Owen’s exposition of the absurdity and sheer human calamity of the First World War has parallels to Tim O’Brien’s equally acclaimed work The Things They Carried, which is both the title of a short story as well as the title of his collected writings related to the Vietnam War. Just as Owen makes blatant the pain and suffering associated with war, The Things They Carried “does not even bother to ask after the possibility of spiritual progress through war.” (Vernon p.171) Drawing heavily from his own experiences as an American soldier in action during the Vietnam War, O’Brien’s sceptical view of noble intentions behind wars is captured in several of his stories in the collection. In one story titled Church, for example, the narrator asserts
“The moment for spiritual reckoning passes. In the morning the unit moves out, their bodies bathed in the church water and fed from the church garden, their guns cleaned by monks, their newly vitalized selves ready to waste gooks once again.” (Vernon, p.172)
The fact that O’Brien chose to have his work done in the fiction genre as opposed to a memoir or historical account is a veiled attack on government propaganda. It is a suggestion that official rhetoric can be far removed from ground realities and hence is pointless to document it faithfully. The Things They Carried thus
“repeatedly attests to the power of storytelling to transform events and to affirm a new kind of truth, one more spiritual than factual, while somehow in the process redeeming us and resurrecting the dead. Such language comes most strongly in the “The Lives of the Dead,” the book’s final story.” (Ricketts, p.42)
In conclusion, the political context and technological methods of the two wars in question are quite different. But what unites them is how the government, that of the United States in particular, had resorted to a public relations campaign of misinformation. By distorting the motivations for these wars, as well as by suppressing the great human suffering entailed by the wars, the involved governments have failed in their responsibilities. It is this failure that had necessitated the emergence of more truthful accounts of the two wars in the form of poetry and prose. Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decrum Est and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried being stellar examples of this fact.
- Cyr, Marc D. “Formal Subversion in Wilfred Owen’s “Hospital Barge””Style 1 (1994): 65. Print.
- Ricketts, Harry. “The Power of War Poetry, from the Western Front to Helmand Province.”The Independent on Sunday (London, England) 3 Oct. 2010: 42.
- Vernon, Alex. “Salvation, Storytelling, and Pilgrimage in Tim O’Brien’s the Things They Carried.”Mosaic (Winnipeg) 4 (2003): 171+. Print.
- Owen, Wilfred, Dulce Et Decorum Est, first published in 1917, retrieved from http://www.english.emory.edu/LostPoets/Dulce.html on 29th November, 2012