Fighting a Mental War
War is a peculiar thing; it torments soldiers physically but even more so mentally. When people think of war, they think of the battles and the physical aspects. What they do not realize is that there is a whole other side to war. People do not realize what a war can do to a person. Some soldiers become so accustomed to the war life that they cannot adjust back into life at home. Even if the soldiers are able to adjust, their memories about the war still haunt them. In his short stories, O'Brien writes about the experiences of soldiers in the Vietnam War. In "The Ghost Soldiers," "Night Life," and "The Things They Carried," Tim O'Brien writes about the Vietnam War to show that the soldiers fought a mental war, not a physical battle.
In "The Ghost Soldiers," O'Brien (the character) blames the new medic, Bobby Jorgenson, for his physical state.
No, I botched it. Period. Got all froze up, I guess. The noise and shooting and everything-my first firefight-I just couldn't handle it ... When I heard about the shock, the gangrene, I felt like ... I felt miserable. Nightmares too. I kept seeing you lying out there, heard you screaming, but it was like my legs were filled up with sand, they didn't work. I'd keep trying but I couldn't make my goddamn legs work. (O'Brien 199)
Since Jorgenson was new to the platoon, he was inexperienced and did not know what to expect in a fight. This inexperience almost cost O'Brien his life. Jorgenson was scared and lost mentally, and his mind immediately shut down at the first sign of danger. He was mentally incapable of fighting.
Throughout the story, O'Brien could not bring himself to forgive Jorgenson. "I wanted to hurt Bobby Jorgenson the way he'd hurt me. For weeks it had been a vow-I'll get him, I'll get him-it was down inside me like a rock. Granted, I didn't hate him anymore, and I'd lost some of the outrage and passion, but the need for revenge kept eating at me" (O'Brien "The Ghost Soldiers" 200). He finally got his revenge at the end of the story when he plays a mental trick on Jorgenson. "For the soldiers that the government sent there …who was the enemy, what were the issues, and how the war was to be won were quickly overshadowed by a world of uncertainty. Ultimately, trying to stay alive long enough to return home in one piece was the only thing that made any sense to them" (Kaplan 230). O'Brien used this "uncertainty" to play with Jorgenson's mind while out on guard duty. O'Brien and his friend Azar followed Jorgenson out to his post at night and began making noises with canteens to spook him. They used the night to blend in with the shadows to enhance the effect on Jorgenson's mind. Jorgenson did not know whether what was happening was real or if it was a figment of his imagination.
In "Night Life," O'Brien (the author) talks about what happened at night in Vietnam. He explains that,
You'd shake your head and blink, except you couldn't even tell you were...