Ellen Herman

Department of History, University of Oregon


Reading and Discussion Questions
Tim O'Brien, If I Die in a Combat Zone Box Me Up and Ship Me Home

pages 1-100

1. In Chapter 1, how does Tim O’Brien characterize his daily life in Vietnam?

2. How does O’Brien describe his childhood?

3. How does O’Brien feel about the war in Vietnam? Is it a just war? A necessary one?

3. How does he deal with being drafted? What choices does he have? How does he wind up going to Vietnam instead of doing something else? What about his college friends? What kinds of options do they have?

4. On pages 22-23, O’Brien discusses what forms his book might take. What does he ultimately see as his purpose?

5. How does he feel about the other trainees at basic training?

6. On page 45, O’Brien suggests that “There is no thing named love in the world. Women are dinks. Women are villains. They are creatures akin to Communists and yellow-skinned people and hippies.” What is the context for that statement? What does he mean?

7. What do you make of the incident on pages 47-49? Why do O’Brien and Erik wonder if Blyton was really the victor?

8. What is AIT? How is it different from basic training?

9. On pages 56-57, O’Brien explains to the chaplain why he doesn’t want to go to war in Vietnam. What does he say? How does the chaplain respond?

10 On pages 59-60, O’Brien and the chaplain argue about communism and whether or not it is so important for the U.S. to prevent communist rule in foreign countries. What are their positions?

11. How is O’Brien planning to escape going to Vietnam? What happens to his plan?

12. What do you think about the incident, on pages 83-84, with Mad Mark and the dead soldier’s ear? Why did he take it?

13. What kinds of things does O’Brien want to do when he gets out of Vietnam?

14. On pages 95-96, O’Brien recalls a conversation he had in Prague with a North Vietnamese student. What do they talk about? What are their views about U.S. involvement in Vietnam?

pages 100-209

15. In Chapter 11, O’Brien describes moving by helicopter to Pinkville, where his unit is attacked. He explains that “simply surviving the assault was blessing enough, something of a mandate for aggressiveness.” What does he mean by that?

16. What do you make of the incident on pages 112-114? How do the men react to the death of the Vietnamese woman?

17. On page 127, after listing the kinds of mines that can injure or kill soldiers with no warning, O’Brien explains: “that is how we talked about them, with a funny laugh, flippantly, with a chuckle. It is funny. It’s absurd.” Why do you think they did that?

18. How does O’Brien define courage? What about heroism? How do these definitions apply to the war in Vietnam?

19. How does O’Brien describe his July in Vietnam?

20. On page 169, O’Brien’s friend, Erik, writes that “if we gain anything from this unsought experience it will be an appreciation for honesty—frankness on the part of our politicans, our friends, our loves, ourselves.” What do you make of this statement? What does he mean?

21. How does O’Brien get out of combat? How does he describe his new job?

22. How does Major Callicles react to the press coverage of the My Lai massacre?

23. How does O’Brien describe leaving Vietnam?