In the first few pages of The Things They Carried, O'Brien lists, with almost mechanical precision, all of the tangible items carried by troops in Vietnam, and these details tell the reader a great deal about what items are necessary to wage war, as well as protect one's psyche during war, but O'Brien concludes the litany of combat and personal-related items—weapons, radios, medical supplies, good luck charms, tranquilizers—with what the soldiers carry in their souls as an inescapable load created by war:
They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight.
These "intangibles," which are as heavy as the tangible items weighing on each man, describe the true and lasting effects of war, because if a man lives through the experience and returns to "the World," he has lightened his physical load but still bears the unbearable weight of...
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