Anthony Swofford waited ten years to write about his Gulf War experiences and the result was the best selling memoir Jarhead
. The intense pain and frustration he felt at the time is still fresh in the book, even after a long delay. This war narrative, above all others, offers a great look at the war from a soldier’s view, one who is trying to find his place in the war and in the world.
is not a motivational story by any means. It is a miserable journey through military training and experiences in the Saudi desert. One of the best and most real aspect of the book is that Swofford doesn’t dance around topics. He reveals ugly truths about himself and his friends that constitute an authentic realism. Some readers might be confused with the structure of the novel, because it does not follow the rules of typical storytelling. There is no path of climax and resolution. However unfulfilling the book’s structure may seem, by using it, Swofford constructs his work in a more life-like manner, implying that just as there was no obvious climax and resolution in his experiences, so goes his writing.
Oftentimes, those who write memoirs about their war experiences paint themselves as a hero and someone to be admired. However, for Swofford the need to be real with his readers overshadows desires of heroism. This is evident in many situations in the book, including the multiple times when Swofford urinates himself during stressful moments. Additionally, Swofford does not exaggerate, or even go into great detail, about his abilities as a soldier and a sniper. His few remarks about his skills are based on what he can do, not how fantastic he is for being able to do them.
This book in particular is a great supplement to other war narratives such as Catch-22, Dispatches, and Slaughterhouse Five. In these novels, the respective authors describe the atrocities of war and the subsequent effects on the soldiers. However, what these works lack is a soldier’s voice, a true introspective look into the thoughts and actions of a combatant. In Jarhead, Swofford reinforces many of the themes and situations that were penned by Joseph Heller, Michael Herr, and Kurt Vonnegut. Some would argue that Swofford’s writing is more meaningful and persuasive because it shows the reader the war from the inside looking out, instead of giving him/her the omniscient view of battle.
Now that U.S. forces are again involved in military operations in the Middle East, the work can be read and associated with the new generation of soldiers who are in the desert. In writing Jarhead, Swofford has communicated his own transformation from citizen to soldier and most of the way back. As the War in Iraq continues, the book becomes an even more necessary document. It is a snapshot of a soldier in the dreariest of professions.