Box Me Up and Ship Me Home - If I Die in a Combat Zone

By Tim O%27Brien

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
thomasina
I think this is an average book, although quite honest from the Author. I have heard a lot of Tim O'Brien but this is the first book I read of his. It is much more an anti-war book then a war book. In this account anyway, I find the Author's arrogance towards other soldiers who he calls GI's although I hadn't heard that term in reference to someone in the Army since WWII. I might not have heard it due to where I served in the Marines, small, remote areas in and near the DMZ. And my experience doesn't include Korea.

He comes from a family where he had people serving during the war, WWII that is. But his self interest and cowardice, his own description of himself in Nam, got the best of me. I can see all the acclaim once placed on this book because of its anti-war stance at the time and for many years thereafter. When you start out an intellectual in boot camp and describe how much better you are than everyone around you kinds of drags on a two tour in Nam vet. I can't say that what he describes as his Vietnam didn't happen but in my years there from 66, 67 & 68 didnt see an ounce of it. Disappointed indeed.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
lindsey swan
This book is OK but it doesn't do justice to most of the emotions one experiences when faced with daily combat. I can validate those feelings as I participated in over 900 combat missions and this book does not come close to illuminating the fear, excitement, joy and despair one feels after so many experiences.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
joy ferguson
I'm an avid reader of this genre, having served in Vietnam. Unfortunately, Mr. O'Brien's book is fiction and not very convincing at that. The situations, dialogue, etc misses the mark in terms of reality and of being there. It also seemed to me to move too slowly. I didn't finish it so, apologies if it perks up past the half way point.
Going After Cacciato :: An Action Thriller Novel (David Rivers Book 1) - Greatest Enemy :: Blood Oath (The Darkest Drae Book 1) :: The Girl of Fire and Thorns (rpkg) :: The Elephant Game (The War Planners)
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
veronika777
As Vietnam books go, I've read better and worse. Protagonist tried to dodge the draft but hometown pressure meant that he would be drafted and go to the Vietnam; he resented every minute he was there.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
carol goldstein geller
I didn't really like or dislike this book. The title is an old "running cadence" song (sic) for the elite of the military. Decent read and good descriptions og grunts in the field and the crap that often goes wrong. JJ
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
tamker636
The entire book is as if written by a college student standing all of from the war. His terror never approached that of his less well educated peers, because they did all the ral fighting.
At best the author is privileged and "white" at worst he is a coward!
Would not have purchased this book had I known its contents. If you can get this novel for free, read it. Otherwise skip it......no loss.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
nick f
I was hoping to have an excellent first hand account of a newbie's first year in Vietnam, to really make the war seem real to me. Most of what O'Brien wrote, I could have gotten from a history textbook. He doesn't talk about his fellow platoon members as if they became friends (except for the officers there are only cursory mentions of their names, maybe where they are from, and that's it). Even if he didn't stay in touch with them, I would expect he'd have more than one sentence to say about each of them since they lived together for months and relied on each other to stay alive. The book has lots of O'Brien's musings on classic philosophy -- didn't seem to belong in a book about Vietnam. I get that he was conflicted about the war and wants to portray his argument with ancient Greek philosphy but seriously, the book became "what would socrates do?" in my opinion. This might be your thing -- read a free sample to find out. I didn't and I regret it. Am now looking through the other reviews to find a better first hand Vietnam book to read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
laynie
O'Brien wrote this memoir shortly upon his return from Vietnam. Some 20 years later he wrote the fictional "The Things They Carried", which I believe is one of the finest books of the past 25 years. One of the issues O'Brien struggles with in "The Things They Carried" is the extent to which fictionalizing events can make them more "true." Thus, if you've read "The Things They Carried," it's fascinating to read this earlier memoir and see some of the material that O'Brien used for his later great fiction.

The book also stands on its own as a very good memoir. O'Brien writes beautifully, and even with some humor, about his struggles of conscience before he is shipped over to Vietnam. He served in combat and then in a rear assignment -- and writes powerfully about both and about the meaning of true courage.

It's more of an Anti-Vietnam book than an antiwar book. The complete idiocy of our tactics and strategy are well portrayed, as is the fundamental flaw of that whole period: the way we as a nation systematically lied to ourselves. But the costs of even a "good war" are also clear.

