of helplessness that [comes] over [him], a drowning sensation, as if [he] [has] toppled overboard and [is] being swept away by the silver waves”(55). By accentuating the unsettling feeling inside of him as he floats along the Rainy River, O’Brien brings light to the notion that he feels he cannot breathe and is forced to gasp for air as the overwhelming burden of the “sudden swell of helplessness” engulfs his body and mind. The swell signifies the wavelike intensity that hosts itself inside one’s mind. In a way, war can be considered the worst natural disaster that has ever swept through the planet, as it has taken the most lives and caused the greatest bloodbaths in the history of many cultures. Instead of saying he simply lacks hope, O’Brien goes into more detail to describe not only what he felt mentally, but also how his emotions affected him physically. By tying the drowning sensation to the silver waves sweeping him away, he effectively outlines a tangible concept which indirectly helps convey the dominance that his intangible emotions held. “Toppling overboard” into the ocean is a symbol for the chaos and dismay that the upcoming war holds; the thought of falling off the deep end is ingrained into the minds of the soldiers who test death every day of their lives. This concept applies a lot of pressure on a newly recruited soldier, which, in turn, results in an incomprehensible amount of anguish and fear of the unknown.

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In order to make full sense of his past happenings, O’Brien thoroughly elaborates the process he uses in order to complete the tasks he was presented with so that he can create a vivid description of the hardships many people faced during theVietnam War Era. He spends an entire summer working as a pig declotter in Minnesota and he amplifies the grotesqueness by explaining how “as a carcass passed by, [he’d] lean forward and swing up the gun against the clots and squeeze the trigger, all in one motion, and the brush would whirl and water would come shooting out and you hear a quick splattering sound as the clouds dissolved into a fine read mist. It [is] not pleasant work”(41). He includes how the smell “seeped into [his] skin and hair” to show how the odor of dead pig penetrates his body. By emphasizing the way the smell overtakes him, he alludes to the idea of the all-encompassing power the memories “stuck” on his body and mind would soon hold over him. O’Brien strays away from the use of general, simple adjectives in order to differentiate his writing from other war story authors who are only able to convey the outer pain the soldiers endure, opposed to the everlasting internal struggle they fight. Instead of simply stating a series of consecutive events, he goes into further detail about each event which displays a deeper understanding of the physical and emotional sides of a soldier. By speaking from experience, O’Brien is able to explore the changing outlook on life the men in combat are experiencing.

The placement of the chapter “On the Rainy River” earlier in the book is essential to help quickly develop an understanding of the initial realization that strikes soldiers when they are called away from home. By restating the happenings and reality of his past before the war hit him, it creates a clear idea of a civilian’s line of thought during the drafting process for the Vietnam War. On the other hand, the chapters following “On the Rainy Road” are told from the inside of the Vietnam War which provides a contrast to the pre-war circumstances that he outlines in the beginning of the book. Furthermore, by beginning the book with a coming of age scenario while following it with a series of personal narratives of war as it progresses, the sequence of events establishes a comparison of his innocence immediately before and after the war.

By thoroughly explaining the overlooked topic of the mental aspect of war, Tim O’Brien effectively conveys the hidden fears of soldiers that simply cannot be seen or understood from the outside. In reality, the hardest war many soldiers fight are not on the sand mountains of Afghanistan or the lifeless forests of Vietnam; it is simply in their own heads. With his extensive descriptions of tangible items, as well as their intangible feelings, he is able to break the barrier between the stigma that war is only a battle between who has more brute and brawn; but, in reality it is a test to see who has the strongest minds. He makes it easier for people to empathize the soldiers who face the horrors of war, because it creates awareness about the cause of the damaging mental side effects that come with it. He reclassifies the idea of weight by defining it as something that can be felt or taken up opposed to simply carried. He does this in order to connect the heavy grip of the war to the heavy feelings which settled very uneasily in their chests. His purpose is not for others to sympathize, but instead to increase awareness about the unique circumstances soldiers face and the uncommon outcomes those result in. O’Brien’s work consciously retells the story in a controlled setting in order to create a well developed context which incites a powerful impact in one’s mind.

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Compare and Contrast Essay about War. (2024, January 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
“Compare and Contrast Essay about War.” Edubirdie, 30 Jan. 2024,
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