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Delvin DinkinsProfessor Gallagher16 October 2017American in the 1960s Inconsistent views of Morality Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried catalogues American soldiers’ experiences during and after the controversial war. O’Brien’s desire to retell his wartime stories through fiction is typical. The ethical vagueness and unsettled fights that  marked American presence in Vietnam have made that war a constant topic in American culture and history. Because America’s reputation was fractured by its involvement in Vietnam, Vietnam has been one of America’s wounds that never healed.  In O’Brien’s case, the nagging guilt of the Vietnam War is closely connected to his memoirs, which serve as a way for him to erase his own guilt.  Soldiers are confronted with a new set of ethics that they are unaccustomed to. The normalization of the war’s atrocities  results in American soldiers having distorted view of morality– particularly as the war’s purpose increasingly becomes ambiguous. The soldiers gradually realize that military code of conduct is far more complicated than the civilian code of conduct. Killing,while universally immoral in civilian society, is commonplace in Vietnam. As a result, soldiers fighting are forced to rationalize killing as a necessary evil in defending their country. In order to reevaluate the ethicality of wartime violence, wartime morality must be reconciled to create a standard for honorable military service; violence must be condoned for soldiers to feel pleasure fulfilling their duty. However, this reconciliation is complicated by the soldiers’ pleasure in violence and death. This conflict of home front morality and wartime morality as manifested through pleasure has yet to be addressed in war literature or ethics criticism in the discussion of The Things They Carried.In O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, the concept of morality is complicated by the treatment of violence and a connection between violence and pleasure; resultantly, morality must be defined on a spectrum rather than a binary scale. Although the battlefield requires an adjusted moral system, counterculture’s condemnation of all violence prevents reconciliation between the military and civilian understandings of morality. On the home front, many began to question whether military service was a moral duty, leading to inquiry as to whether killing as encompassed in military service is ethical. As a result, whether military men should receive the “ethical pardon” addressed by Ryan is also put in a doubtful light (11). If military service is not ethical, violence and killing performed to fulfill the soldiers’ duty is immoral and condemnable. This cultural philosophy would condemn Cross’s renewed commitment to his soldiers and his role as a military leader because this becomes synonymous with a renewed commitment to kill the enemy (23). In order to reconcile their military duty and the anti-military sentiments growing back home, the soldiers of the Vietnam War are pushed to construct a new moral code independent of military ethics established in previous wars. In previous conflicts, wartime violence was condoned by the civilian public, and soldiers were able to depend wholly on the “ethical pardon” granted in times of conflict (Ryan 11). However, the public’s condemnation of all violence during the Vietnam War requires soldiers to establish a system to justify the violence war requires. Because military morality is no longer justified by its context within the civilian moral code due to counterculture during the Vietnam War, a wartime moral code must be established. American culture’s rejection of the military moral system requires the soldiers to set new standards for acceptable and unacceptable behavior.Contrary to the binary logic that good deeds result in good karma while bad deeds result in bad karma, deeds that would typically be considered bad by civilian standards, are justified by soldiers. For example, if an American soldier killed a Vietnamese soldier, he could mentally justify killing soldier by claiming  he was protecting his country and his safety. This was especially true given that annihilation of the enemy at all costs is the goal of most wars. Trained to feel prideful in working towards this goal, the soldiers grew numb to all of the killing in Vietnam. In The Things They Carried, Mitchel Sanders smirks when he mutilates that dead body of a Vietnamese soldier. Because violence helps further their goal, soldiers eventual grow numb to it. Rather than being innately disturbing, violence becomes trivial and stress relieving for American soldiers..As a result of the battlefield being so far removed from the logical, carefully crafted justice system of regular American society society, the infantry uses the justice system that they are most comfortable with: unwavered killing.The soldiers are forced to construct a new ethical system accommodating of the violence now required of them. Subsequently, the definition of moral behavior changes from a system of set behavioral expectations, which consistently condemn violence, to the least harmful way of resolving a conflict, allowing violence in specific contexts. By this definition, a war can be moral if it is the best and least destructive way to resolve a conflict or eradicate a greater immorality. Furthermore, a war can be immoral if there was a less destructive way to resolve the conflict addressed by the war. O’Brien and the other soldiers struggle to accept that war can be moral because the violent acts required of its participants are massive immoralities according to civilian moral standards. O’Brien writes, “A true war story is never moral,” pushing the question of whether any immorality can be eclipsed by good intentions (65). However, the soldiers still strive to rectify perceived wrongs, indicating that they believe there can be morality and goodness despite immorality. Their actions support the assertion that war does have a moral code, even though it must be reconstructed. Edward E. Waldron claims that a moral system “might have its own codes of acceptable behavior, often at odds with the larger value system,” indicating that a morality established for a specific environment can stand in opposition to the morality of another environment (170). Because civilian immorality is the only path to fulfilling