According to the experiences narrated by Tim O’Brien in the book, it is more likely that he lost more than he gained. To start with, O’Brien takes time to analyze the death of his friend and fellow soldier Kiowa (O’Brien 1). Naturally, death is a sign of loss of the beloved one, and from the description he gives about his friend, it is apparent that he had a close attachment with Kiowa. He explains that Kiowa, a Native American, was a soft spoken soldier with whom O’Brien made a strong connection. He takes the death of Kiowa as the gist in most of his stories, including ‘Speaking of Courage’, ‘Field Trip, ‘In the Field’, and ‘Notes.’ All these stories do not hide the perception of the writer that the war was so wasteful.
In the story ‘Spin’, O’Brien expresses his inability to adjust to the present after the war. He is faced with post-war-traumatic-disorder flashbacks, in which he makes the experiences of the war his life (O’Brien 31). Even his own little daughter Kathleen is unable to bring him back to his senses and influence him to stop. This makes him unable to fully adjust to the post-war time as he keeps on living in the past. He is accustomed to abrupt occurrences, unlike in the normal world where things have to go with a particular order. He says that, "Well, you'd think, this isn't so bad. And right then you'd hear gunfire behind you…" (O’Brien 34).This shows that somehow he is accustomed to the spontaneous nature of the occurrences of the war. Clearly, this makes him unable to live a normal life as a retired soldier.
‘On the Rainy River’ illustrates that O’Brien was very reluctant to be drafted into the military. According to the story, he felt as if his academic qualifications were too superior for the service in the military (O’Brien 37). Indeed, they were. According to the author, he could probably have used both time and energy spent at war to pursue his dreams and further his studies. This would have probably put him in a more promising career. No wonder that in the summer of the same period he contemplates moving to Canada to avoid the drafting. He, however, risks losing respect. The moral values that he has also do not allow him to do such an unpatriotic act. He lives with an elderly friend Elroy pondering on his decision. He explains that he "felt something break open in [his] chest…a physical rupture — a cracking-leaking-popping feeling." The decisions made at this point are, however, greatly influenced by fear, nervousness and the fear of being arrested by the US authorities (O’Brien 42). If the writer showed some gain in the experience, he would not have felt like the war was wasting his time and opportunities.
In the story ‘How to Tell a True War Story,’ the author loses another friend and a colleague. The cause of death was a game of catching grenades. The war had influenced the soldiers to associate themselves with violent weapons, giving them less recreational activity. Naturally, it is essential for any person to be allocated recreational time and facilities (O’Brien 65). However, this is the one thing that was not provided in the war camps. This might have been the probable reason why the soldiers resolved to grenades in the forest. The story also explains O’Brien’s disappointment when Lemon failed to reply the letter he sent informing him of his brother’s death (67). This shows that the war creates a social boundary between the soldiers and their families back home.
In conclusion, O’Brien focuses mostly on the demerits of the war to his life than the gains. This shows that the war had little positive impact on him but rather pulled him backwards socially and academically. No wonder that in the first place he was unwilling to join forces and was even very close to escape to Canada to avoid the draft. To him, most of the war events are meaningless and unwarranted.