An excellent memoir.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
steve bosserman
One of the biggest disappointments I have read recently. If you get a chance read a sample before purchasing, I wish I had. If you remove all the fluff and quotes, from great people, theirs not much left. The author spends much of his writing skills putting down the common grunt and placing himself well above those, not so bright, lowlifes he served with. The only part that I could agree with about this book is that he probably should have gone to Canada to avoid the draft.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
tiffany westlund
Many years ago I came across Mr O'Brien's great book, "The Things They Carried".I was driving home late one night alone in my car listening to a talk show personality discussing this book. He merely read the first page and I was hooked.I bought it and loved it.This was before the store so I never reviewed it.I always wanted to read his first book, finally got it and as expected, couldn't put it down. I'm not a veteran but do like to read about war and feel that even though that experience will always be one which has eluded me I could still learn about it perhaps through someone else's eyes and learn. Tim O'Brien can do that for you. His style of writing gets to the core of the matter using wit, intelligence and a good balanced sense of humor and truth.Not being a vet or a Vietnam vet I can't comment on if what he says truly relates to what was, as based on a more learned opinion of others who went through it but my father was a Korean vet so I have an appreciation of what these men had to go through to fight not only for their country but for their lives.His descriptive passages draw you in and you feel as if you are traveling along with him and his platoon. The dangers are palpable and he does this with a writing style that keeps you severely interested and wanting more.He is truly a superb storyteller and if you enjoy this kind of material then you must read his other great classic mentioned above as well. You won't be disappointed.So walk along the jungle on patrol, get shot at, ambushed,see death,know pain and fatigue,hunger but most of all see the ridiculousness of it all and the questioning of just what the hell we were fighting for anyway, and for what gain?This very vexing dilemma, one that plagued the author and I'm sure many other returning vets from that era and that war have no doubt had that question banging around in their heads long after the fighting stopped.For the author, he had to wrestle with this shortly before going and while there as well.He put up with all the madness, did his time and got out as quick as he could. He made a choice,regretted it but lived with it honorably and did his time. His observations of others,the war and himself are presented very expertly and in a most readable, enjoyable way and it is a page turner to be sure. It's not literature for everyone but if you value a good look at a horrible war this will give you a snippet to chew on for some time.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
gautam gupta
This is O'Brien's first book, written as the Vietnam War (American version) still raged, and I consider it his best. The authenticity of the American soldier's experience in the war permeates the book, and he did not need to embellish the stories with some of the "magic realism" that he used in later works. I also gave "The Things They Carried" a solid 5-stars but felt that the quality of some of the stories in that work was uneven; particularly such stories as "The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong." The title to this book, as well as my subject line to my review are derived from the song fragments that the drill instructors made you sing in basic training. As O'Brien says, if you want to understand how the massacre at My Lai happened, you need to look at the "training" of the soldiers who went to the war. O'Brien has several excellent chapters on the "training," which is primarily composed of psychological methods to de-humanize the one-time civilian and transform him (when it was males who were drafted) into an automaton who follows orders blindly.

For the vast majority of readers who were not in the war, I think it helps to realize that O'Brien's own experience represented a slender, but the most essential aspect of the war. The vast majority of the soldiers who were there, which peaked at more than half a million per year, were not in the infantry. At most, 15% had experiences like O'Brien. Furthermore, he was there during the waning days of American ground combat, 1969-70, and within a year virtually all such operations would cease, though the war would drag on for another four years. By then all the soldiers were cynical about the prospects of "winning," and only hoped to last out their 12 months, preferably in the rear, if that could be arranged. And O'Brien was in an area, Quang Ngai province, which received virtually no press coverage, until, that is, a courageous photographer retain a few rolls of film, delivered them to the media, exposing the massacre which occurred at My Lai. O'Brien took part in patrols around My Lai, but more than a year after the massacre. On these patrols, O'Brien and his fellow soldiers were also bedeviled by the mines which were a catalyst for the most famous massacre of the war.

My year in Vietnam commenced six months prior to O'Brien's and I was only 50-100 km south of him, in Binh Dinh province. I was in a tank unit, and we did conduct combined operations with infantry, so the story told in Chapter 17, "July" was haunting, since it covered one of the most unfortunate aspects of any war -- being killed by your own men or equipment, and in this chapter, some of the infantry were run over by the "APC," (Armored Personnel Carriers) during a joint operation.

O'Brien was a "college boy," one who was well-read, and brought the world of books to his experiences there, with philosophical discussions on the meaning of courage and perspectives from Hemingway to Homer. He opposed the war before his arrival, supported McCarthy for President, had read Bernard Fall on the French War in Vietnam, and had read Graham Greene's quintessential "The Quiet American." Regrettably, he apparently had not read Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front," which is the anti-war novel I believe this collection of non-fiction stories most closely resembles. They both covered the training, and the actual combat; the enormous disparity in a soldier's life between the "front" and the "rear" areas; the matter of dumb blind luck as to who survives and who doesn't; and the extreme variability in the competence of the officers. Unlike Remarque's war though, which was primarily army against army, Vietnam, as well as Afghanistan today represents warfare in and amongst a civilian population that will remain, long after the Americans are gone.

The portrait of Major Callicles is brilliant. The Major represents the old "brown-boot" Army, from Korea and the hey-day of Germany during the late `50's. In Vietnam his world truly disintegrated, as he saw "his" Army collapse in a hopeless struggle for the so-called hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people, and the draftees who fought in the war chose a different drug than the alcohol that sustained the Major. And there was the very real discipline the troops imposed on the officer corps; the "fragging" of officers who were too gung-ho, needlessly endangering the lives of the troops they commanded.

The classic accounts of the Vietnam War were primarily written by journalists, from Stanley Karnow to Neil Sheehan. In these books, as is appropriate, much coverage is given to the political leadership in America and Vietnam, and the rationale behind various decisions. Saigon is not even mentioned in this book, and it is unlikely if O'Brien, just like me, ever saw the city during the entire year. Other "grunts" have written about their experiences in the infantry, but O'Brien's account will always remain the best of the Vietnam War. A solid 5-stars.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
eugenio tena
Tim O'Brien wrote this book from about ages 23 to 27, with various parts published in magazines before appearing in its full form. He's actually continued editing it, so if you read the most recent paperback it will be (slightly) different than the 1973 first edition hardcover.

As part of a library of war literature that has grown SO much over the last decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this book seems very old-fashioned in 2012. Very few of the stories would be 'new' to readers of today. Some of his political commentary - especially his brief flirtation with deserting to Sweden - are difficult to relate to in the days of an all-volunteer military. His account of basic training is entertaining, but old news to all of us who've seen "Full Metal Jacket" 50 times.

None of it is his fault - that's the problem with being first.

This book was probably one of the earliest books about the disappointment and disillusionment from Vietnam - and to readers in 1973 I'm sure it would have been new and different - especially in a sea of memoirs from World War II. By 2012, almost every war writer has brought different levels of angst and disillusionment to their work (and those that haven't are lying) so it's all well-worn ground. Most of these modern writers have been directly inspired by O'Brien, especially by the much superior "Things They Carried." So O'Brien's influence appears in everything.

