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

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

by Anthony Swofford

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Overview

In his New York Times bestselling chronicle of military life, Anthony Swofford weaves his experiences in war with vivid accounts of boot camp, reflections on the mythos of the marines, and remembrances of battles with lovers and family.

When the U.S. Marines — or "jarheads" — were sent to Saudi Arabia in 1990 for the first Gulf War, Anthony Swofford was there. He lived in sand for six months; he was punished by boredom and fear; he considered suicide, pulled a gun on a fellow marine, and was targeted by both enemy and friendly fire. As engagement with the Iraqis drew near, he was forced to consider what it means to be an American, a soldier, a son of a soldier, and a man.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743235358
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 03/04/2003
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.26(w) x 9.36(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

Anthony Swofford served in a U.S. Marine Corps Surveillance and Target Acquisition/Scout-Sniper platoon during the Gulf War. After the war, he was educated at American River College; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has taught at the University of Iowa and Lewis and Clark College. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, Men's Journal, The Iowa Review, and other publications. A Michener-Copernicus Fellowship recipient, he lives in New York.

Hometown:

New York, New York

Date of Birth:

August 12, 1970

Place of Birth:

Fairfield, California

Education:

B.A. in English, University of California, Davis, 1999; M.F.A. in English, University of Iowa Writers¿ Workshop, 2001

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

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

Reading Group Guide

This is a raw, irreverent, unforgettable memoir of military life. Swofford was not just a soldier who happened to write, but a writer who happened to be a soldier. His prose is sharp and vivid. In contrast to the real-time print and television coverage of the Gulf War, which was highly scripted by the Pentagon, Swofford's account is authentic, contrarian, and singular.
Throughout Jarhead, Swofford is a tormented consciousness, yet the tone of the memoir shows that his brief, searing war experience has provoked a yearning for reconciliation and the first hope for a new, inner peace.

Discussion Questions:
1. Why do you think Swofford joined the marines? What appealed to him, and what was he looking for?
2. How would you describe Swofford's temperament? How does it differ from the personalities of the other marines? And how does it affect his experience as a soldier?
3. What do you think of Swofford's girlfriend Kristina and their relationship?
4. Swofford shares the unfortunate story of a fellow soldier receiving videotape from his wife. Why do you think she sent that tape and what was your reaction?
5. At one point, Swofford describes placing the muzzle of his M16 in his mouth and visualizing his own death. Swofford writes of the incident, "The reasons are hard to name...It's not the suicide's job to know, only to do" (p. 70). What do you think is the nature of his despair? In this moment, how seriously does he consider suicide?
6. Discuss Swofford's relationship with Troy. How does his friendship and his death affect Swofford? What types of friendships does he build?
7. Although the book is largely populated by men, Swofford often reflects on his relationships with women, from his mother and sister to his various romantic entanglements. What role do you think women play in this book? What do you think Swofford's opinion of women is in general?
8. Discuss Swofford's portrayal of his relationship with his father, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War.
9. Swofford explains the Scout/Sniper shooting procedures in great detail (i.e.: the precise positions of the spotter relative to the shooter and the order in which the various steps are carried out), and he refers to ongoing arguments among spotters and shooters about who has the more difficult job. What is the significance of this near-obsessive procedural detail? How do you think it affects the soldiers' attitude toward the possibility of killing people?
10. "The sad truth is that when you're a jarhead, you're incapable of not being a jarhead, you are a symbol..."(page 119). What do you think about this statement? Would Troy, Fergus, and Swofford's fellow marines agree with this assessment?
11. When Swofford and his platoon arrive home in California, they encounter a disheveled Vietnam veteran. What do you think the veteran means when he says, "Thank you, thank you, Jarheads, for making them see we are not bad animals," (pg. 251)?
12. Discuss the significance of the dog tags Swofford takes from the bodies of three dead Iraqi soldiers. What do they mean to him? Why does he take them and wear them around his neck? How does he feel about Crocket desecrating the dead body of an Iraqi soldier? What do these violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice reveal?
13. Discuss the book's final paragraph: "What did I hope to gain? More bombs are coming. Dig your holes with the hands God gave you." How do you think the war changed Swofford?
14. Discuss Swofford's attitude toward war. How does it develop and change throughout the course of the book?
15. How do the experiences Swofford describes compare to media portrayals of soldier life in the present conflict in Iraq? How does the current war inform your reading of Jarhead? Has this changed your view of war?

