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Cultural Context of The Things They Carried by Tim OBrien

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O’ Brien uses this stylistic device with the aim not to embellish the language but to escalate the intensity of emotional charge of the piece and present the full picture of the situation the young men found themselves in. By means of listing the things the men carried, the author of the piece addresses the difficulties, both physical and emotional, the soldiers faced during the war in Vietnam. The historical background on the participation of Americans in the Vietnam War, the reasons for such participation, the number of casualties, and consequences of such experience explain the emotional tension of the entire short story. Referred to by Americans as the Vietnam War (the Vietnamese call this period “ The American War” ), the US military intervention to Vietnam took place from 1965 to 1973, which appeared to be the longest war in the history of the United States.

Before the conflict, Vietnam was split into two parts: the pro-communist north and pro-American south, which were divided by a demilitarized zone. Initially, the elections were planned to hold with the aim to find a solution to the problem but they never took place.

This was one of the factors that forced the communists on the north to start a guerrilla war and seize the southern part of Vietnam. With the aim to keep communism from spreading south and prevent the ‘ domino effect’ , the American government made a decision to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight with communists in Vietnam. Overall, the war was a failure for the United States for the enemy was difficult to identify and America lacked public support. Billions and billions of dollars were spent on the military campaign by the USA and, more importantly, a great number of people were killed almost for nothing.

In particular, during the American intervention, about 250,000 of South Vietnamese soldiers and about 60,000 American soldiers were estimated to be killed or lost in action (BBC News). Those American soldiers who were lucky to return home also suffered a lot.

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