What does "How to Tell a True War Story" represent?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Whenever we think of how to convey the brute realities of war, we must be aware of how difficult this is and how tenuous our understanding of the "truth" of such experiences can be. This story points towards the profound ambiguity in war time experiences and the many different versions of the "truth" that can occur during wartime and how even two contradictory versions of what happens can both be the truth, thanks to the chaos and distortion of war.

You might like to consider the role of Curt Lemon's death in this story and how this supports this distortion. Although O'Brien knows that Curt was actually killed by a rigged round, as he thinks about what he saw and witnessed, he writes that Curt was killed by the sunlight and he is lifted up into the tree. Thus it is that there is a distinction made between what actually happens and what seems to happen.

Thus the point of this story, or what it represents, is the profoundly subjective nature of war and how difficult it is to try and write about it in any objective, meaningful way. Consider the following quote:

The truths are contradictory. it can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque. But in truth war is also beauty. For all its horror, you can't help but gape at the awful majesty of combat.

Again and again, O'Brien points out the many inconsistencies with war, which therefore makes trying to tell a "true" war story impossible, as you can never give one definitive angle or reflection on what happens.

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