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Vietnam veteran shares realities of war

Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 01:04


Chase Krumholz

Students line up Tuesday afternoon as Tim O’Brien signs books, after sharing his Vietnam experiences.

When the award-winning author of novels such as “The Things They Carried” spoke on campus, he wanted students to understand that war is much more than the patriotic acts depicted in movies.

Author Tim O’Brien spoke Tuesday to a full house at the Melbern G. Glasscock Center about his experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War and how his years in combat affected his life.

O’Brien’s appearance was part of the Glasscock Center’s notable lectures program. Richard Golsan, director of the Glasscock Center, said O’Brien’s reputation made his visit particularly noteworthy.

“He’s the most distinguished American writer of the Vietnam era and one of the greatest writers of the 21st century,” Golsan said.

O’Brien read excerpts of his semi-autobiographical novel “The Things They Carried” to the audience.

“My hope with the story is to touch on what war really is,” O’Brien said. “War is one guy saying to another guy or one country saying to another country, ‘I’m so right and you’re so wrong, I’m going to kill you’… War is day-by-day, second-by-second nastiness.”

Donna Malak, communications specialist for the Glasscock Center, said bringing in scholars for lecture events introduces students to broad topics of intellectual nature and promotes scholarship.

“[Students can learn] about U.S. history, war and society and personal accounts from the Vietnam era,” Malak said. “They get different ways of looking at events like this by hearing personal experiences.”

Siddiq Hasan, a junior university studies major, could relate to certain aspects of O’Brien’s story because of his own experience in the military. He said O’Brien’s genuine and emotional stories could provide insight for those who will never experience war first-hand.

“It’s important for some [veterans to share their story] so that future generations can at least have some perspective on what it was like,” Hasan said. “You kind of learn about yourself from someone else’s experiences.”

Hasan served in the Army in three tours between 2005 and 2011 in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan and plans to return to the service after graduating.

“[O’Brien] was saying it’s not that [veterans] don’t want to tell you stories, they’re just afraid to offend you. And that makes sense [to me],” Hasan said. “There are stories that my buddies won’t tell anybody else unless you’ve been there because it makes other people uncomfortable.”

Through his book, O’Brien said he wants his readers to apply what he has learned to their everyday lives.

“When you read, I hope you can transfer from the book to current circumstances—right now or what may come up in the future,” O’Brien said. “Just ask yourself common sense questions and make your own mind up about it.”

O’Brien said Vietnam can remind readers and the country that truth is not as absolute as society makes it seem and a person’s ideas about what is true are subject to transformation.

“Truth is a fluid thing,” O’Brien said. “It changes, and the book is supposed to challenge you on that. Truth has different levels of applicability in the world. Your sense about what is true about yourself is going to evolve through time.”

O’Brien said receiving letters and positive feedback about how his books have impacted lives makes everything he has gone through worth it.

“The most important thing to me is knowing that hearts have been touched,” O’Brien said. “It’s not about money or fame or anything — it’s about reaching into hearts.” 

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