Chapter 5 Summary
The fifth story of The Things They Carried is “Enemies.” When the story begins, the soldiers are on patrol in the LZ Gator. It is July, and Lee Strunk and Dave Jensen get into a fistfight. The fight is over something small, like a missing jackknife. The fight is close and it goes back and forth until Jensen, the larger man, eventually wins the fight, breaking Strunk’s nose. However, he continues to throw punches into Strunk’s face and it takes three other soldiers to pull him off. Strunk is taken to the rear by chopper and returns two days later with his nose covered in gauze and held in a splint.
Strunk is back, but Jensen begins to worry since he and Strunk are both soldiers and they are both armed. Though Strunk does not threaten him or say anything about getting revenge, a silent tension remains. The tension begins to affect Jensen, who begins to take precautions. He keeps his distance from Strunk when they dig foxholes and he keeps his back covered while they march. However, the precautions are not enough and eventually Jensen finds that he cannot relax: it is like he is fighting two wars, and when the rest of the platoon rests from their war, Jensen still worries that Strunk is plotting against him. Soon, the tension is keeping Jensen from sleeping at night. He thinks that he is hearing strange noises in the dark and he worries that he is hearing a grenade dropping into his foxhole. He feels a knife tickling against his ear and before long he cannot tell “good guys” from “bad guys.”
The tension continues to build until Jensen loses control. He screams out Strunk’s name while firing a machine gun into the air. The rest of the platoon takes cover, and after the magazine is empty he begins to reload before he finally sits down. They cannot get Jensen to continue marching until several hours have passed. That night, Jensen borrows a pistol and uses its butt to break his own nose. He crosses the camp and approaches Strunk to see if things are finally back to normal between them. Strunk nods and says that things are finally square between them. However, the next morning, the narrator finds Strunk, and the latter cannot stop laughing. Strunk says that Jensen is crazy, and he admits to stealing the jackknife that started their fistfight.