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The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Primary Source Set

The Things They Carried is a critically-acclaimed literary exploration of soldiers’ experiences in the Vietnam War, which was one of the longest and most divisive conflicts in American history. Starting in the 1960s, the United States formed an alliance with South Vietnam to fight communist takeover by North Vietnam and its allies, the Viet Cong. This alliance escalated to a ground war that lasted a full decade, from the first major deployment of US troops to Vietnam in 1965 to US evacuation of Saigon in 1975. The US spent billions of dollars and suffered 58,000 casualties in an increasingly unpopular and unsuccessful attempt to achieve its goals. Based on author Tim O’Brien’s experiences, The Things They Carried was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award. Several sections were printed in Esquire magazine and The Best American Short Stories before the book’s publication in 1990. The Things They Carried helps readers understand both what the war was like and the ambivalence Americans felt. It combines humor and horror, fact and fiction, and irony in order to portray American soldiers with compassion.

Additional resources for research

  1. Activism in the US: Anti-War Activism, Digital Public Library of America.

  2. Collection of Vietnam-related videos, WGBH, Digital Public Library of America.

  3. Teaching With Documents: The War in Vietnam - A Story in Photographs, the National Archives and Records Administration.

  4. Battlefield: Vietnam, PBS.

  5. Windows on Asia: Vietnam, Michigan State University.

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