- Hardcover: 260 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (February 25, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743235355
- ISBN-13: 978-0743235358
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 405 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #832,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles Hardcover – February 25, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
A witty, profane, down-in-the-sand account of the war many only know from CNN, this former sniper's debut is a worthy addition to the battlefield memoir genre. There isn't a bit of heroic posturing as Swofford describes the sheer terror of being fired upon by Iraqi troops; the elite special forces warrior freely admits wetting himself once rockets start exploding around his unit's encampment. But the adrenaline of battle is fleeting, and Swofford shows how it's in the waiting that soldiers are really made. With blunt language and bittersweet humor, he vividly recounts the worrying, drinking, joking, lusting and just plain sitting around that his troop endured while wondering if they would ever put their deadly skills to use. As Operation Desert Shield becomes Desert Storm, one of Swofford's fellow snipers-the most macho of the bunch-solicits a hug from each man. "We are about to die in combat, so why not get one last hug, one last bit of physical contact," Swofford writes. "And through the hugs [he] helps make us human again." When they do finally fight, Swofford questions whether the men are as prepared as their commanders, the American public and the men themselves think they are. Swofford deftly uses flashbacks to chart his journey from a wide-eyed adolescent with a family military legacy to a hardened fighter who becomes consumed with doubt about his chosen role. As young soldiers might just find themselves deployed to the deserts of Iraq, this book offers them, as well as the casual reader, an unflinching portrayal of the loneliness and brutality of modern warfare and sophisticated analyses of-and visceral reactions to-its politics.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From The New Yorker
In 1990, Swofford, a young Marine sniper, went to Saudi Arabia with dreams of vaporizing Iraqi skulls into clouds of "pink mist." As he recounts in this aggressively uninspiring Gulf War memoir, his youthful bloodlust was never satisfied. After spending months cleaning sand out of his rifle—so feverish with murderous anticipation that he almost blows a buddy's head off after an argument—Swofford ends up merely a spectator of a lopsided battle waged with bombs, not bullets. The rage the soldiers feel, their hopes of combat frustrated, is "nearly unendurable." Swofford's attempts at brutal honesty sometimes seem cartoonish: "Rape them all, kill them all" is how he sums up his military ethic. He is better at comic descriptions—gas masks malfunctioning in the desert heat, camels picked off during target practice—that capture the stupid side of a smart-bomb war.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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My overall sense is that Anthony Swofford wasn't ready to write this book.
He writes that he had put the war out of his mind, and the people he knew from war out of his life, until 8 years later he came upon artifacts and reminders. At that point he revisits his experience emotionally and, in preparing to write the book, researches facts.
Putting a traumatic event out of one's mind for a period of time as a way to remain sane is common and valid. Revisiting it, to be whole or complete or to become more "sane," is valid and common too. However, in making the decision to write a book at that time, what Swofford did not have at his disposal were his [missing] 8 years of memories. He didn't first feel and re-examine, think about and conclude, then tell his story. These omissions of self-examination were too blatant throughout the book, a book of self-examination.
The story he told, though, is written as if he does have the decade-later perspective (he tells us that his memoir is from this hindsight). But, he doesn't, having spent the decade shutting out the experience. The result, therefore, is not a grown man writing about 10 years ago, but a man still in the throes of a similar confusion or way of thinking as he was during the war. This is evidenced, very simply, by his use of language. Swofford is now an adult, a writer, a teacher, yet the vocabulary of the narration switches erratically between adult (i.e. "correct") usage and "grunt," "jarhead" jargon. I'm talking about the narrative style of his current perspective, not his description *of* the 18-year-olds in the Desert.
So, he is not 18 yet he also does not quite have the distance to tell the story he set out to tell - his perspective today. Valid, as he didn't revisit his story for many years. Psychologically valid, but missing in important detail for the reader, details not yet uncovered, perhaps, by Swofford himself.
I did not find this to be the horrific or gruesome story others did. I was not surprised that 17- and 18-year-olds behave like 17- and 18-year-olds. I was dismayed, as another reviewer wrote, that his mates were indistinguishable from one another. All but one or two blend together as a mass of fellow "jarheads" without personality. To him they are individuals he feels deeply for, he tells us (and he dedicates the book to them), but he doesn't show them to us.
Sometimes Swofford tells us his emotions and sometimes he doesn't. My complaint here is not that the story-telling is uneven but that I read the book because I wanted to read a memoir - one man's experience. His emotional experience and his actual experience.
At times, in the book, we've got detail of actual events, without Swofford's emotional reaction to it. Sometimes they are details of dates or activity, and sometimes these details take up many pages. I wanted more from *him* - his _memoir_. I wanted more about him, and *his* experiences.
But, I don't think the author himself has fully uncovered them, as they'd been buried many years before he tackled this very tough thing. This is not his fault; the fact that he wrote the book before he was ready is. Writing the book, itself, may have been cathartic and eye-opening for the author and, as much as I did learn, he just didn't write enough substance. I didn't *see* the desert; I didn't *see* the other men (but for a couple of exceptions); I didn't feel his feelings.
That said, I know more than I did before I read the book, and I'm not sorry I did. It was worthwhile, but had someone told me of a more "complete" Gulf War memoir to read, I would have chosen the other.
Also, I don't want to be fully critical. Swofford wrote, quite honestly, about personal things.
It's the things omitted that this book lacks. Regarding the adult, time-past perspective: I would rather have seen either, 1. an acknowledgement that there's a gap in his knowledge, and fully professional writing, or 2. the "jarhead"-style writing that comes and goes throughout the book be the consistent/only style. The book goes back and forth haphazardly, teen to adult writer, and my own conclusion is that this is where Swofford is, psychologically, with the material. It's not great writing, but it tells a story - be it not the full story of Swofford I'd hoped it would. I want to hear from a guy who experienced the Gulf War and I want to hear all about it; to me, he had the guts to write it... but not quite.
I do, though, have to give Swofford kudos for his bravery and for telling us what he did. I do appreciate it, and I did learn from him.