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Human Nature in the Things They Carried

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Human Nature can be defined in many ways from many different points of view. Pessimists may define human nature as evil traits shared among people, and those people do bad things without thinking about others. However, human nature to me is when all people share positive traits that help them get in touch with their humanity. These traits can be suppressed a lot of the time which is why we see a lot of evil in the world, but these tough situations can bring out the good in people. This is very common in soldiers who are out at war. They do a lot of unethical things such as killing other people, but their human nature comes to light when they are helping a fellow injured soldier, or finding ways to cope with death of a loved one. When surrounded by violence, human nature is the reason why a ton of soldiers start to go insane and eventually develop PTSD. Both The Things They Carried and Apocalypse Now explore what happens when humans are immersed in violence and what each work reveals about human nature.

The war inflicts extreme guilt on soldiers because their human nature causes them to be in touch with their humanity no matter how much evil they have witnessed. In The Things They Carried, Kiowa was shot while they were fighting in a field full of sewage, and he sank all the way down. Norman Bowker was a fellow soldier of Kiowa’s and he felt responsible for his death because he was trying to pull Kiowa out of the mud, but he let go as soon as he felt himself going under. O’Brien explains Norman’s experience trying to make sense of Kiowa’s death, “Turning on his headlights, driving slowly, Norman Bowker remembered how he had taken hold of Kiowa’s boot and pulled hard, but how the smell was simply too much, and how he’d backed off and in that way he lost the Silver Star” (147). After Norman went home, he drove around his town for hours because he felt like he had no purpose anymore. He was trying to cope with this extreme guilt, but he had nobody to vent to. He struggled with these feelings for awhile and eventually hung himself because he had no way of dealing with this trauma. In Apocalypse Now Kurtz was a Green Beret Colonel who inflicted horror in the jungles of Cambodia. Before Kurtz was sacrificed for his people along with the bull Captain Willard said, “We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes because it's obscene” (Apocalypse Now). Kurtz then realizes all of is inhumane actions he caused by killing many people during the war. His final words were, “The horror… the horror…” (Apocalypse Now). These final last words show that he knows what he has become. He has become as bad, if not worse than the Viet Cong. He believed that he HAD to be this way in order to protect himself and his land. He had to change his mentality of the enemy and dehumanize them in order to be successful in his duties. With these words, he is telling Willard that he can kill him,but that will do nothing to end the horror. It’s everywhere and it will continue to destroy many. Both of these scenarios show that war inflicts a ton of guilt on soldiers because these two were willing to die instead of facing the pain they were struggling with. Guilt is a part of human nature because while soldiers have to carry out unthinkable acts such as killing people, they have a very hard time living with themselves



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