Another problem - and why "Things They Carried" is so much better - is "If I Die" is a nonfiction memoir. Without the fictional filter, we get a 'true' version of O'Brien. Like most 20-something, brand new veterans, he's annoying without much perspective or reflection. He is very sure of himself - which means very full of himself, and clearly overly impressed with his writing skills and observations. In "Things They Carried," the fictional O'Brien brings an older, more earned perspective, and isn't stuck in telling a 'true' story.

The flawed and often contrived "The Yellow Birds" was compared to "Things They Carried," but "If I Die" was the better comparison. Both use a military cadence as their title's inspiration, and both are the stories of young men still trying to figure out the real stories they want to tell.

"If I Die" is a good book to see O'Brien early in his career, and it's certainly well-written and interesting....but we've since seen many, many books by young veterans dealing with conflicted feelings about war. But this book was first, and in its own way, inspired many of the ones to follow.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
laura brown
After two of my family members had to read "The Things They Carried" for school, I decided to read it (to see if it lived up to my military experiences). It was pretty good - I recognized some "near-universal" elements in his "war stories", and I liked his attempt to convey what a "war story" - "was/is". Then I picked up "If I Die In A Combat Zone" - and have not stopped recommending it since! Tim O'brien is one of the few authors that I've read that does an outstanding job of conveying the often conflicting thoughts and feelings that go through soldiers' minds. He has some real good inner debates about what constitutes bravery and cowardice. I think he also does a pretty good job of trying to explain the thought processes behind some of the "attrocities" that soldiers sometimes commit in a way that the "average civilian" just might understand - like where he talks about going into a village where the people are telling them the surrounding area is "safe", and as soon as the get outside the village they start getting killed by mines and ambushes, etc. and they return to the village and beat up the people that told them it was safe. He tells the reader that if they think it was "wrong", that maybe they should take their family over to some of those villages and freely walk around in the jungle, because there are surely mines still left around (they didn't trip them all), and when one of their family members gets blown up by a mine in an area they were told was "safe" - see if they don't feel like beating the crud out of someone. There were a number of places in this book where, despite the "age difference" (I didn't serve in Vietnam), I found myself thinking, "The military hasn't changed much, many things about war haven't changed much." or, "He nailed this part! He was reading my mind!"
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jonathan knopf
If I Die in a Combat Zone Box Me Up and Ship Me Home - Tim O'Brien

Students of the Viet Nam War will soon realize that books detailing first person accounts of in country military service are very numerous. I have read several of these and find them a refreshing remedy to the memoirs of generals and politicians. Each type of book certainly has it's place in our attempts to come to grips with the tangle of Viet Nam. Nonetheless the personal experience of young soldiers elicits for this reader a myriad of disconcerting thoughts regarding misguided patriotism and unmitigated heroism.

The author shares his deep reservations concerning Viet Nam and warfare in general. He ruminates about the values instilled by a small Minnesota town upbringing contrasted with the possible necessity of taken a persons life in a foreign country for a doubtful objective. After some misgivings he answers his draft notice. After basic training and assurance that his billet will be Viet Nam his qualms resurface. During AMT (Advanced Military Training) he makes elaborated plans to escape to Canada. Be warned the author's introspection is a recurrent theme in this book so if you're looking for nonstop combat accounts you may be disappointed.

Tim ended up in Viet Nam and volunteered for one of the two most dangerous jobs in a rifle platoons that of radio operator - the other being the "point" man. OK he was in the rear but what a target. The enemy knows that taking out the radioman was key to preventing air and artillery support and as a bonus the officers are always near by.

The author has an admirable skill in detailing the absurdities inherent in our futile crusade in that sad country. Mr. O'Brien has written, in my opinion, one of the better Viet Nam books of this type.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kenzie
Tim O'Brien is one of our more gifted, living writers in the genre of war literature, and although IF I DIE IN A COMBAT zone isn't his strongest book, it is certainly worthy reading, especially in the echoing din of George Bush's Iraqi adventure.

A straightforward account from a soldier's point of view, O'Brien's book includes the before, during, and after of his Vietnam experience -- especially the daily grind of soldiering (during) and the soul-searching and debate about fleeing (before) instead of answering the call of the draft. He had a rather quixotic escape plan to Sweden (of all places), but ultimately did his "duty," all along meditating on the nature of sanity, obligation, and patriotism. There are frequent excerpts from Plato, even, as O'Brien explores that ancient philosopher's take on "courage." As his fellow soldiers are killed, O'Brien details the nature of fate and chance, along with the more realistic details of the many ways "Charlie" (the VC) could arrange for you to die.

Here is a typical excerpt in which O'Brien compares Vietnam to the Trojan War:

"But losing [Captain Johansen] was like the Trojans losing Hector. He gave some amount of reason to fight. Certainly there were never any political reasons. The war, like Hector's own war, was silly and stupid. Troy was besieged for the sake of a pretty woman. And Helen, for God's sake, was a woman most of the grubby, warted Trojans could never have. Vietnam was under siege in pursuit of a pretty, tantalizing, promiscuous, particularly American brand of government and style. And most of Alpha Company would have preferred a likable whore to self-determination. So Captain Johansen helped to mitigate and melt the silliness, showing the grace and poise a man can have under the worst of circumstances, a wrong war. We clung to him." -- (p. 145)

Philosophical riffs like this are frequent -- as are accounts of the soldiers' lives (and deaths), their nicknames for killer devices, their fear and superstitions, and their ways of surviving in a strange land where even women and children could, and often did, mean death. The literary weave of abstractions on war and history with specifics on Vietnam itself make for a potent read. You will come out of it not only feeling better educated about what Vietnam was like, but sensing that many of the arguments of the American government and the officers in charge ring as familiarly hollow now (in Iraq) as they did then (in Vietnam). If I could, I'd buy a copy for the President. But I know he wouldn't read it or, if he did, seek meaning from it.

