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Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles


Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles Cover





On August 2, 1990, Iraqi troops drive east to Kuwait City and start killing soldiers and civilians and capturing gold-heavy palaces and expensive German sedans — though it is likely that the Iraqi atrocities are being exaggerated by Kuwaitis and Saudis and certain elements of the U.S. government, so as to gather more coalition support from the UN, the American people, and the international community generally.

Also on August 2, my platoon — STA (pronounced stay), the Surveillance and Target Acquisition Platoon, scout/snipers, of the Second Battalion, Seventh Marines — is put on standby. We're currently stationed at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, in California's Mojave Desert.

After hearing the news of imminent war in the Middle East, we march in a platoon formation to the base barber and get fresh high-and-tight haircuts. And no wonder we call ourselves jarheads — our heads look just like jars.

Then we send a few guys downtown to rent all of the war movies they can get their hands on. They also buy a hell of a lot of beer. For three days we sit in our rec room and drink all of the beer and watch all of those damn movies, and we yell Semper fi and we head-butt and beat the crap out of each other and we get off on the various visions of carnage and violence and deceit, the raping and killing and pillaging. We concentrate on the Vietnam films because it's the most recent war, and the successes and failures of that war helped write our training manuals. We rewind and review famous scenes, such as Robert Duvall and his helicopter gunships during Apocalypse Now, and in the same film Martin Sheen floating up the fake Vietnamese Congo; we watch Willem Dafoe get shot by a friendly and left on the battlefield in Platoon; and we listen closely as Matthew Modine talks trash to a streetwalker in Full Metal Jacket. We watch again the ragged, tired, burnt-out fighters walking through the villes and the pretty native women smiling because if they don't smile, the fighters might kill their pigs or burn their cache of rice. We rewind the rape scenes when American soldiers return from the bush after killing many VC to sip cool beers in a thatch bar while whores sit on their laps for a song or two (a song from the fifties when America was still sweet) before they retire to rooms and fuck the whores sweetly. The American boys, brutal, young farm boys or tough city boys, sweetly fuck the whores. Yes, somehow the films convince us that these boys are sweet, even though we know we are much like these boys and that we are no longer sweet.

There is talk that many Vietnam films are antiwar, that the message is war is inhumane and look what happens when you train young American men to fight and kill, they turn their fighting and killing everywhere, they ignore their targets and desecrate the entire country, shooting fully automatic, forgetting they were trained to aim. But actually, Vietnam war films are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson in Omaha or San Francisco or Manhattan will watch the films and weep and decide once and for all that war is inhumane and terrible, and they will tell their friends at church and their family this, but Corporal Johnson at Camp Pendleton and Sergeant Johnson at Travis Air Force Base and Seaman Johnson at Coronado Naval Station and Spec 4 Johnson at Fort Bragg and Lance Corporal Swofford at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base watch the same films and are excited by them, because the magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills. Fight, rape, war, pillage, burn. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man; with film you are stroking his cock, tickling his balls with the pink feather of history, getting him ready for his real First Fuck. It doesn't matter how many Mr. and Mrs. Johnsons are antiwar — the actual killers who know how to use the weapons are not.

We watch our films and drink our beer and occasionally someone begins weeping and exits the room to stand on the catwalk and stare at the Bullion Mountains, the treacherous, craggy range that borders our barracks. Once, this person is me. It's nearly midnight, the temperature still in the upper nineties, and the sky is wracked with stars. Moonlight spreads across the desert like a white fire. The door behind me remains open, and on the TV screen an ambush erupts on one of the famous murderous hills of Vietnam.

I reenter the room and look at the faces of my fellows. We are all afraid, but show this in various ways — violent indifference, fake ease, standard-issue bravura. We are afraid, but that doesn't mean we don't want to fight. It occurs to me that we will never be young again. I take my seat and return to the raging battle. The supposedly antiwar films have failed. Now is my time to step into the newest combat zone. And as a young man raised on the films of the Vietnam War, I want ammunition and alcohol and dope, I want to screw some whores and kill some Iraqi motherfuckers.

