SHARE Citizen Soldier
Loading video player...

Watch this program for free.
Join now for access to hundreds more!

Play for Free Join Now

Purchase for Offline Viewing

Tim O'Brien (top) and Karl Marlantes (bottom right) each served in Vietnam in 1969.

Tim O'Brien (top) and Karl Marlantes (bottom right) each served in Vietnam in 1969.

The Fiction of War, with Tim O'Brien and Karl Marlantes

An insightful discussion by Vietnam veterans and award-winning fiction writers Tim O'Brien and Karl Marlantes on the subjects of literature, war, politics, and writing. Sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and presented as part of the Museum & Library's inaugural ON WAR Military History Symposium.

The Vietnam War was perhaps the most divisive armed conflict of the 20th Century. A civil war in essence, allies of the belligerent nations became involved to protect or advance their own interests amid the start of the Cold War. 

As the war escalated through the mid-1960s, it grew increasingly unpopular among the American people—many of whom openly questioned the motives and judgment of their government in committing so many troops and resources to a controversial cause. But the war raged on, and as more men were needed, more were drafted—at the end of the war there were nearly 650,000 draftees serving in Vietnam, about 25% of the 2.7 million Americans deployed.

Among those draftees was Tim O’Brien, who received his draft notice in 1968 immediately after graduating from Macalester College in Minnesota. Although he was opposed to the war, O’Brien reported for service with the U.S. Army’s Americal Division as an infantryman. 

From 1969 to 1970, O’Brien’s platoon served a tour of duty in Vietnam’s Quảng Ngãi Province—site of the infamous My Lai Massacre that occurred one year earlier—where he gained the experiences that would later shape his career as a best-selling author.

At nearly the same time, an Ivy League athlete and Marine Corps officer named Karl Marlantes left his Rhodes Scholarship after one semester at Oxford, volunteering for active duty out of a sense of moral obligation to his friends and fellow servicemen. He too would be impacted physically and emotionally by his time in Vietnam, ultimately finding a form of therapy in writing about his experiences.

In critically-acclaimed books like O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato, The Things They Carried, and In the Lake of the Woods, and Marlantes’ Matterhorn and What It is Like to Go to War, the two authors blur the lines between fiction and reality. Using actual details from their experiences in Vietnam, each has created powerful novels about the realities and personal emotions of war that speak to citizens and citizen soldiers alike.

TIM O'BRIEN grew up in Worthington, Minnesota, graduating from nearby Macalester College in 1968 with a BS in political science. After college, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the Americal Division in Vietnam, from 1969 to 1970. O’Brien has received numerous awards for his writing, including the National Book Award in fiction for Going after Cacciato in 1979 and the 2013 Pritzker Literature Award. His other works include the acclaimed novels The Things They Carried and In The Lake of the Woods.

KARL MARLANTES grew up in Seaside, Oregon. Upon graduation from Yale University, he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University. In 1969—after just one semester at Oxford—Marlantes decided to forego his scholarship and enlist for active duty with the U.S. Marines. After the war, Marlantes began to write about his experiences in Vietnam. His novel, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, was published in 2010 and became one of a New York Times top ten best sellers. In 2011, Marlantes published his first non-fiction work, What It is Like To Go To War.

sponsored by