Pro or anti-war, Vietnam or Iraq, you, however, can glean something from this early effort of Tim O'Brien's. Check it out.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
britany
I have read most of Tim O'Brien's fiction which is populated with Vietnam vets who are unable to forget the war as they move on with their lives. While the fact that veterans of this war live haunted lives has been an established fact for decades, reading the author's firsthand experience is eye-opening and poignant. O'Brien's memoir is just as lyrical and poetic as his fiction and just as mesmerizing.

As far as memoirs go, O'Brien doesn't offer much in terms of early childhood, but briefly glosses over his all-American youth in Minnesota. The focus of "If I Die in a Combat Zone" is his time spent in basic training and in Vietnam. From the very beginning, O'Brien did not agree with the war, and even contemplated dodging his draft notice except for fear of causing his family and his town undue embarassment. So he enters the army, reluctantly, still hesitant to give up thoughts of escape, and is eventually shipped to Vietnam and its paradoxical world of war and odd tranquility. At times, O'Brien's memories are almost laundry lists of things that happened, types of mines that can kill you, but at other times his work is philosophical, questioning what courage means and if it is just to fight a war you do not believe in.

"If I Die in a Combat Zone" is a beautifully written examination of a war gone terribly wrong and how young men accepted their terrible fate. It offers comedy and lighthearted moments, an odd concept for a war memoir. It showcases O'Brien's masterful ability to tell a story, whether real or imagined. And it allows readers a chance to step inside a brilliant mind that will forever be haunted by the ghosts of Vietnam, but one that is forever trying to find redemption for the atrocities witnessed and committed.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
opstops
This book, titled after a line in a military march song, is O'Brien's memoir of his time in Viet Nam. It's divided up into shorter essays--most narrative, some more philosophical--which together create the tangled web of dilemmas that Viet Nam was. The book chronicles O'Brien's tour of duty chronologically, from the pressure and shame that kept him from not fleeing to Canada when he adamantly opposed the war, through basic training and combat and his eventual move to a job in the back. Each essay tackles a theme or issue: friendship, courage, fear, getting a desk job, the morality of a shooting or not shooting a civilian who may or may not shoot you.

O'Brien succeeds most when he tells stories. The chapters where he deals with more ethereal issues like "What is courage?" seem heavy-handed, though it's hard to criticize anyone who goes through such an ordeal, and the question must be asked. But to me, the answer was in the rest of the book, in the stories, particularly in the chapter "Step Lightly." If courage is the ability to overcome fear, then this chapter is the definition of fear. It starts as a straightforward list and description of the various types of landmines and what effect they have on an unsuspecting soldier. O'Brien stops midway through the chapter to reconsider whether his flippant listing of these killer devices is appropriate. While he was writing the chapter, he says, mines had claimed seven more legs and one more arm from men around him. But he decides that it would remain. "...I let the half-truths stand...because that is how we talked about them, with a funny laugh, flippantly, with a chuckle. It is funny. It's absurd." When I think of THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, another O'Brien Viet Nam book (I'd recommend that one over IF I DIE IN A COMBAT ZONE, though both are great), what first comes to mind is the story of the guy who was sucked down and drowned in the mud when a mortar round landed next to him. In IF I DIE IN A COMBAT ZONE, I will think of "Step Lightly." It, as well as anything in the book, captures the patent absurdity of the entire war.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
audrey harrison
If I Die...is Tim O'Brien's first book, and his first of many inspired by his tour of duty as an infantryman in Vietnam, 1969-70. Later, more successful books, like Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried, deliberately smudge the line between reportage and invented story (and, in GAC, he takes it all the way to outright fantasy) but this debut is intended as a soldier's field memoir, the facts as O'Brien saw and remembers them, although with much brooding personal commentary added.

More than 30 years after its publication, the book is still quite powerful, reviving the sights and sounds of a war that America decided a while ago not to forget, but rather to remember in a way it finds most convenient. There are still too many people who believe we could easily have "won" Vietnam if we hadn't been "stabbed in the back" by politicians and hippie protestors at home; that is nonsense, much of which O'Brien's book helps disprove. Indispensible works like The Best and the Brightest, and of course The Pentagon Papers, prove how various US administrations allowed themselves to be deluded about the progress the US military might make in solving the political problems of a small SE Asian country. By the time O'Brien arrived as a foot soldier in early 1969, the war had reached a high-level stalemate, was essentially over, and the Vietnamese simply had to wait us out. LBJ and Nixon knew this but they continued to send our soldiers over to be killed and mangled; too precipitous a withdrawal would have hurt their administrations politically.

What O'Brien does so well is dramatize this fatal stall at the personal level. His book is loaded with stories of ranking officers, brave men with Army careers, allowing their commands to ease off in the field, avoid pointless enemy engagements, even file fake patrol reports, especially at night. O'Brien's tour commenced a year after Tet and My Lai occurred, and in their aftermath, as O'Brien tells it, Army morale at even the officer level had sunk so low, and the failure of US goals was so evident, that few Americans wanted to get killed for a misadventure.