Copyright © 2003 by Anthony Swofford

Product Details

A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles
Swofford, Anthony
New York
United states
Military - United States
Middle East - General
Military - Persian Gulf War
Persian gulf war, 1991
General Biography
Military - Persian Gulf War (1991)
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
March 2003
Grade Level:
9.36x6.26x1.06 in. 1.02 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » History and Social Science
History and Social Science » Military » Elite
History and Social Science » Military » General
History and Social Science » Military » Gulf Wars
History and Social Science » Military » Recent Military History
History and Social Science » Military » US Military » General

Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$9.95 In Stock
Product details 272 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9780743235358 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "There are varieties of pain in Jarhead, submerged beneath the terrors of battle and the pangs of a rotten crotch, so exquisite they'd do a torturer proud. The biographical information on the book's jacket flap explains that Swofford attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and it's easy to imagine him there, this guy who read The Iliad during breaks in weapons training. I can picture him striving to make a new, better life that transcends the 'loneliness and poverty of spirit' of his jarhead adventures, while surrounded by fresh-faced, unscarred young aspirants who envy him his fabulous, fabulous material." (read the entire Salon review)
"Review A Day" by , "Yes, there have been many, many books about combat in the Gulf War, but none as beautifully written or as ferocious as Jarhead. Anthony Swofford's account of his life on the front lines is so honest and uncompromising as to be brutal." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "By turns profane and lyrical, swaggering and ruminative, Jarhead...is not only the most powerful memoir to emerge thus far from the last gulf war, but also a searing contribution to the literature of combat, a book that combines the black humor of Catch-22 with the savagery of Full Metal Jacket and the visceral detail of The Things They Carried."
"Review" by , "Jarhead is not only a work of reportage from a 'privileged' observer. It is also a display of genuine talent."
"Review" by , "This is not a pretty memoir — but veined with beauty. It is as outrageous, irreverent, funny, and obscene as an Aristophanes comedy, and as rich in pain and moral understanding as the Iliad."
"Review" by , "This is a book that smokes and screams in your hands. With a sniper's cold and unforgiving eye, Swofford has found the nexus between nihilism and language, a language ripped, homegrown, American-made, trashy and lyrical and bold. He hits the troubling, difficult mark again and again in this remarkable memoir. Brash, honest, and most unnerving, Jarhead delivers corsucating and unpleasant truths about war and warriors."
"Review" by , "Anthony Swofford's Gulf War memoir, Jarhead, could hardly be more timely. But the author, who served as a Marine sniper in Desert Storm, has wisely avoided virtually every nod toward direct commentary on current politics and every cliché of battlefield memoir....Jarhead emerges as a scary, detailed, well-written indictment of life in the military."
"Review" by , "Jarhead is some kind of classic, a bracing memoir of the 1991 Persian Gulf war that will go down with the best books ever written about military life."
"Review" by , "A witty, profane, down-in-the-sand account of the war many only know from CNN....With blunt language and bittersweet humor, [Swofford] 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."
"Synopsis" by , When the Marines — or "jarheads" as they call themselves — are sent to Saudi Arabia to fight the Iraqis, Swofford is there, with a hundred-pound pack on his shoulders and a sniper's rifle in his hands. It's one misery upon another. He lives in sand for six months, his girlfriend back home betrays him for a scrawny hotel clerk, he is punished by boredom and fear, he considers suicide, he pulls a gun on one of his fellow soldiers, and he is shot at by the Iraqis and by another unit of the U.S. military. At the end of the war, Swofford hikes for miles through a landscape of incinerated Iraqi soldiers and later is nearly killed in a booby-trapped Iraqi bunker.

In this powerful memoir, Swofford weaves his war experience with vivid accounts of boot camp, reflections on the mythos of the Marines, and remembrances of battles with lovers and family. As war draws closer, he is forced to consider what it is to be an American, a soldier, a son of a soldier, and a man.

A harrowing yet inspiring portrait of a tormented consciousness struggling for reconciliation and inner peace, Jarhead is authentic, revelatory, and brilliantly crafted.

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