Notes and Quotes – If I Die in a Combat Zone (1973), Tim O’Brien

– Notes and Quotes –


Tim O’Brien (1946-present)

If I Die in a Combat Zone (1973)


“‘Snipers yesterday, snipers today. What’s the difference?’” (1)

“‘Not me, sir. I been shot at too much today, no more luck left in me,’ Chip said.” (5)

“. . . some men think the war is proper and others don’t and most don’t care. Is that the stuff for a morality lesson, even for a theme?” (23)

Starlight scope (28)

Ezra Pound: pro patria, non dulce, non est décor (36)

“Tempers flare, ebb into despair.” (38)

“His tiny head goes rigid. His hands fidget.” (38)

“‘If I die in a combat zone . . .” (41)

“ag-ile, mo-bile, hos-tile” (43)

“Socrates, it has been told, was a brave soldier.” (44)

“Smiling and saying no sir, my real problem is one of conscience and philosophy and intellect and emotion and fear and physical hurt and a desire to live chastened by a desire to be good, and also, underneath, a desire to prove myself a hero, I explained, in the broadest terms, what troubled me.” (53)

“‘Hell, do you think he sat in his monastery and thought it all out? He believed.’
‘Is that supposed to be an analogy?’ I asked. ‘Is Vietnam another Christian crusade?’” (56)

“Maybe the hippies are right, maybe no war is really fought for God.” (56)

“That’s the problem, you gotta knock the military to get a book published.” (59)

“I walked into a sorority house and rang a button.” (63)

“I hid behind a metal shed they kept the beer in.” (71)

“‘you never hear the shot that gets you’” (76)

“He carried a shotgun . . .” (77)

The ear (79)

“He asked if there were questions, but the squad leaders were all experienced, and no one said anything.” (82)

“I remembered a dream . . .” “I was in prison.” (84)

Paros (90)

“I hoped the man was not named Li.” (94)

“Take care. For it is not a fantasy . . .” (101)

Pinkville (112)

“A hand grenade . . .” (114)

“Scraps of our friends were dropped in plastic body bags.” (116)

“‘It’s an absurd combination of certainty and uncertainty . . .” (121)

Step Lightly: Bouncing Betty (ol’ step and a half), M-14 antipersonnel mine (toe-popper), booby-trapped grenade, directional-fragmentation mine, corrosive-action-car-killer

“Some guys are just numb to death.” (131)

“If [Hemingway] was obsessed with the notion of courage, that was a fault.” (134)

“‘Shit, man, the trick of being in the Nam is gettin’ out of the Nam.’” (135)

Death was taboo. Fear was taboo. (136)

“So, when the time in my life came to replace fictional heroes with real ones, the candidates were sparse, and it was to be the captain or no one.” (138)

“Troy was besieged for the sake of a pretty woman.” (139)
“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.” (140)

“Grace under pressure is not courage.
Or the other cliché: a coward dies a thousand deaths but a brave man only once.” (141)

Lagoon: “Certain blood for uncertain reasons. No lagoon monster ever terrorized like this.” (161)

“The best route to a rear job, the only reliable way, is to bury your nose gently up an officer’s ass.” (165)

“Horace’s old do-or-die aphorism–‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’– was just an epithet for the insane.” (168)

“The Chieu Hoi said: ‘You are here for only one year. I’ve been in war for many billion years. Many billion years to go.’” (180)

“‘Guts,’ he would mutter. ‘This army really needs guts. GI Joe’s turned into a pansy. O’Brien, you show me a soldier with guts, and you can have this job.’” (183-4)
“‘You got guts, O’Brien, shit, I knew it anyhow.’” (194)
“‘All it takes is guts–right, O’Brien?’” (195)

“It’s impossible to go home barefoot.” (199)



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