Enemies by Tim O’Brien
In Enemies by Tim O’Brien we have the theme of conflict, stress, fear and revenge. Taken from his The Things They Carried collection the story is narrated in the first person by O’Brien himself and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that O’Brien may be exploring the theme of conflict. Jensen and Strunk are fighting which in many ways mirrors the fighting in Vietnam. This may be significant as both men are letting their side down. It’s bad enough having to fight the Vietnamese without two soldiers fighting themselves. Nobody knows what the fight is about and nobody is getting involved. This too may be significant as it suggests that each man in the platoon is out to look after himself such is the heightened conflict of not knowing when the Vietnamese will attack. Though each soldier is close they do have their own personal space and boundaries and very rarely will they let others encroach on their boundaries. It may also be case that the soldiers are in Vietnam to fight and not to make friends. Harsh though that sounds.
There is also no disputing that Jensen is stressed. He overreacts when he hits Strunk ending up busting his nose and Strunk needs medical care. This is not the end of the animosity between Jensen and Strunk and Jensen starts to get paranoid that Strunk will try and get revenge. He feels so strong about Strunk getting revenge that Jensen sleeps outside the perimeter that has been set up for the soldier’s safety. To add to the tension O’Brien gives Strunk very little to say, as though he is brooding and waiting to exact revenge. So desperate is Jensen to heal the wounds that he breaks his own nose and asks Strunk are they okay. To which Strunk replies they are. The reader aware that Jensen broke his noise so that he would no longer be paranoid about Strunk attacking him. Which may have been unlikely considering that Jensen gave Strunk a good beating.
However Strunk also admits to the other men that the fight was started because he stole Jensen’s jack-knife. So some critics might suggest that Strunk got what he deserved. Every weapon in war is important and Jensen would have needed his jack-knife. It also serves to highlight that Strunk is out for himself and cannot be trusted. Not really someone who you would want in your platoon and particularly not someone who you would want to have your back in moments of trouble. However Jensen because of the environment he is in can’t think straight. In reality he should never have apologised to Strunk who is the guilty party. Strunk may not have deserved to have his nose broke but there had to be some retaliation for the crime committed and war among comrades can be cruel. With little leverage given between either soldier.
If it was not for the fact that Jensen felt so stressed and worried about any possible actions by Strunk. He would have followed his gut and forgot about what happened. Though in conflict this can be hard to do. The men in the platoon now know that Jensen is a loose cannon and do not necessarily want to be on the receiving end of that. If anything the other men in the platoon could be afraid of Jensen after seeing what he done to Strunk. An incident like that would lead to a greater tension among the platoon with everybody wary of what could happen next. It is as though there are two enemies, the Vietnamese and Jensen. Which really does not do a lot for each man’s safety in the platoon. Overall O’Brien manages to highlight just how difficult war can be when men are cooped up together and in fear of the enemy approaching. It can’t be easy on all those concerned. The real kicker at the end of the story is the fact that Jensen and Strunk do not really becomes friends but they learn to tolerate each other.