Summary of “Ambush”
O'Brien says that when his daughter was nine, she asked him if he ever killed anyone. He told her no, but in this story he wants to tell her the truth. It is why he keeps writing war stories.
The man was about twenty, short and slender. O'Brien was afraid of him, and as he passed on the trail, threw a grenade at him. It was outside My Khe after midnight. For five hours nothing had happened. They were on two-man teams, taking turns sleeping. Kiowa woke him for his watch. He saw the man come out of the fog. His throwing the grenade was automatic. He did not hate him. He was just terrified. He cannot pretend that it was self-defense. His rubber sandals were blown off, and one eye was a star-shaped hole. Sometimes he forgives himself and sometimes he doesn't.
Commentary on “Ambush”
O'Brien shows the lingering guilt over killing the Viet Cong soldier, and the stressful flashbacks soldiers experience. Kiowa keeps telling him it is what they were supposed to do, and that he would have been killed anyway in the ambush. None of these words help him to deal with the fact that he took a life, and that he did not do it out of hate, but out of fear. The incident also shows that the soldiers are trained as killing machines, for the whole action was automatic. He did not make a decision about killing.