Monks and Soldiers : a Cultural Contrast

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During the 1960s the Vietnam War had an influence on many writers from both Vietnam and the United States. Two writers from both of these cultures are Tim O’Brien from the United States and Thich Nhat Hanh from Vietnam. Although the writers share many differences between themselves, the subjects of Thich Nhat Hanh’s essay In Search of the Enemy of Man and Tim O’Brien’s short story The Things they Carried come from vastly different cultures in regards to how they view death, sacrifice, and discipline. In Search of the Enemy of Man was a letter written by Thich Nhat Hahn, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam. He opposed the United States military involvement in the Vietnam War during the 1960’s and had been exiled from Vietnam for his opposition towards the government of South Vietnam. He wrote the letter in 1965 to Martin Luther King asking him to publicly oppose and bring attention to the Vietnam War in the United States. After reading the letter, King called him “an apostle of peace and non-violence.” King also nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. The letter describes fellow Vietnamese monks who in 1963 set themselves ablaze in order to call attention to the atrocities caused by the war. In the Buddhist culture their actions showed great discipline and sacrifice. The Things they Carried was a short story about a platoon of American soldiers in Vietnam. The author, Tim O’Brien had served with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. In the story he described the vast differences in what each soldier carried and how they viewed life and death. It is unclear if the characters in the story oppose or support the war so it carries an un-biased point of view. In the letter In Search of the Enemy of Man the monks viewed death very differently than the American soldiers in The Things they Carried. The monks who burned themselves to death viewed death not as the end of life itself but as the end of life in the body their spirit inhabited. In their...
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