John McCain was a navy flier in the Vietnam War. Crashing violently, his Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down near Hanoi in the Western Lake on his 23rd mission. Dazed and desperate, anxious and confused, McCain was unaware that he had fractioned his leg and both arms until some North Vietnamese began stripping him of his clothes. In his first person account, he retells the sequences of his story along with the conditions and treatments while being a Prisoner of War. Speaking passionately, McCain makes it is hard to believe that he experienced everything he did for five and a half years (this, I would like to add is also one of the “requirements” O’Brien explains in writing a true war story: it cannot be believed). Part of McCain’s main point is, “in the transition from the kind of life we lead in America to the filth and dirt and infection, it would be very difficult for a guy to live anyway. In fact, my treatment in the hospital almost killed me.” I find the last sentence very eye catching because even though he was taken to a hospital, it was not any more beneficial than if someone just stayed at home in the U.S. McCain’s experiences are beyond any of mine, so it makes it difficult to fully comprehend what he encountered.
I have always heard of the gruesome environment American prisoners endured abroad during times of war, but reading this primary source allowed me to directly understand their conditions. One presenter at the George Bush Library earlier this year noted that Americans tried to keep nicer conditions for their POW hoping that the favor would be returned to their men. Luckily for McCain, his father was a big admiral and this fact is what finally convinced the Vietnamese to take him to the hospital. Not many people had this advantage, however, and it is disgusting to think of the way they were treated.
McCain also references a time when a man had ejected himself from a plane and had broken his thigh. He went into shocked and died from the blood pool in his leg. Suddenly, McCain realizes he is in a similar position. The death of the man originally surprised McCain and when he realizes he is no different, McCain begins to panic. This paragraph is interesting because just as McCain felt sorry for the man’s death, we feel the same for the many deaths in war. However, McCain could never have predicted that he would have a similar experience. He probably did not fully understand what he man went through until he realized he was going through it too. Similarly to us, it is challenging to feel anything but sympathy for those in the war because we do not have the same experience.
This passage will help be visualize the characters in The Things They Carried. Now I have a better understanding of their experiences and conditions. Even if the characters were not in a prison, the fact that I enriched my mind of the same political stance that O’Brien had when he wrote the book, it allows me to have a better understanding of what O’Brien could have been thinking when he wrote it. This mindset, according to Foster, allows for the reader to have a deeper meaning of the literature they are reading.