Customer Reviews of Jarhead
'Jarhead' by Anthony Swofford is bound to make some people angry. A Marine sniper (STA) during Desert Storm I in the early 1990s, he recounts his experiences there with vivid emotion, weaving in his experiences of boot camp, adolescence, and civilian life after the Corps in the process.
Swofford has a chip on his shoulder - something he'll most likely readily admit. He has a 'bad attitude', and in fact revels in it. One wonders if this is a product of his war experiences, his Marine Corps training, or his upbringing. At one point his mother, who never really liked the idea of her son being in the Marines, but who wouldn't stand in her son's way, said 'I lost my baby boy when you went to war.' She described Swofford as being sweet and gentle prior to that, and angry and unhappy afterwards. One wonders how much of a change is there - if one can take the stories at face value, this is the same boy who had a fist-fight with his father over going in the Corps at the age of 17, and who had Marine Corps decals put on his shirts as a child. One of his drill instructors even gave Swofford what he considered a great compliment - 'you'll be a great killer someday.'
I make the caveat that one might not be able to take all of this at face value, because like many men in this kind of situation, Swofford is likely to exaggerate - making some pieces more dramatic and other pieces less so. Swofford recounts many tales of men in his sniper platoon who had adjustment problems after the war; one can but wonder if that is true for Swofford, too. Also, Swofford admits to being willing and able to lie if the cause is, in some internal sense, justified - his dealings with brother, in the Army in Germany who later died of cancer, is a case in point.
Regardless of the details which may or may not be completely true (and, as with many autobiographical pennings, some of the details are necessarily changed), the emotion certainly is. Perhaps the strongest point that comes across is a sense of disappointment and cynicism - that Swofford has ideals and goals is not at issue, although he does downplay these (he doth protest too much sometimes); but his experiences in the Corps and in the war were not what he dreamed. He mentions at various time the recruiting posters and campaigns - while it is true that Marine Corps never promises an easy life (quite the opposite), rarely does one learn prior to entry that one might end up being on the stirring end of the latrine clean-up detail; of human-refuse dump ablaze and blowing all over the place.
One gets a sense of some of the problems that the 'average' grunt faces in combat situations. This war was very different from Vietnam, of course, but some of the issues are the same - interminable waiting, equipment malfunctions (if it isn't just plain missing), fear and bravado in a strange mix, questioning and ambiguity as to the value of the war, the cause, and even their own lives. The Desert Shield/Desert Storm situation is reflected in the page numbers of Swofford's book - fully four-fifths of the book deals with the Desert Shield portion, the hurry-up-and-wait aspect; only a few sections deal with Desert Storm, as it was on and over so quickly, relatively speaking.
Again, while there is undoubtedly exaggeration here, and one must take some of Swofford's tales with a grain of salt (or, perhaps sand), there is realism and truth in the feelings these situations engendered. I can understand the anger of Marines and other military who read this and feel a sense of betrayal, but I can also understand those who feel that Swofford is saying what others can't or won't say. This is a tough book. While I would never want the Marine Corps or military to be judged by this one volume, it is a perspective worth including in the overall mix. Snipers have a reputation for being a bit on the fringes anyway, and Swofford in that regard is very true to form.
The Marines are the Marines....get over it.
Anthony Swoffords's memoir, Jarhead, is a no holds barred, unblemished, and unvarnished picture of what the Marine Corps is really like. If you're looking for a made for TV or Hollywood version of the Marines or the Persian Gulf War, don't read this book. Swofford's story is up front and accurate. After reading Jarhead you may understand the Marines a little better. Behind the spit shined shoes, polished brass, and crisp uniforms is an organization that is demanding and unyielding....an organization that is difficult to undertand by many insiders. The brutality the Marines face everyday among their own is part of the experience. And Mr. Swofford captures it perfectly.
Even with some of the Corps blemishes exposed, I wouldn't take anything for my experience with the Marines. At 54 I recognize that they gave me the tools to carve out a successful life. And I'm not the only one that would make that comment.
Anthony Swoffords descriptions of life in and around a battlefield is some of the best descriptive prose I've read. The hellish descriptions of burning oil wells, tanks, personnel carriers will make you feel gritty........If you're a former Marine or a combat veteran you'll want to read this book. You'll recognize the truth of it.
What a timely read! Anthony Swofford revisits his days as a sniper in the Marine Corps, and takes us along with him from boot camp to Operation Desert Storm. The language he uses, and stories he tells may shock a naive reader, but to anyone looking for an up-close-and-personal from one who was there, this tale is awesome. If you want more of an in-depth interview than Ted Koppel interviewing some career army colonel who is all spit and polish, check out the message that Marine Lance Corporal Swofford sends home.
