In The Things They Carried, what were the soldiers more afraid of than dying?
O'Brien writes of the soldiers, "they were afraid of dying but they were even more afraid to show it." The soldiers are afraid to appear weak or vulnerable in the face of gunfire and potential death. After they come under fire, they crack obscene jokes, and they also carry themselves in ways that do not show fear. Some carry themselves with a kind of resignation, while others carry themselves with a kind of machismo or soldierly pose. They also hide their fear and sadness with what the author refers to as a "hard vocabulary." For example, they refer to dying as "lit up" or "offed," and this type of acting helps the soldiers when someone dies because it is almost scripted. They know exactly how to act and what to say when they confront death, and they make dark jokes about what goes on around them to avoid appearing vulnerable or afraid.
In The Things They Carried, the men seem to be much more afraid of causing the death of someone else than they are of dying themselves. At the beginning of the book, Tim (as narrator) outlines all the "things" that the men carry with them into the war--included among these things is emotional baggage. For some of the men, this emotional baggage may be things that were left undone back home; however, for others, emotional baggage becomes heavier from things that happen during the war. For example, Jimmy Cross feels guilty for Ted Lavendar's death, and he cannot get around the fact that one of his men is dead. Cross burns the letters from Martha as a way to show his guilt and his commitment to try to be a better leader. But Cross ultimately fears that he will lose another man before the war is over.