Bob wanted to heat up the truth, to

Bob ‘Rat’ Kiley is a significant minor character, who plays a much larger role
than first perceived in the anthology as a soldier. He is a nineteen-year-old
medic in Tim’s platoon during the Vietnam War. Our first impression of Kiley is
when O’Brien describes the various objects each soldier carries, as a way of showing
the burdens they carry (physical, mental, and emotional). Kiley is said to have
carried malaria tablets, morphine, and other supplies to treat serious wounds,
as his task as a medic was to care for the wounded. Because of his role as a medic,
he sees and responds to the gory reality of war up close. Beyond his role as
the medic however, he takes on significance as a storyteller, and represents an
example of the tragic effect the stress of war has on a person. O’Brien
establishes Kiley as a guy who always has a story to tell, even if grotesquely
exaggerated. These stories are seen to be so fantastic by the other soldiers
that they conclude they can only take a limited amount of what he’s saying at
face value. Ironically, O’Brien claims that Kiley was after the underlying
truth of his stories, not the literal facts and smaller details. O’Brien
explains, ‘It wasn’t a question of deceit. Just the opposite: he wanted to heat
up the truth, to make it burn so hot that you would feel exactly what he felt.’
This is extremely similar to the way in which we are told the whole anthology
is written by Tim O’Brien himself. As an audience we don’t know the truth, and
that is not O’Brien’s overall aim, as he concedes, explaining in ‘Good Form’,
he wants us to “feel what he felt”. In reality, we will never understand what
is really true and how he truly felt due to the barrier of being at war. Tragic
events begin to unfold, such as the death of Kiley’s best friend (Curt), along
with the simple brutality both physically and mentally of living in the war, and
they serve as a window into war’s harsh reality and extreme effects on a person,
and additionally into Kiley’s character. After the death of Curt, Rat struggles
to deal with the pain of losing his best friend. O’Brien describes Rat taking
out his anger by inflicting pain. He brutally shoots a baby water buffalo in
front of the rest of the platoon, who just stand by, watching. They don’t know
what to say or do, but they know that they are witnessing something inexplainable,
profound, and yet tender.