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Jarhead by Anthony Swofford

February 4, 2021

Some wars are unavoidable and need well be fought, but this doesn’t erase warfare’s waste. Sorry, we must say to the mothers whose sons die horribly. This will never end. Sorry.

Anthony Swofford is a man in his mid-twenties who, at the age of fourteen, decides that he’s going to follow the path his dad and grandfather carved out, and become a U.S. Marine, in response to the suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon. Four years later, in 1990, he legally joins on his own (without the definite permission of his parents) and gets shipped off to the Mojave desert, where he and his fellow marines find out about the US declaring war on Iraq. To everyone else, this is bad news, but to Swofford, this is a way to exact revenge. From there, he is sent to Saudi Arabia to live in the sand for six months as part of the Surveillance and Target Acquisition Platoon (STA). While there, he is pushed on the verge of craziness, tests out a new government weapon, gets harassed by his Staff Sergeant, and finds out what it means to be a man, to be an American, and to serve his country, ─even if there’s a moderate chance he won’t make it back. 

In his memoir, Jarhead, Swofford gives an effective first-person account of living the Marine life ─the pros and the cons ─all the while using precise diction to accurately capture his thoughts and feelings and the landscape around him. How he structures the narrative is interesting because, unlike most other books about war, Swofford splits up the parts, so the book doesn’t go chronologically from enlistment to retirement. Instead, readers get various chapters that, some of the time, have no relation to the previous chapter, and that’s what makes this book unique. He also devotes a chapter to the cleaning guide for the M40A1 Rifle that tells readers how to properly clean it and keep it 100% functional (combating condensation, humidity, etc.), which is fitting because Swofford cleans his guns to get his mind off things, even if the guns are already clean. It’s his escape from reality. 

I felt that the plot was decently fast-paced, due to Swofford only describing the parts of his experience that are significant. He’s not explaining every little detail about the sand or the sky or the guns: it’s a mix between him telling the story around a campfire and him writing it in a book. It’s that nice blend that doesn’t have so much description that it takes up a whole paragraph but not too little that readers can’t “see it” in their heads.

One idea that I learned from this book is that there are a lot of things that can go wrong when someone’s fighting in a war. A friendly platoon can mistake them for an enemy and shoot, they can be walking along as quietly as possible and still get ambushed by enemy forces, something bad can happen back in the States and make them severely depressed, and all these other factors that they can’t prepare for could happen any second.

Swofford has published a couple of other books including Death of an American Sniper, which documents the life of Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal sniper who had 160 confirmed kills and a first-hand account of Eddie Ray Routh, the war-torn man who ended Chris’s life. Jarhead was also the inspiration for the movie Jarhead,  and the two other movies that are about US soldiers in combat but are not related to the first installment.

I rated this book a ten out of ten for its satisfying reading pace, and I recommend this memoir to anyone who is interested in war or military stories and is okay with a lot of profanity.   The diction used in this chronicle is gripping and psychological and is sure to make you ponder when Mr. Swofford leads you on this war-torn path through a small part in American history.


Scribner, 257 Pages

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