In this time of war, news networks like CNN broadcast endlessly about the war in Iraq---the details of a particular battle, the politics of the war, the number of casualties and so on. For me, the war is a distant reality. None of my immediate family is serving in the conflict. I go about my daily life though I check CNN
periodically for the latest news. In fact, my experience with knowing actual soldiers eligible to serve is limited to a friend’s husband. I appreciate how a soldier looks hunky and gorgeous in dress blues. What little I thought I know about Marines is derived from the sadly skewed perspective of romance novels (read: big, bad sexy, noble hero of a Marine who is totally lethal and highly trained. He is reserved but carries secret emotional baggage that can be cured with sex, the love of a good woman and lots of babies).
Enter Anthony Swofford, whose book, “Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles”, totally blew me away. It is a gritty, candid look at his life as a grunt. He joins the Marines because he feels a duty to continue the military tradition of his family. He almost immediately regrets this decision, but sticks it out. During breaks in training, he reads “The Pocket Nietzsche”. As one would expect in an organization with a large aggregate of men, there is prolific profanity and violence embedded in the culture of the Marine Corps. A person's hands are referred to as “dickskinners” and one’s mouth is a “cum-receptacle”.
His take: “Like most good and great marines, I hated the Corps. I hated being a marine because more than all of the things in the world I wanted to be---smart, famous, sexy, oversexed, drunk, fucked, high, famous, smart, known, understood, loved, forgiven, oversexed, drunk, high, smart, sexy---more than all of these things, I was a marine. A jarhead. A grunt.”
When the Gulf War commences, he details the boredom of waiting for combat, seeing the countless burned out corpses of Iraqis who were hit by bombs. He almost gets killed himself. Tony is smart enough to know that the Gulf War was more then liberating Kuwait. “None of the rewards of victory will come my way, because there are no rewards, not on the field of battle, not for the man who fights the battle -- the rewards accrue in places like Washington, D.C., and Riyadh and Houston and Manhattan, south of 125th Street." The men in his battalion morph into different beings during wartime. They cope with their stress and emotions by engaging in “field-fucking”. The group targets a guy that everyone is pissed at and they all take turns pantomiming sodomy on him. In another instance, a member of his battalion repeatedly desecrates an Iraqi corpse.
This book chronicles the depths of the despair Anthony Swofford experiences. There are some funny moments, but there is no happy ending here. He ends his book with the following: “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 will die horribly. This will never end. Sorry.” A damning conclusion that makes one think about the war we are fighting now and whether all the suffering it is causing our soldiers and the Iraqis is indeed worth it.
Labels: Books and Writers I Adore