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Tim O’Brien’s fictionalized account of his time fighting in Vietnam first hit shelves 20 years ago, and high school honors students have been reading it for almost as long. But you have to wonder, two wars after its publication, if the boys and girls we grow into soldiers ever cracked a copy of The Things They Carried—if, for instance, they ever read about how Rat Kiley the medic “would stare at guys who were still okay, the alive guys, and start to picture how they’d look dead,” or how the jovial Kurt Lemon “took a peculiar half step, moving from shade into bright sunlight,” and onto a landmine that decimated his body and blew the parts into the upper reaches of a tree. In short, you have to wonder if we were fairly warned about the PTSD, or the high unemployment rates (21 percent for vets of Afghanistan and Iraq). Tim O’Brien would likely say yes.
O’BRIEN READS AT 7 P.M. AT POLITICS AND PROSE, 5015 CONNECTICUT AVE. NW. FREE. (202) 364-1919.