their duty, the standard for moral behavior as set by their modified moral system is not defined as clearly as it is by civilian morality. In war, violence is a means to an end: the end of the war and the end of a greater immorality than that committed by the soldiers. Although it contradicts civilian immorality, wartime morality does involve stipulations of right and wrong. As war requires a new system of morality in order to justify violence as a vehicle to peace, a new standard for immorality must be established. Even though some acts of violence are acceptable according to wartime morality, not all violence is acceptable. Morality cannot exist without immorality; therefore, a code must distinguish moral violence from immoral violence. Civilian morality can easily label all acts of violence as immoral, but war zone morality does not allow for easy judgment. Although all violence is destructive and harmful, 6 Criterion in war, the benefits and long term rewards of some violence outweigh the short term damage. Consequently, in place of a right and a wrong, there are two wrongs and the soldiers must choose the less offensive option. Tim O’Brien must choose between killing other men and refusing his duty (40). Mitchell Sanders must choose between offending a comrade and accepting a dead man’s thumb (13). “There is no ‘right’ answer” because neither choice is ethical (Wharton). However, despite the lack of clarity between right and wrong, a distinct wrong must be established in order for a definite right to exist. By the new definition of morality, immorality must be unreasonably destructive and without a purpose. Such is Rat Kiley’s unprovoked killing of the baby water buffalo. “‘Garden of Evil. Over here, man, every sin’s real fresh and original,'” remarks Mitchell Sanders, condemning Kiley’s act (76). Just as new standards for acceptable behavior are being established, so are standards for unacceptable behavior. Because the soldiers’ modified morality establishes a new right, it also establishes a new wrong. Because violence in unavoidable in the warzone, a violent act’s moral justification is measured by the act’s positive repercussions. Mirroring the spectrum-nature of combat morality, there is a spectrum of violence in order to establish “wrong” in wartime, but in place of “right” and “wrong,” as bookends the morality scale, the violence spectrum is marked with “beneficial” and “destructive”. However, application of this new system is uncertain because it results in a faint line between acceptable and unacceptable violence. When Azar ties another soldier’s adopted puppy to an antipersonnel mine and blows it up, he responds to the other soldiers’ disapproval, exclaiming, “‘What’s everybody so upset about?'” implying that he doesn’t understand why his action is wrong, as their role as soldiers constantly mandates similar violence (35). Because the soldiers spend their time and supplies killing the enemy, the death of a dog seems inconsequential. The situation is similar to Kiley and the baby water buffalo, but Azar expresses confusion over the ethicality of his behavior, because although killing the puppy brings him pleasure, the other soldiers judge this violent act as unethical. The soldiers question the acceptability of Azar’s act because their ethical pardon as defined by Cheney Ryan only extends to inflicting violence on the enemy. The puppy is not the enemy and therefore the soldiers do not benefit from its death; consequently, Azar’s act is unethical. However, since he is younger than most of the other men, the soldiers assume that Azar has not yet made the distinction between violence against the enemy and violence in general, so the soldiers do not condemn Azar like 7 Winter 2016 they do Kiley. The soldiers’ most significant conflict is distinguishing between moral violence and immoral violence, when both are immoral within civilian society. Ultimately, the deciding factor is feeling and personal understanding. Bertrand Russell articulated this difficulty: “The fundamental facts in this as in all ethical questions are feelings” (127). Azar was not outwardly condemned by the soldiers because he didn’t understand the difference between moral and immoral violence. Although soldiers can construct a modified morality, the ability to discern between the moral and immoral varies by the individual’s understanding of the spectrum of violence in conjunction with the spectrum of wartime morality. Consequently, soldiers experience moral disorientation as they seek to serve honorably, but they cannot establish an overarching morality system for the entire group. Nevertheless, the implication of a sliding scale against which violence can be judged designates that war can be moral if its violent acts benefit the majority; accordingly, should the harm caused by war outweigh its positive consequences, it is an immoral war. Pleasure is dependent on context because it is partially stimulated by predictability, “repetition and sameness”; for this reason, violence can stimulate pleasure if it is a consistent element within a specific environment (Dale 257). Subsequently, displeasure results when violence is removed. This complicates the soldiers’ adjustment back to civilian life, as they are immediately unable to feel pleasure once they return home. Removal of a moral system in place of another will result in displeasure because of the lost “repetition and sameness” and resulting moral disorientation (Dale 257). The trauma of the harsh transition back to civilian life accentuates this moral turbulence the soldiers continue to experience causing further disorientation. Returning to a world they cannot understand and that cannot understand them creates a conflict the soldiers are unprepared to face. Soldiers are experienced in resolving issues through violence, but, in the civilian world, their method of conflict resolution is not condonable, further contributing to the loss of control they experience upon returning home. Because their worldview has been altered by the moral disassociation and horrors of war, they struggle readapting to a civilian worldview based in a black-and-white morality. The veterans can no longer accept this system as they understand that violence can have beneficial consequences. In a community that eschews the moral system that provides structure in the war zone, the

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