Throughout Tim O'Brien's short work "How to tell a true war story" O'Brien has two reoccurring themes. One is of the desensitization of the troops during their hardship regarding the events of the Vietnam War, and the other is of the concept of truth. Truth may seem simple enough to explain, but is in fact endowed with many layers. The story is chalked full of contradictions, as well as lies, and embellishments, and yet O'Brien claims that these are the truth. The truth, whether it be war or society's, is in fact a concept that can be conveyed many times and in many ways. Whereas each is independently untrue, the combined collaboration of these half-truths is in essence the only real truth.
People in such intense situations, such as war, often have to emotionally shut themselves down in order to not let the effects of their actions hinder their duties. They create a stronger bond with their fellow troops and weaker regarding all other form of life. "Kiowa and Mitchell Sanders picked up the baby buffalo. They hauled it across the open square, hoisted it up, and dumped it in the village well."(681) They are disregarding the effects that it may have on the local people that must drink from this well as one of their main staples of life. It is desensitization like thus demonstrated that may cause those telling a war story, from experience, to embellish parts to evoke the intended feeling. After all that is the point of a story, to stir up a feeling, or to teach a moral.
But in truth a true war story will stir great feelings, but may not contain a moral at all. In fact, a true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done. If a story seems moral do not believe it. (676) When a storyteller tells their story, they must feel it as well to make it a good story.
Since the morale and the emotional tolerance of the troops has been pushed to cope with unbearable times, they may have to insert more facts that are completely false, so that not only does the listener feel, but the story teller feels as well. "All you can do is tell it one more time, patiently, adding and subtracting, making up a few things to get at the real truth," (684) or feeling. So in essence, this embellished half-truth of a story is as true as the facts from a history book bringing us one step closer to the ultimate truth.
The personal witnessing of events is a critical point of view in telling a true story. It may not be the entire truth, but it is the truth, as it seemed to the individual. The ideas get mixed up; you tend to miss a lot. And then afterward, when you go to tell about it, there is always that surreal feeling of what seemed to happen, which makes the story seem untrue. But in fact represents the truth exactly how it seemed. (677) Such as is the case of Curt Lemon's death. Rat Kiley was having a good time, laughing...