What lingers most in my mind is O'Brien's struggle with his own self-loathing: he believed even before being drafted that the war was wrong, and made serious plans to desert the Army, but found himself unable to make that great break, fearful of the reaction he would eventually encounter from parents and the small Minnesota town of his birth. He gave in to tradition, rather than do what he felt to be right, and it seems he has never forgiven himself.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
zhiqian
Tim O'Brien has amazing literary talent, and his best books have been written about ordinary GIs in Vietnam. "If I die in a combat zone" was his first work to explore this theme and was written after he finished his tour of duty in the late 60s. It is the most searingly honest account of all his writings, giving a deeply personal perspective without the layers of sophistication that might have followed with the passage of time. He writes with disarming frankness about his very youthful self, of his idealism, loyalty, confusion, fear and sense of comradeship. Somehow war does not brutalise him although he witnesses, experiences and writes about its horrors very directly. In the process the innocent boy becomes a more worldiwise young man, and the reader grows with him on a real-life journey to hell and back that concludes with extra-ordinary restorative power.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
marlene guy
Being much more familiar with Tim O'Brien's fiction, one may not know what to expect in his memoir about his tour of duty in Vietnam. Written in the same style with a wry sense of humor, O'Brien challenges the war in a way few have.

Courage and morality are continuing themes that O'Brien explores through his actions as well as literary quotes. It is very clear that O'Brien was uncomfortable with the war even before being drafted. He even contemplates going AWOL. In a paradox, he lacks the courage to go to war or escape going to war. Nothing is more powerful than the last chapter. Going beyond patroitism and rituals, O'Brien is numbed as he returns home. The war has left a mark that is difficult to fathom.

Tim O'Brien does not flinch at the brutality of the war nor the American soldiers. Major Callicles seems straight out of Catch 22, yet he is all too real. The cruelty to a blind civilian has the ability to disgust. While making a statement, O'Brien's writing is both enlightening and entertaining. It is a remarkable perspective on a disastrous war.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
behappy38317
"If I Die in a Combat Zone" by Tim O'Brien is not only a mixture of "Apocalypse Now," "Good Morning Vietnam," "Full Metal Jacket," "Hamburger Hill," and even..."We Were Soldiers Once," but more importantly; a magnificent literary work of art!

This is naturally, more than just a story of the Vietnam War; it's the author's own personal account of his tour in country as a combat soldier. It is a gut wrenching blueprint of human pathos, centering upon morality, courage, truthfulness, and human dignity within the very real and nasty arena of life and death.

Regardless of what units or, branch of the service one served during that time period, O'Brien speaks for some aspect of us all who shared in the experience of "Nam". He addresses not just the death and dying, but the very difficult duty of living through those events and accepting the truth of what..."really was".

O'Brien is perhaps, one of the best American writers in today's market. Although most of his works were published in the late 70's his books are as readable now as they were when first published. He is a master of the written word, and human feeling. If, you read just one of his books, you will immediately understand why; in God's ultimate wisdom, "he did not die in a combat zone".

This is an excellent piece of work as was his other book, "The Things they Carried with Them."

If, you can only read one book a year, then I suggest you read this one!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
samantha rahming
Tim O’Brien’s If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home is an informative, action-packed, and heartfelt novel that will appeal to fans autobiographical war stories, O’Brien’s other classics such as The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato, and novels like Chris Kyle’s American Sniper.
22 year old O’Brien was drafted for the Vietnam War in 1968, in spite of his heavy opposition to the war. O'Brien contemplated desertion, but did not go through with it, and ultimately wound up in Vietnam in 1969. Throughout his one year deployment, O'Brien had to go through numerous hardships, such as loss of friends, lazy GIs, Drill Sergeant Blyton, and of course -- landmines.
O’Brien has crafted a captivating piece by alternating scenarios each chapter. Thus, the novel begins by running through the daily routine of a soldier in Vietnam. With this in mind, O’Brien quickly flashes back to his hometown, ultimately tasking the reader to realize the difficulties of leaving home for war. O’Brien’s intriguing writing keeps each page interesting, as you are not quite sure what is about to come next.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
gina gilbert
Happy to have finally gotten around to reading this excellent memoir of a young college graduate getting drafted and serving a year in the Viet Nam war. Tim O'Brian is an wonderful Virgil guiding us through the hell of that military campaign. Thoughtful, well-written, crisp and clearheaded in telling his story.

A great counterpoint and companion to the recent best selling collection of short stories about fighting or serving in Iraq by Phil Klay, Redeployment.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ramprakash
A very personal look at a regular GI. Not a hero, not a coward; a guy kinda like me. He has all the unheroic thoughts I would guess 90 percent of the guys had. i.e. How should I desert? (He didn't). How do I get non-combat duty? (He did after too long) How do I stay sane? (That's what the book is about.) Intelligent, great observations, gritty yet up-lifting. War without a filter.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
robert moreno
O'Brien's writing is so clear and interesting that I read through this book in three sittings. It is easy to read and easy to understand.

The biggest thing that I took from this book is the realistic portrayal of soldiers and their actions. The different people who went through O'Brien's combat life all have reasonable motivations that lead to different outcomes. Some of the people are motivated by bravery or duty or contempt or just wanting to get out alive. When conducting themselves outside of a firefight, they act realistically according to those motivations.

However, during the few times that O'Brien describes encounters with belligerents, most of the soldiers, with perhaps two exceptions, act exactly as anybody should: they get out of the way. At first, I thought this portrayal of soldiers in action was embarrassingly realistic, but there is nothing embarrassing about it. When they are in firefights, the soldiers just waited it out.

Beyond this, O'Brien is very critical of his fellow soldiers, portraying them as mostly unthoughtful, which I found to be pretentious of O'Brien. This is a theme found in his description of many of the people he met in Vietnam. O'Brien says that soldiers don't think about death or bravery. Perhaps being surrounded by death, they are simply too exhausted to share the feelings or address their fears in any meaningful way.

While I picked up on his reasons for being against the Vietnam War, I didn't think it had a huge impact on the book. O'Brien did not want to go to war but I doubt that most soldiers, even volunteers, actually wanted to go to Vietnam. Those who went were motivated by a sense of duty. O'Brien never seemed to contradict this idea, even in his personal actions.

