Tim O’Brien on Anti-War Writing: ‘Sentences Don’t Do Shit.’


Tim O’Brien has what he calls a lesson in outrage for his two teenage sons. “If you support a war, go for it; put your blood where your belligerence is, unless of course, you don’t mind the word hypocrite,” says the author of the wildly acclaimed Vietnam War novel The Things They Carried, who is the subject of The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien, a documentary currently available on video-on-demand.

“Dead bodies are heavy, and awkward to carry,” says O’Brien in the film, and “the smell of death can be unpleasant. This death smell will one day be pumped into the nostrils of those who support wars.”

This kind of brutal messaging is no surprise from O’Brien, who has been a noted anti-war proselytizer—or maybe the correct term is anti-stupid-war advocate—since he returned from Vietnam in 1970. His two most famous books, Carried and Going After Cacciato, are harrowing, sometimes surreal looks at a conflict that influenced, and damaged, a whole generation of Americans. Yet despite the critical acclaim these and other works have received, O’Brien, who says he felt he became a writer so he could strike back against war with sentences, acknowledges in the documentary that “sentences don’t do shit.”



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