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Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 110 reviews.
JohnnyG71 More than 1 year ago
The most unnerving war book I ever read was E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed, about World War II assaults on Plelieu and Okinawa. I thought no auithor to that point had yet told a tale so vibrantly, so bluntly, so openly. Then I read Jarhead. Different time, different war, for sure, but the author proves that the hellish things that warriors see in combat areas never change. Swofford's narrative also reminds one of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. His temporally disjointed memories hop from childhood to civilian life to active duty and back again, showing that the experiences that form a man's life are amazingly interrelated. Swofford is no recruiting poster Marine, and according to his story, that man may not exist anyway. If he did, he would probably never be able to handle what is to be found on the battlefields U.S. Marines are called upon to visit.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anthony Swofford¿s war was much different than what many picture when the word war comes to mind. There was no combat, and no killing, only a platoon of soldiers stuck in the desert preventing death from boredom. Swofford¿s platoon witnessed some of the most troublesome parts of war, the war at home. At one particular point, he illustrates that its all coming to an end and that he wishes it would but his band of brothers prevents this from happening. What this book is really about is the unity between men in service. Its really a great read and is not hard to understand. The one part that the reader may not understand is that this is really what war is like. The media only shows what parts of war is, the bad parts, the killing and sacrifice. Finally a book written from a soldiers point of view to show what war really is. It grips you within the first few pages and never lets go throughout the story. Swofford does a great job of illustrating every detail throughout the story, even his fantasies of what he wishes would happen. Certain times he describes events which are funny, and others that make you depressed. All in all I have to say this is one of the best novels I have read.
meegeekai on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read this before going to see the movie and was actually disappointed in the movie. But then, how could you make a movie out of the surreal enviroment that Swafford paints of the Gulf War? Great book!!
daizylee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Swofford certainly has his own ideas on war. But more interesting is his study of the Marine psyche and how it's possible to be constantly ready to battle while you're bored stiff.
nicky_too on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's not a big book, but it's not an easy read either. The style is nice, the chapters short, but the atmosphere of this book is very, very disturbing. I'd seen the film and I'm happy I decided I had to read the book too.This book describes how a jarhead actually feels and thinks. Anthony Swofford was a sniper in Operation Desert Shield (later Desert Storm) and he tells about his training and his time in the desert. All I'm left with afterwards is sadness....good book.
StoutHearted on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Written in raw, graphic language, Swofford seems to hold nothing back from readers on what it's like to be a Marine fighting in the Gulf War. He embraces the romantic brotherhood of the soldier while at the same time exposing its seedy side. Marines are broken down and rebuilt, as Swofford describes it, into ruthless killing machines. But, much to the disappointment of Swofford's unit, there is little killing in their war. Ultimately, Swofford and his fellow Marines must wrestle with what it means to be a soldier and Marine, and what their place is back home among their families, jobs, and society. During their time served, they deal with life using any available distraction: primarily prostitutes, booze, and letters from home. From Swofford's descriptions, the vices go right along with the glory in the psyche of the soldier. It's a shocking revelation for civilians, but one can't help but excuse them when Swofford describes the aftermath of war. While crudeness and profanity make the first half of the novel tough, the same language becomes tragically beautiful in his description of the Iraqi bunkers and what he found there. The repetition of phrases and the metaphors make for amazing reading. You really feel the author's soul in these lines, right down to the core of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You can really tell that these scenes haunt him at night. Swofford's experience as a soldier helps him to create language that both repulses and moves the reader. It's a good perspective on what life is like for those who fight, how they prepare their minds and bodies for war, as well as an unvarnished look at the military who looks upon these people as fodder.
Austin12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The novel, Jarhead, encompasses the military life where Anthony Swofford explains how his life was like through the Gulf War. In the beggining Anthony Swofford the protaginist is commisioned in Afghanistan and he recounts his experiences in the Marine culture, the blood lust, the alternating boredom and terror, and the absurd moments including wearing camouflage uniforms because their desert ones hadn't arrived yet, the protaginist struggles with all the B.S that he portrays through the military life. Throughout the middle of the book he perserves the military life and almost killing a man. (178/272)