Being born after the Vietnam War, I only have an understanding of it in a historical context, but the emotions, motivations, and actions of the people O'Brien describes are realistic to me.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
billie swartz
A thinking man in Vietnam was a dangerous thing. Being a soldier in Vietnam was a dangerous thing. Tim O'Brien was both and somehow he managed to live to survive it and tell his story. He ends up in Vietnam after unsuccessfully dealing with his conflict between doing the right thing and being a courageous man. He tells of his decision not to follow his well planned escape route and stay with his country and its proposal to send him to Viet Nam. O'Brien describes Vietnam as a place with nameless soldiers and Buddys, faceless enemies and endless minefields.
This is an excellent text for learning about the experience of the Vietnam war, the choices that young man were faced with at that time and basic dilemmas in making moral decisions. It is a well written book which makes for a quick, satisfying read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
anna pearce
Whether academics would consider this a literary masterpiece or not, Tim's honesty and integrity make this a must-read account of his total Vietnam experience. I say total, because I found his description of his almost-AWOL phase to be one of the most fascinating parts of the book.
Morally and practically, his situation was infinitely more complex than that of a draft dodger, for whom there were known routes into Canada above all, and more clear cut decison processes involved. About 90,000 of the 100,000 draft dodgers fled to Canada, many of whom settled here long-term.
Yet as you read Tim's account of his guided tour of hell, you realize that, like all Vietnam Vets, and I have the honor of knowing many of both genders, his healing journey is one that he will not be undertaking alone. Sadly, there was nothing unique about his Vietnam experience, as he would be the first to tell you.
At one point, back in the late seventies, there was a statistic indicating that about 800,000 Vietnam Vets - about half the combat vets, were suffering from PTSD. Yet it became obvious that this figure, which did not even include the Army nurses and Docs who sewed everybody back together, was somewhat low. On reading If I Die, you can see how the Vietnam experience could stay with a person for the rest of his/her life, especially in view of the hostility that the Vets faced upon their return to 'The World'.
Vietnam was a tremendously divisive issue and the factors that Tim O'Brien had to balance during his almost-AWOL period, make you realize that the actual draft dodgers will also have their own healing to do. The only draft dodgers I have a problem with are the ones who fled to Canada, yet who claim to have done so because of their 'principles'.
No. The draft evaders with true integrity and principles either took the courageous step of joining the military as a Medic and refused to carry weapons, or like David Harris, Joan Baez's husband, went to jail for their principles - David was jailed for 3 years for Draft Evasion. The dodgers who ran to Canada did so because they were scared, pure and simple, and there is nothing wrong with being scared. Just don't lie about it - or you will never heal.
As for 'principles', if 100,000 people had forced the Government to jail them over the Vietnam issue, as David did, it might have made a difference. It might literally have ended the war years earlier, and saved young men like Tim from having to undergo such a psychologically damaging experience. Running away was a selfish act, but one which I do not judge - that is between them and God. Just don't try to sell me 'principles', boys. Ever.
Tim O'Brien is a great writer, and in If I Die, he really puts you in harm's way, among the trip-wire grenades, the panji stake pits, the minefields and the VC snipers. Yet hard as the Vietnam War was on the young draftees, the unforgivable thing is the fact that for many of these teenage soldiers, the hardest part was coming home. To quote from Paul Hardcastle's '19' (the average age of the combat soldier in Vietnam) "They fought the longest war in American history... None of them received a hero's welcome..."
Welcome home, Tim.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
nabeel rajeh
O'Brien is simply my favorite author. I was curious to read this, his first book, a memoir of his real days in country. It is without the lyrical beauty and power of some of his other fictionalized accounts of war, but as he says in How to Tell a True War Story--what exactly is real in war? This is as close one can come...a fascinating account--perhaps most interesting is the down time--the mundane aspects of war. His honesty is disarming (no pun intended), but the polished O'Brien we know and love is still developing. It is an important book and worth the time spent.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
adhityarama
For a young man growing up in 1968, life had more then the standard two certainties of death and taxes. In "If I Die in a Combat Zone, box me up and ship me home" by Tim O'Brien, O'Brien tells of his coming-of-age during the Vietnam War. Although he was a draftee, disagreed with the ideology of the war, and did not want to be there, O'Brien does a remarkable job of telling his story in a way that enlightens the reader because he wishes to impart his own experience of war with them.
Jumping right into the action, it is not until the third chapter of the book does he slow down for a moment to tell how he got to Vietnam. In this chapter, O'Brien discloses what life was like during his coming-of-age in the 1960s. The chapter captivates the reader in telling of how the United States as a whole was focused on the up coming elections and the war in Vietnam. The author talks of how general conversations flirted between these two topics and how, depending on who was involved in the conversation, determined where the conversation would go.
For the author, when he was involved in the conversations, they were about how the war was wrong and that America should not have gotten involved. For the most part O'Brien had remained quiet about his position, that is until he received his draft notice. Even though he had not previously talked about his conversations, O'Brien tells about a time when some of his college friends paid him a visit asked how he felt about being drafted. His response to this was simple but his bitterness about the matter was still visible, "... I didn't know, ... I'd let time decide" (p. 17).
In taking this stance O'Brien makes it quite clear that he was not thrilled about his situation but he recognized there was nothing that could be done about it. During his time in basic, O'Brien tells of another friend that had the same standings about the war as he did. The conversations that O'Brien had with his friend were about how the war was wrong, how they didn't want to be there, and how they could go AWOL to Canada to get out of the situation all together. Although there was a time when the thought of going AWOL went further then just talk, he was never able to go through with it.
Once O'Brien finished his basic and training course he found himself deep in the jungles of Vietnam. For O'Brien, life in the jungle started at LZ Gator, waiting to meet up with the rest of his company. The night his company returned from a patrol he was introduced to live combat. In the book O'Brien talks about how his first encounter with the VC was like a lesson back in training. In fact he describes many lessons during his first month with his company, explaining many of the abbreviations and acronyms that his company had, even the one that he was referred to as the, "FNG ... "F[***]ing New Guy"" (p. 80).
Through the remaining chapters, O'Brien tells about different lessons that he learned. Some of them were lessons learned in battle and some were lessons that he learned in dealing with his own issues. These lessons progress through his time in Vietnam right up to when he gets on the plane to return home and recalls them all. He sums up all that he learned by recalling talks with the old men at home and says, "You learned that the old men had lives of their own and that they valued them enough to try not to lose them; anyone can die in a war if he tries (p. 208)."
In attempt to empower the reader with a "plea for everlasting peace (p. 23)," "If I Die in a Combat Zone" by Tim O'Brien is a captivating book that I think everyone should read because of the clarity and straight forwardness of the story. Told in autobiographical nature, O'Brien takes the reader through a saga of events that he experienced while in Vietnam. Even though he did not wish to be there, O'Brien does a marvelous job of curtailing his own bias so as not to take away from his tale.
"If I Die in a Combat Zone, box me up and ship me home" by Tim O'Brien, is a book that is deep in conveying the pain associated with war. O'Brien takes his readers on a trek through the trenches of Vietnam. All the while allowing them to see how he disagreed with the war, did not want to be there, and ended up getting drafted to serve. Any reader, whether they have military experience or not, would find this book a delightful read in the way that these issues are brought forth without disturbing the story.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
gabrielle smith
I haven't yet read any of O'Brien fictional work, but this memoir really opened my eyes. I feel so fortunate not having to experienced these types of challenges. It really brought the feelings and emotions of what it must have been like to be an foot soldier in Vietnam. It is unbelievable. Wow!! A good read!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sara opie
Really stated the conflicting feelings about serving in a war that the author did not support. He could had taken steps to avoid combat but chose not to do so. He was a radioman and was an easy target.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
matt faes
"If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home" was very a well written book. I'm in a generation that doesn't know a whole lot about the Vietnam War. My idea of Vietnam is based off of the movie "Platoon". Tim O'Brien does an awesome job of portraying a soldier, and what each soldier has to put up with mentally and physically everyday.

