In Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, there is no shortage of symbols: the talismans that many troops carry symbolize the hope for survival and luck; the enemy is a collective emblem of death; the country that sent them to South Vietnam is an emblem of good intentions gone wrong; the land itself becomes a symbol of a place where they do not belong—truly strangers in a strange land—the backside of the moon as far as Tim O'Brien and his platoon-mates are concerned.
Kiowa's death in the "swamp" is a particularly compelling symbol of the world turned upside down—one can make a reasonable argument that in addition to being yet another symbol of the futility of war, in O'Brien's vision of war in South Vietnam, the "shit field" becomes a kind of horrific womb, as well as a tomb, for Kiowa.
In a narrow sense, the sewage area for the village is a symbol of Lt. Cross's ineptitude as a leader. As he notes at the beginning of the episode:
Military matters meant nothing to him. He did not care...
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