Responses to WarAmbushRL 3 Analyze the impact of theauthor’s choices regarding howto develop and relate elementsof a story. RL 5 Analyze howan author’s choices concerninghow to structure specific partsof a text contribute to its overallstructure and meaning, as well asits aesthetic impact.did you know?Tim O’Brien . . . described his ownexperiences fighting inVietnam in the memoirIf I Die in a Combat Zone. wrote stories about afictional character, alsonamed Tim O’Brien, inThe Things They Carried. does not actually have adaughter, as the fictionalTim O’Brien does.Short Story by Tim O’BrienMeet the AuthorTim O’Brienborn 1946Over and over again, Tim O’Brien haspresented characters who are marked bythe Vietnam War. From an infantrymanon his first tour of duty, to a veteranstruggling to readjust to his hometown,to an antiwar radical obsessed with death,his protagonists bring to life the complexissues raised by the war.Opening New Doors O’Brien’s writingcareer began at an early age. One dayhe fled from humiliation in the LittleLeague to the Worthington, Minnesota,library. There he found the book Larryof the Little League, and soothed himselfby writing an imitation of it. Thelibrary’s other books became an escapefrom“loneliness and frustration” and anoutlet for O’Brien’s fertile imagination.O’Brien realized that fiction would lethim experience “what could have been orshould have been.”A Critical Choice As a young man,O’Brien faced another new door. Hereturned from four years at MacalasterCollege, where the Vietnam War wasstudents’ minds, to findon studentsa draft notice waiting forhim. O’Brien, whoopposed the war,struggled mightilywith his conscienceand even considered fleeing the countryto avoid service. In the end, he couldnot bring himself to run, and he reportedfor duty.What Can You Teach? O’Brien was anarmy infantryman from 1968 to 1970,seeing combat in Vietnam’s Quang Naiprovince and receiving a Purple Heart.After the war, he studied at HarvardUniversity, worked as a reporter for theWashington Post, and began writing novels.He asked himself, “What can you teachpeople, just for having been in a war?” Heconcluded that he could offer insight intothe “complexity and ambiguity of a set ofmoral issues—but without preaching amoral lesson.” O’Brien’s nine books haveall been connected to Vietnam and havevividly explored “its aftermath and effecton the human heart and mind.”Higher Ambitions Even after greatsuccess—a National Book Award and aPulitzer Prize nomination—O’Brien stillhopes to achieve more. He’d like to writea bestseller, and he works at it every day,non matter what. “You shape your ownuniverse,”he has said. “You practice alluthet time, then practice some more.”Author OnlineGo to KEYWORD: HML11-11941194NA L11PE-u06s25-brAmb.indd 119411/30/10 10:09:32 AM

text analysis: conflictA story’s conflict is the struggle between opposing forces thatis the basis of the story’s plot. External conflict—a strugglebetween a character and some outside force—is usually easyto identify in a work of fiction. Internal conflict—a strugglewithin a character—may be more subtle and complex. Forexample, an internal conflict may revolve around a decisiona character has to make, or it may be reflected in behaviorthat is contradictory. As you read this story, watch for thedevelopment of internal conflicts in the main character.reading skill: analyze structureThe structure of a literary work is the way in which it is puttogether—the arrangement of its parts. Tim O’Brien’s story“Ambush” includes a frame story, or a story within a story.The first paragraph provides a frame—the narrator recallsanswering a question his daughter once asked him. In thesecond paragraph, he begins to recount in a flashback anexperience he had earlier, during the war. As you read, usea chart like the one below to summarize what happens withinthe outer story and the inner story.Beginning of Story 1:Beginning of Story 2 :Middle of Story 2 :How does thepast affectthe present?Perhaps more than any group in society,war veterans carry a difficult past.Some remember combat experiencesvividly, some block them out entirely.The lucky ones find a way to reconciletheir past with the present, to use thelessons of battle to inform their presentperceptions and choices.QUICKWRITE Think about war veteransyou know or have heard about. Theymight have served in Vietnam, in thePersian Gulf, or in an internationalpeacekeeping mission. Imagine onespecific way in which a veteran’s pastexperiences might affect his or herpresent life. How might they affect afather’s relationship with his children,for example? Write down your thoughtsand discuss them in a group.End of Story 2 :End of Story 1:Complete the activities in your Reader/Writer Notebook.1195NA L11PE-u06s25-brAmb.indd 119511/30/10 10:09:40 AM