The author, Tim O'Brien, is also the main character in the book. He recalls all of his thoughts throughout the Vietnam time period. For a long while he contemplates dodging the draft and going to Europe of Canada. He didn't want to bring shame to his name or his family, so he goes to Vietnam. He starts with basic training at Fort Lewis and tells his story all the way into Vietnam, sharing details from ambushes to mortar fire.

This book does a good job of describing the dangers of Vietnam and how easily someone, one of your best friends, could be dead with one step. There were so many ways that soldiers were killed, and it happened so often that people didn't get all worked up about it. O'Brien goes through the array of mines and weapons that the enemy used. Some mines were designed to kill, some just to blow your foot off. It was a gruesome reality.

O'Brien does an excellent job of showing the psychological battles that the soldiers have to go through. Most of us will never know what the Vietnam War was like, but O'Brien puts you right there on the battlefield. "If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home" is a great read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
catherine drumm
Having learned about Vietnam at school, including individually watching some films about it, it was only coincidental that I could reinforce my knowledge of the war with a book. I'm glad that it was with "If I Die in a Combat Zone".

The author's writing is simple yet evocative enough to allow easy reading with a serious tone. If you're the type who looks up every word that you're not familiar with, this book should give you a sizable, though not too huge (that it'd disrupt reading) inventory of new words.

The story itself is interesting, taking on the perspective of a soldier (I guess it is the author himself) combating Vietnam and his views of the war. However, I personally felt the combative scenes could have been written more vividly--in terms of tumult and stimulation. Despite that, the plot moves along fast enough to maintain interest and activity.

I would have definitely read more of O'Brien's narration in "If I Die in a Combat Zone"--209 pages is just not enough!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
gabby stuhlman
Tim O'Brien's novel is an extended-essay style memoir of the author's personal experiences in Vietnam. Rather than grouping his episodic experiences in a perfectly linear pattern, O'Brien somewhat strays from that method, instead choosing to group the chapters by theme. For example, the successive chapters might share a specific character or ideal, rather than time-line. The book leaves the reader with a feeling of overwhelming sadness, simply because of the shere reality of the book. The writing and wording itself is not what saddens reader, but rather it's the subtle detachment of the author from the stories he's telling. While the author claims upon introduction that the entire point of the nevel is to express that there is no poin to what he's writing (only stories), this is difficult to believe, especialy since the entire thought process of the young man in the story centers around an anti-war justification. However, it's almost difficult to believe that this justification is even the author's own thought, as he uses allusion almost to the poin of over-use. I understand this constant alluding to other philosophers and authors is supposed to mimic the thoughts that went through the young foot-soldier's head. Still, it seems that his individual thoughts are too corrupted by knowledge of what people before him have reasoned for him to truly have a thought of his own. While giving a striking and memorable peek into the life of a draftee in the Vietnam War, this book is also a lesson for all of those who criticize the men and women who fight wars of questionable purpose.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ankit arora
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it as one of the best accounts of a tour of duty in Vietnam.

