How to Tell a True War Story

In Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story”  he highlights the idea that it’s not the accuracy of a story that’s important, but rather the point behind the tale. In his stories he returns several times to one soldier – Lemon – stepping on a landmine , each time seeing it a different way and pulling a different point from it each time. in one version he mentions it only in passing, talking rather about his friend, Rat, writing to his sister to let her know that he was dead. In the letter the truth becomes embellished because – being the author – Rat has the power to paint the picture however he chooses. but it’s not about Rat embellishing on the feats of his friend, but rather that the details are irrelevant to the message of a story. In another story,  six men go up into the mountains to listen for enemy movement, once they’re in position they start to hear impossible things: “[…]this crazyass gook concert”(348) and “music and chitchat […]” (349),  they call in an airstrike and head back to camp. When they’re questioned about what they heard, they refuse to talk because “[…] a true war story can’t be believed” (348). The point that O’Brien makes is that in a true war story details get jumbled, places change, but the point of a war story will stay the same. Almost all of his stories and narratives hold to the common idea that a “true war story” is not about where something happened or how it happened. It’s about remembering the friends and people you served with. A war story isn’t about war. “[…]It’s a love story. A ghost story”(354). O’Brien uses the interweaving idea of “truth” to show how in war “truth” is not so important as the point behind it.


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