AmbushTim O’Brienbackground “Ambush” is a short story based upon the writer’s combat experiencesin Vietnam. The Vietnam War lasted nine years, left 58,000 Americans dead, and leftanother 365,000 Americans wounded. Although they were better equipped andtrained than the enemy, American troops fought in an unfamiliar landscape for a causethat many of them did not support or understand. Vietnamese Communists wereskilled guerilla fighters whose tactics created a climate of frustration, confusion, andfear. American soldiers never knew when an attack might come and were haunted bytheir memories long after the war.10Analyze VisualsWhat tone is conveyed bythis image?When she was nine, my daughter Kathleen asked if I had ever killed anyone.She knew about the war; she knew I’d been a soldier. “You keep writing thesewar stories,” she said, “so I guess you must’ve killed somebody.” It was a difficultmoment, but I did what seemed right, which was to say, “Of course not,” andthen to take her onto my lap and hold her for a while. Someday, I hope, she’ll askagain. But here I want to pretend she’s a grown-up. I want to tell her exactly whathappened, or what I remember happening, and then I want to say to her that as alittle girl she was absolutely right. This is why I keep writing war stories: aHe was a short, slender young man of about twenty. I was afraid of him—afraidof something—and as he passed me on the trail I threw a grenade that exploded athis feet and killed him. b1196unit 6: contemporary literatureNA L11PE-u06s25-Ambus.indd 1196a CONFLICTReread lines 1–8. Whatinternal conflict does thenarrator face in the firstparagraph?b ANALYZE STRUCTUREReread lines 9–11. Howdoes the setting of thestory shift in the secondparagraph?The Green Machine (1977), Frank Dahmer.Screenprint on paper, 131/2 171/4 . National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum.11/30/10 9:58:08 AM

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20304050Or to go back: cShortly after midnight we moved into the ambush site outside My Khe. Thewhole platoon was there, spread out in the dense brush along the trail, and for fivehours nothing at all happened. We were working in two-man teams—one manon guard while the other slept, switching off every two hours—and I rememberit was still dark when Kiowa shook me awake for the final watch. The night wasfoggy and hot. For the first few moments I felt lost, not sure about directions,groping for my helmet and weapon. I reached out and found three grenades andlined them up in front of me; the pins had already been straightened for quickthrowing. And then for maybe half an hour I kneeled there and waited. Verygradually, in tiny slivers, dawn began to break through the fog, and from myposition in the brush I could see ten or fifteen meters up the trail. The mosquitoeswere fierce. I remember slapping at them, wondering if I should wake up Kiowaand ask for some repellent, then thinking it was a bad idea, then looking up andseeing the young man come out of the fog. He wore black clothing and rubbersandals and a gray ammunition belt. His shoulders were slightly stooped, his headcocked to the side as if listening for something. He seemed at ease. He carriedhis weapon in one hand, muzzle down, moving without any hurry up the centerof the trail. There was no sound at all—none that I can remember. In a way, itseemed, he was part of the morning fog, or my own imagination, but there wasalso the reality of what was happening in my stomach. I had already pulled thepin on a grenade. I had come up to a crouch. It was entirely automatic. I did nothate the young man; I did not see him as the enemy; I did not ponder issues ofmorality or politics or military duty. I crouched and kept my head low. I triedto swallow whatever was rising from my stomach, which tasted like lemonade,something fruity and sour. I was terrified. There were no thoughts about killing.The grenade was to make him go away—just evaporate—and I leaned back andfelt my mind go empty and then felt it fill up again. I had already thrown thegrenade before telling myself to throw it. The brush was thick and I had to lob ithigh, not aiming, and I remember the grenade seeming to freeze above me for aninstant, as if a camera had clicked, and I remember ducking down and holdingmy breath and seeing little wisps of fog rise from the earth. The grenade bouncedonce and rolled across the trail. I did not hear it, but there must’ve been a sound,because the young man dropped his weapon and began to run, just two or threequick steps, then he hesitated, swiveling to his right, and he glanced down at thegrenade and tried to cover his head but never did. It occurred to me then that hewas about to die. I wanted to warn him. The grenade made a popping noise—notsoft but not loud either—not what I’d expected—and there was a puff of dustand smoke—a small white puff—and the young man seemed to jerk upward as ifpulled by invisible wires. He fell on his back. His rubber sandals had been blownoff. There was no wind. He lay at the center of the trail, his right leg bent beneathhim, his one eye shut, his other eye a huge star-shaped hole. d1198cANALYZE STRUCTUREIn terms of the structureof this story, what doesthis line signal?d ANALYZE STRUCTURESummarize what happensin lines 13–53. How dothese lines relate to thefirst paragraph of thestory?unit 6: contemporary literatureNA L11PE-u06s25-Ambus.indd 119811/30/10 9:58:32 AM