Tim O' Brien spent a year in Vietnam in 1969 and this is his account of that year. He subsequently wrote two highly acclaimed Vietnam novels, Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried both of which I also enjoyed and would recommend. But "If I Die in a Combat Zone" was, for me, more powerful and moving. Quite possibly as relevant today as it was on publication in 1973. Read it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
a laa
Though I didn't enjoy this one as much as "The Things They Carried", which was the first book I'd read by this author, it was still an easily read, well written, and informative book. Much more of this book dealt with training for Vietnam, and the struggles of a young man going to fight a war he doesn't agree with. The book gives a glimpse of the horrors of war in general and Vietnam in particular. A great read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
carol keating
Have been planing to read his first book for some time and finally accomplished that feat. I found it to be very good more on the line of what is in the mind not what is seen. A fine job of discription of people that we have all known under very trying terms. I have enjoyed most of his books and have completed the circle now with the first. I would recommend reading all his books to get a real feel of a fine author and a combat hero of America.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dacia
These are the most elegantly written memoirs about the horror that was Vietnam. It is a thorough telling of the tales in which innocence is lost and wisdom is gained. I am glad that O'Brien toured in Vietnam or else we would not have been blessed with such a wondeful work of literature. Just read the last few lines over and over. They'll make you cry. The most beautiful writer of his generation.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bahia
Although I am a Vietnam vet and have experienced/witnessed horrendous things in country, the story Tim O'Brien tells is way beyond anything I've been through. I have no doubt that he went through it though and I just want to welcome him home!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
smw2020
Simply put, this is one of the great memoirs of the Vietnam War. Very highly recommended!

A short book describing the year spent on the front lines of the war by Mr. O'Brien, this one will grab you by the throat. Eloquent prose evoking the best of battlefield narratives. Can and probably should be read in one or two sittings.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
melo
I have not read anything else of O'Brien's but I will. I am intrigued. This book was apparently written in the time between his combat experience and coming home. It perfectly reflects the angst many of us went through, though many of us didn't have to plan the trip to Toronto and probably would not have at any rate. Just like Tim. Maybe he's written a more thoughtful book about the war and his experience. I'll check it out.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
micah
I've not read a ton of war books and picked up this one because it was on some list of best books of the century or somthing like that from Time. War must not change much, becuase the narrator in this book seems to be saying so much of what I have heard from soldiers coming back from the Iraq, etc. Lots of boredom with moments of great fear peppered in. I like this book a lot. The author's writing style is very matter of fact, but with as frugal as he is with his words, he says tons.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
leighann paige
This is an excellent piece of literature. O'Brien is at his finest as he transcribes his experiences during the vietnam war. If you read "The Things They Carried" (which he wrote after this) you'll definately love this book. It's also interesting to observe some of the similarities to the characters in this memoir to those in The Things They Carried. It's exceptional, honestly. You wont be disappointed.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
darren walker author
Tim O'Brien is an excellent war author. This is only the second book I have read of his but I do enjoy the insight to military life and war. There were a few things I did not like. I could be bias because I read this book during a deployment but I was not big on the antiwar talk. I felt cheated out of a good war book after hearing so much of it. But none the less, O'Brien is an excellent author. His characters are round and he pulls you into each scene with vivid description and honest dialogue. This book is literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
yasaman
Philosophy and rending questions of morality set amid one of the most conflicted conflicts in American history. This may be the final word on Vietnam: a call to conscience from one man who witnessed and experienced the callous evil of war. "If I Die in a Combat Zone..." is a plea that somehow, someday, we might use our grief, humiliation, and penance to become a wise and contemplative society.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
david foss
Brought to life the fear of dieing when a soldier entered Vietnam. How the fear never left but the brave ones learned to live with that constant fear and should have came home a hero ! Author puts you there, and that's what makes a book a classic.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jackie the librarian
In my opinion, most all reviews found in this posting, and those evaluation offered, are in step with the horror and insanity of the War in Vietnam. I retired from the Army after having served 23 years in uniform. Enough said.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
shellie
I'm not a big fan of Tim O'Brien's writing: It's a stylistic thing. I believe that he is neither a natural raconteur nor a gifted observer, either of which is what turns a book into a great read. If you've read much at all about the Vietnam subjective experience you are bound to have come across bits of this book because in it O'Brien does show flashes of pure story telling talent and these bits have been excerpted and published as essays and short stories. The premise of this book is an autobiographical look at the author's life leading up to and including his tour of duty in Vietnam. In it he thoughtfully and sensitively addresses the plethora of social, martial and political elements whirling about the Vietnam theatre of war. Unfortunately, he gets a bit tripped up in his attempts to showcase his Liberal Arts education by interweaving quotations from Socrates through Plato, Homer and various poets into the narrative. I suppose that the point could be made that in doing so he is attempting to demonstrate on the one hand that war and its aftermath and injustice are inseparable and always have been and on the other hand that because of this the Vietnam war and its product is no more or less noble than any of the 'heroic' wars of legend. I'd rather not argue that point, expecially in the context of a memoir of one man's single year of experience of the Vietnam War. What I would argue is that O'Brien's attempts at literary flight fall flat, probably because they have the look and feel of a college essay, or mere highfalutin literary contrivance. In my opinion, O'Brien fails to bridge the gap between legend and the miserable year he spent working as a foot soldier and clerk typist in Vietnam. If you would like to experience examples from each of the two archetypes I refered to above try, for great observational skill the book by Tobias Wolff on his experience in Vietnam titled 'In Pharoah's Army,' and for great storytelling Phillip Caputo's book 'A Rumor of War.' You'll love them both, I'm sure. As for this one, I would only recommend it to fans of puerile sentimentality (altho' who could expect more from a 21 year old?), and those who, like myself, want to expose themselves to just about everything out there on the subject that shows literary promise. In the final analysis, this book promises much but delivers unevenly.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
catalina
While I almost never quit on a book this one never had me interested and lost me at the halfway point. There are dozens of captivating Viet Nam combat histories that are more descriptive of what these soldiers and Marines endured during their 12 month tours. Read the LRRP books and you will be drawn into their patrols.
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