Swofford pulls no punches. He describes the physical brutality of boot camp, and the hardening of eager, young, lovelorn souls into battle-ready killers. Before being deployed to Saudi, his troop enjoys its final days Stateside watching Hollywood war movies meant to shock liberal, peace-loving Americans on two coasts. Instead, the young jarheads (haircuts high and tight!) eat it up, whooping and hollering to Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and the sort. They "watch the same films and are excited by them, because the magic brutality of the film celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man."
Once in the desert, one feels it. Swofford describes in detail what it is to live with sand in every crevice of one's body, to sweat all day in a useless chemical suit, to be assigned the task of disposing of the latrines. The importance of constant drilling, of staying sharp, of cleaning a gun countless times each day pay dividends...later they learn how poorly the Iraqi regulars maintained their weapons. But for the long stay of many months before battle the drudgery seems endless. The psychological impacts are many. The pain of separation from family and friends; of the desertion of girlfriends, wives and cheating lovers; of fear and uncertainty mounts exponentially. Swofford makes it abundantly clear how dangerous it is to take very impressionable young men, to hype them up into killing warriors, to deprive them of basic humanities, and isolate them in god-forsaken parts of the world for months on end. It's quite a recipe.
I laughed out loud at his story of the "Any Marine" letter writing. Swofford has a natural ability to drop the reader into a panoramic and colorful scene. You'll feel you're in his foxhole, endlessly shoveling the collapsing sand alongside him. The dialogue is rough and tough. And real. He isn't just any jarhead, he's the company "scribe". He's the guy reading Nietzsche and Homer. This is his Iliad. I recommend you read it now. It's a terrific companion reader to the talking heads cluttering your TV today.
I was 3/7 STA and this book is spot on
I served in the other Scout/Sniper platoon that was part of Task Force Grizzly, STA 3/7. Later I joined STA 2/7 for a brief time and got to know Cpl. Swofford as much as anyone could whose sole purpose at that point was liberty on the beaches of southern California.
I bought this book as soon as I heard about it and finished the last page seven hours later. It brought back so many feelings and memories that I couldn't have written it any better. Swofford captured the paradox of war as well as any book I'd ever read. Not many Marines talk about their love/hate relationship with the Corps outside of our circle and he related this sentiment remarkably well. His analysis of the difference between combat marines and the rest of the Corps sounded like recent phone calls between me and my buddies.
If you want to know what war is REALLY about, the day to day uncertainty, fear, boredom, glee, hate, love, and insanity, the BS of politics, incompitant brass leadership, then this book is for you. This isn't some rah rah book written by some REMF pogue either. Patriotism may get you to the front but your buddies will keep you alive so you can make it back home.
I've read something like 100 bad reviews on this book from active/former Marines. Most of these guys are picking on Swofford's details. All of them basically call him a 10%'er or outright liar. Too bad. I was not a 10%'er by any stretch of the imagination, or a liar. I served with both 3/7 and 2/7. I deployed to the same places, and humped the same gear as everyone else there. I even pissed my pants in Boot Camp, but under vastly different circumstances. I found that Swofford's book contains more truth than many of these former Marines will admit.
Swofford misses on some details, but then he freely admits that he had to reconstruct some of the technical aspects of his experience, so I can forgive most of that. He also bends the truth in some places, which can also be excused. I don't think anyone's biography is a glittering example of the truth put to print, and to read Jarhead with this expectation is a mistake. The cussing, foul, drunken undisciplined madness is certainly a large part of the USMC infantry. Go ahead and lie to yourself, but it's the truth. Particularly in the rear, and even worse on deployment.
Many of the Marines who gave bad reviews said, "never in my 'Corps!". Well, every honest Marine I served with would certainly tell you that the Marine Corps has changed over the years--and not always for the better. The Marines of today are not the same kinds of people that they were in the '40's, '50's or 60's, or any other decade. But the essence of the 'Corps has never changed. Infantry Marines have always, and always will be the toughest, best trained fighters there are. But they are also the greatest collection of misfits and oddballs you've ever seen or heard of. I saw and heard many of the things Swofford talks about. Some of that's not 'urban legend', but behaviors that repeated themselves throughout the 7th Marines.
The basic problem with Swofford's book is that it will not make you feel good to read it. The reason these other Marines hate this book is because it is trying to deal with a question that Marines have been struggling with forever and ever. How can you love something so much, and equally hate it at the same time?
No one's trying to take the 'Corps away from Marines that fought at Iwo Jima, or Chosin, or any one of the hundreds of other places soaked with jarhead blood. Swofford is not taking a crap on your honor or your diginity. I suspect he loved the 'corps every bit as much as anyone. He also, quite honestly, hated it.
I would recommend this book for one reason, and one reason only. It is about 85% honest, with about 20% BS to make it readable. That is about 100% more honesty than you'll get anywhere else. If Swofford was 100% honest, then no one would want to read it but him and maybe the handful of buddies he had in STA 2/7.