Come a Little Closer (1997), Michael Brostowitz. Oil on board, 151/4 193/4 . National VietnamVeterans Art Museum.60It was not a matter of live or die. There was no real peril. Almost certainly theyoung man would have passed by. And it will always be that way.Later, I remember, Kiowa tried to tell me that the man would’ve died anyway.He told me that it was a good kill, that I was a soldier and this was a war, thatI should shape up and stop staring and ask myself what the dead man would’vedone if things were reversed.None of it mattered. The words seemed far too complicated. All I could do wasgape at the fact of the young man’s body. eEven now I haven’t finished sorting it out. Sometimes I forgive myself, othertimes I don’t. In the ordinary hours of life I try not to dwell on it, but now andthen, when I’m reading a newspaper or just sitting alone in a room, I’ll lookup and see the young man coming out of the morning fog. I’ll watch him walktoward me, his shoulders slightly stooped, his head cocked to the side, and he’llpass within a few yards of me and suddenly smile at some secret thought and thencontinue up the trail to where it bends back into the fog. feCONFLICTReread lines 54–61. Whatinternal conflict does thenarrator express?fCONFLICTHow does the vision thenarrator imagines in lines63–68 help resolve hisconflict?ambushNA L11PE-u06s25-Ambus.indd 1199119911/30/10 9:58:33 AM

After ReadingComprehension1. Recall What does the narrator tell his daughter when she asks if he everkilled someone?2. Summarize What happened to the narrator outside My Khe?3. Clarify What vision does the narrator sometimes see in his mind?Text AnalysisRL 3 Analyze the impact of theauthor’s choices regarding howto develop and relate elementsof a story. RL 5 Analyze howan author’s choices concerninghow to structure specific partsof a text contribute to its overallstructure and meaning, as well asits aesthetic impact.4. Examine Conflicts Identify the internal conflicts the narrator experiencesin this story. How would you describe the way he resolves or tries to resolvethem? Explain your answer.5. Analyze Structure What does the frame contribute to the impact of thisstory? Consider what would be lost without the first and last paragraphs.6. Interpret Title In what ways does the title “Ambush” relate to the events ofthe story? Think about the frame as well as the inner story.7. Evaluate a Character’s Actions Kiowa tells the narrator that this “was a goodkill.” Do you agree? In your opinion, can there be a “good kill”?8. Apply Theme What does this story suggest about the effects of the past onthe present?9. Compare Texts Compare “Ambush” and “Why Soldiers Won’t Talk” (page 1172)as portrayals of a soldier’s experience. On a chart, note what each presents asthe physical sensations and emotional aftereffects of war. Which piece—thestory or the essay—had more impact on you? Why?Physical SensationsEmotional Aftereffects“Ambush”“Why Soldiers Won’t Talk”Text Criticism10. Author’s Style “Ambush” is a work of fiction, but the story reads like anonfiction account of a true event. To readers who wonder how much of hiswork is actually true, O’Brien responds, “The literal truth is . . . irrelevant.” Doyou agree? Does it matter that O’Brien the writer does not have a daughterand does not know whether he ever killed anyone?How does thepast affect the present ?How does O’Brien’s story convey the effects of the past on the present? Citeevidence from the story to support your answer.1200 unit 6: contemporary literatureNA L11PE-u06s25-arAmb.indd 120011/30/10 9:56:46 AM

Wrap-Up: Responses to WarThe Literary Legacy of WarModernist writer Gertrude Stein once said, “War is never fatal butalways lost. Always lost.” One after another, the wars of the 20thcentury forced Americans to reconcile their sense of patriotism withthe disillusionment that naturally comes from facing the realities ofmodern warfare. If it is an artist’s job to find meaning, what meaningcan be discerned from the act of war?Writing to SynthesizeEach of the texts you have just read presents a variety of ideasand images in response to World War II and the Vietnam War.What do these pieces have in common? Reread the selections,pulling words or phrases from each that you find especiallycompelling—whether beautiful, ugly, moving, or surprising.When you have gathered 15–30 phrases, combine them artfullyto create a poem that delivers a coherent impression about war.Your poem might tell a story, describe an image, or deliver a set ofthoughts or pronouncements. It can take place on the battlefieldor on the home front.ExtensionSPEAKING AND LISTENING Givean oral reading of your poem,using your voice, posture, andgestures to emphasize itsmeaning. If you think it would beeffective, consider performing achoral reading with some of yourclassmates or setting your poemto music.W 9 Draw evidence fromliterary or informational texts tosupport analysis, reflection, andresearch. SL 6 Adapt speech to avariety of contexts and tasks.Consider what primary thought or feeling you were left with afterreading all of the texts which parts of each selection had the strongest impact on you how to arrange the phrases in a way that communicates yourown response to the textsAmerican soldiers in Vietnam1201NA L11PE-u06s60-wra18.indd12013/10/1112:37:46 PM

the Vietnam War. From an infantryman on his first tour of duty, to a veteran struggling to readjust to his hometown, to an antiwar radical obsessed with death, his protagonists bring to life the complex issues raised by the war. Opening New Doors O'Brien's writing career began at an early age. One day he fled from humiliation in the Little