Tim O’Brien on If I Die in a Combat Zone | Tantorious

Tantorious is a semi-monthly podcast series featuring interviews with well-known authors, hosted by Allan Hoving and presented by Tantor Audio.

Tim O’Brien received the 1979 National Book Award in fiction for Going After Cacciato. His other works include the acclaimed novels The Things They Carried; July, July; and In the Lake of the Woods. Written before Going After Cacciato, If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home is an intensely personal account of O’Brien’s year as a foot soldier in Vietnam.

Excerpts from the audio interview:

Q: It’s been 40 years since this book was first published. Why is it still relevant today?

A: Writing from my foxhole as a young man who had opposed the war, it seemed to me that the best you could say about Vietnam was that certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons. … And it strikes me that 40 years later, the wars we have now are very similar. In both cases, you can’t find the enemy but he can find you. And as a consequence you come home not with a sense of pride and sacrifice; it’s much more ambiguous and confusing.

Q: Are things any different for vets returning home today?

A: Yes. One of the responses to Vietnam has been that Americans now realize that the soldiers themselves aren’t to blame for what has gone wrong with these military adventures. And there’s a forgiveness now toward the soldier that I didn’t experience. … Another difference is that I was a draftee and our present army is all volunteers. As a result, the wolf is not at the door for most Americans. It’s a lot easier to be bellicose when there’s no personal stake in it.

Listen to a sample of the Tantor audiobook edition of If I Die in a Combat Zone, narrated by Dan John Miller.

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