Generally, when we think of soldiers in a war story, we think of dead serious men covered in sweat and dirt. We also think of them having secret plans and different formations when attacking. They always have it under control and they are all patriotic heroes.
The Things They Carried and Three Kings suggest otherwise. In both The Things They Carried and Three Kings, the soldiers joke around with each other, even in horrible situations. In the book, O'Brien explains that the soldiers were anything but serious, even when a friend was injured or killed. This was a way that the soldiers coped with their hard, depressing lives. O'Brien described it as "stage presence." (20) The soldiers would put on an act (their joking around) to hide their deep and true feelings.
Soldiers are thought of having a plan and being in control. In The Things They Carried, O'Brien's platoon would walk and walk without a real destination. As they passed towns, they would burn them to the ground, just for something to do.
They searched the villages without knowing what to look for, not caring...setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village. (15)
Despite the soldiers we see in movies, according to O'Brien, soldiers are not in control all the time. After the war, Norman Bowker killed himself because he was not in control. He was haunted by the terror of war. Many soldiers in the book were haunted by the violence that occurs in war.
We think of soldiers as being extremely patriotic. In the recording we listened to in class, the man who died in war and received a medal seemed very patriotic because he sacrificed himself for his country. In The Things They Carried, "I was drafted for a war I hated...the American war in Vietnam seemed to me wrong." (40) Since O'Brien was against the war, he initially had no patriotism to his country. He was fighting the war because he was forced to and he didn't want to die for his country.