shannonkearns on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
a wonderfully written book. poetic and disturbing. heartrending and beautiful. i really enjoyed it.
ilovebooksdlk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't gravitate to books about war, in fact I admit to having no interest at all in the subject. But I read this book on the recommendation of a writing teacher who suggested I look at the book's structure, taking away lessons from Tony Swofford's brilliant memoir of his experience as a marine in the Gulf War.Structurally, Swofford moves us efforlessly through time - backstory and future story woven through with ease. The forward story takes us through his training exercises as well as his experiences in his unit, as they sit for months in the sand, waiting for the war to start. We get an inside look at the war machine, including some of the absurdities in how we train our young soldiers to fight. He builds credible characters whom we grow to care about, and we get inside his head as he tries to make sense of the endless waiting, the preparation for the war that never really starts. His writing is so strong, my first impulse was to say, "Ghostwritten" - no way a grunt wrote this book! Turns out though that Swofford has an Iowa MFA, he's no common grunt at all (my first clue should've been that he reads Homer while sitting in a foxhole.) The brilliance of the writing here is that he makes you think you're reading the thoughts/words of a common grunt - a testament to his understanding of building a persona. If you're an aspiring memoirist, this one can be very instructive. But probably worth a read even if you're not.
JBreedlove on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An account of one marine's life and experiences in the first Gulf War. An eye-opening story of our "elite" armed forces.
lilygirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love - repeat LOVE - this book. And not in the overused, flighty sense of the word. What's not to love in a book with nonstop action with blood-boiling gunfights? But that is not Swofford's story. I have read many books that recount the exciting details of war but lack the pure human drama Swofford brings to the page. We go inside the mind of a soldier impatiently waiting for action, yet fearing and dreading when that moment will find him - and we wait with him, knowing he will tell us the truth about The Moment when he lines up his first mark, pulls the trigger, and realizes that he has taken another man's life. It never comes. When I turned the last page and saw the sun rising through my bedroom window, I wondered why I had been so enthralled and unable to put the book down. Somehow I still am not sure why I love Jarhead, but I think it is Swofford's brutal honesty that pours out of the page and forces us to confront the human side of war and look beyond the statistics.
jddunn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A war memoir that is harsh, at times brutal, but also very thoughtful as well. I can understand how Abu Gharib happened, reading this, but I can also see why there is such shame in the military in the aftermath of it. A portrait of the double life men trained to kill but expected to sometimes be humane and eventually to rejoin society, struggle to lead. Hard to pigeonhole, and provides no easy answers, which is probably appropriate for such a book.
akbibliophile on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Damn. This is one hardhitting book, and a very good one at that. Swofford lays out his Marine experiences for all to see, good and bad, and does so without making any comentary on the political veracities behind warfighting. His message to the reader: whatever the reason for going to war, never forget the cost to those who wage it and upon whom war is waged.
lynnm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Swofford has an engaging style, really gives a feel for what being a Marine during the First Gulf War was like. I had seen the movie first, so I was a bit surprised at how dark and - dare I say - depressing the book was in comparison. Not that I would expect the experience of going to war to be amusing in any way, but the movie came at the story from a slightly more light-hearted and absurd angle. No punches pulled, the book offers more in the way of commentary and less anecdotes than I had anticipated. Even so, a very good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recently read another marine book set in the Vietnam era, Semper-Fi-do-or-die and there are too many similarities in these two books. I have a love/hate relationship with both books, so much so its eery. Many readers I'm sure question the validity as do i of both books but, iregardless, they are both books that you can't seem to put down once you've start reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dear nicole Sorry i havent been on for a while. I have been busy. How are you? A lot of stuff has gone on over here since we last talked. The taliban has gradually downsized since we have been here. A buddy of mine has passed while in a firefight on 3-14-13. That was probably the worst one ive been in. I heard that there was a terrorist attack in boston yesterday. I hope all of the people that got hurt are OK. I hate terrorists. Thats part if the reason i came here. I sure could use some starbucks! I will try and check back everyday. The jarhead, Allen
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