Notes and Quotes – “How to Tell a True War Story”, Tim O’Brien


Notes – “How to Tell a True War Story”:

Beautifully, the writer explains his perception of the craft. How can any civilian ever begin to imagine what war is actually like, and especially what a true war story could possibly mean without ever having gone through the experience first-hand? The war story reflects the time and events . . . but a true war story reflects the ugliness of the time and events . . . The moral becomes clear. Nobody listens. Nobody listens to the environment, to each other, or to the narrator of the story, but everybody expects they “get it,” or should “get it” without any real expenditure of effort.

Quotes – How to Tell a True War Story:

“As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.” (65-6)

“In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way. The angles of vision are skewed.” (67-8)

“In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.” (68)

“You can tell a true war story by the way it never seems to end.” (72)

“‘Just came to me,’ he whispered. ‘The moral, I mean. Nobody listens.’” . . . . “The vapors, man. Trees and rocks – you got to listen to your enemy.’” (73)

“‘Hear that quiet, man?’ he said. ‘That quiet – just listen. There’s your moral.’” (74)

“Mitchell Sanders took out his yo-yo. ‘Well, that’s Nam,’ he said. ‘Garden of Evil. Over here, man, every sin’s real fresh and original.’” (76)

“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.” (76)

“But what wakes me up twenty years later is Dave Jensen singing ‘Lemon Tree’ as we threw down the parts.” (79)

“Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet / But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.”

Peter, Paul and MaryLemon Tree (YouTube)

“It wasn’t a war story. It was a love story.” (81)

“And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It’s about . . .” (81)


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