Army Strong

As I have been reading The Things They Carried, I have also been thinking back to a past class where we discussed military recruitment ads. Every story O’Brien tells about men failing under the pressure of war, I think about what the military advertises a soldier as. An example is this Army ad , that we had watched in class.

The Army recruitment ad is telling people, mostly kids, that by becoming a soldier you will be a better, stronger person. The ad says, “There’s Strong. And then there’s Army strong” appealing to the egos and pride of people, especially men.

Next I looked at a Marine recruitment ad, Marines . Their message was an even stronger appeal to the ego, “There are those who dedicate themselves to a sense of honor, to a life of courage and a commitment to something greater than yourself.” It astounds me, because these promises are being made, but they are overestimating the ability of the human mind to handle certain situations.

An example of one of these situations from The Things They Carried is,

“After the chopper took Lavender away, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross led his men to the village of Than Khe. They burned everything. They shot chickens and dogs, they trashed the village well, and they called in artillery and watched the wreckage” (O’Brien 16).

The men in The Things They Carried were drafted, which makes it somewhat of a different matter, many of them were not there willingly. But, the U.S. military has always functioned to make people believe being a soldier and fighting in a war was a noble, honorable, and brave act. They will make people better versions of themselves, but how can a few months of boot camp make a normal person capable of enduring the act of war?

“A true war sory is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done” (O’Brien 68).


Tim O’Brien The Things They Carried.

Army ad

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 1:02 pm  Comments (8)  

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  1. I enjoyed reading this point and there is just a couple of things I would like to say. I agree completely that these military recruitment ads do challenge a person’s sense of inner and outer strength. The thing about the person signing up is they are already there for other reasons than them seeing a cool commercial. In times like this the military always grows larger due to bad economy. It is just a proven fact that a bad economic system is good for the military. The military has guaranteed money every month with no way to get laid off really. When thinking about signing up these ads come into play just as a way to get you to go into the army instead of the Marines, or vice versa. So they seem to me to be a tool used against another branch to try and make their quota for how many they need that month. You did bring up an interesting situation though. But looking at is from a point of view from someone that has been in the Marines, most people do not sign up because they want to be the best or the strongest. It comes down to family tradition, economy, or even boredom.

  2. Great post, Jesse; I especially paused when I read the quotation that you use here:
    “There are those who dedicate themselves to a sense of honor, to a life of courage and a commitment to something greater than yourself.”
    I want to take this sentence literally; how could anybody do something ‘greater than him (or herself)?’ Indeed, the military is expecting soldiers to do something ‘greater than themselves’ (things that they can not do), and especially with very limited experience/knowledge (a few weeks of training); and I perfectly agree with you, and particularly when you say:
    “Appealing to the egos and pride of people, especially men.”
    In other words, men—many men are joining the military because they want to be strong and dislike to be looked upon as ‘weak.’ One big problem the government does not give any attention to is: this is actually a way that is encouraging the ‘weak’ (‘only the weak’) to join the military, and thus, forming a military whose personnel are primarily individuals who feel (or looked upon as) weak in their hearts. In fact, such may be weakening the military, and thus, causing many soldiers to get killed, wounded, (and disabled sometimes), and it is all based on deception: on misleading the youth; which have severely negative consequences on the American society in general, not only because of the severe physical, emotional and mental damage that it is causing to the youth, but also because the military is deceiving and misleading people, which would eventually make it lose every bit of credibility that it once had.

  3. The ads run by the U.S. armed forces certainly do paint a wonderful picture of service and fortitude, but I too am not certain that the video departments alone are affective enough to pull people into service. I, myself, can admit that coming out of high school, I thought about joining the armed forces. I’ve had family members in every major conflict that the United States has ever been in, and far be it for me to break the tradition. I did just that though, I decided to go to college and forgo the opportunity to meet with good old Uncle Sam. I would have to agree with the first comment posted though, in that the decision to join the service is probably one made before the ads ever hit home. I suppose that if it ever comes down to another draft, I’ll step up to bat and play ball, but until that day I’ll step back and live life in the civilian sectors.

  4. This post is so great. I’m really glad you connected the army and military adds from the beginning of the class to the mindset of O’Brian and his compatriots. It is very true to note that these adds make very strong promises about what a young man (or woman) can accomplish simply by joining the military. I like the you point out the pressure such adds place on young men especially to live up to their slotted gender roles, rather than high lighting the people they could help or the careers the military could lead too, adds such as these rely heavily on the prevalent idea of what constitutes masculinity and encourages men to become ‘real men’. I don’t believe that this pressure is any different for drafted soldiers. The military is very tough on recruits and the training process is extremely rigorous. There is still much pressure placed on O’Brian and his fellows to be ‘real men’ as shown in O’Brian’s concerns about what people would think of him if he didn’t join the army. There was his fear of others not believing him manly enough, and the shame he felt would follow him for the rest of his life he did not join the army even if it wasn’t what he believed in. In the end O’Brian only stops himself from going to Canada because of the social pressure he feels, and I believe that modern military adds rely on similar social expectations to encourage new soldiers to join their ranks.

  5. It is interesting when comparing recruitment ads to The Things They Carried. The atmosphere during Vietnam was so much different due in part to the ambiguity of the war and to the draft. O’Brien was not one to ever consider fighting in the war and did not consider himself a good candidate. Though the draft paid no attention to this, and he was forced to go anyway. Forced to do something that he had no support for what so ever. So he went, and called himself a coward. He felt no feelings of honor or braveness as the advertisements say. I find the issue of the draft to be major in this discussion. Yes the current ads may seem to untruthful but for someone who does has the inclination to go to war these virtues could be or become a reality. I think this is different from someone who is forced. And I do not believe that any number of weeks spent at boot camp could ever prepare them for war.

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