Posted by: beansai | April 5, 2008

Jarhead by Anthony Swofford

    My very first impression of this memoir was the movie. I had seen it a while before my rhetoric class ever started and frankly, I had no idea that the movie was based off a memoir. So when I first began to read the book I had some pre-conceived notions about what was going to happen, what it was all about. Though I can’t say they were very clear notions since my DVD player wasn’t working when I rented the movie and ended up watching it on my 15 inch screen laptop with a friend. There we were huddled around my little computer screen with bad sound. So I missed half of the dialogue and only remember some of the more in your face moments of the film. The book was not at all what I remembered the movie being like.

    Anthony Swofford describes his life in the Marines and afterward in a very haunting manner. He is cold and distant, bluntly honest with the reader. From the get-go he makes a point to claim this memoir as a collection of his memories and experiences. Therefore, we have to take this memoir with a grain of salt, because everything he relates may not be intact with reality. That is how memory works after all, we remember certain events in different ways, with different details making an impression on different people. So I had absolutely no issue with the fact that these events are how he personally remembers them.

    If you’ve seen the movie and enjoyed it, I would definitely recommend the book, it is more than worth the read. If you hated the movie, I would definitely recommend the book, it helps to fill in the details and gaps of the film. The tone is very different in the memoir than it is in the film as well. It is more than just a bunch of punk ass kids joining the military, cursing, going through the rituals of military life. It is much more. Swofford goes into the after math of living a military life, the difficulty of becoming a part of main stream society after the strict structure of his military experience. He tackles our ideas of manhood and is unabashed to admit moments of emotional break down, fear, longing.

    As the narrator of the memoir, Anthony Swofford maintains a cool tone that is disconnected and harrowing. Just as he is haunted by the fact that he can never escape his identity as a Marine, a Jarhead, he haunts the reader with his unrelenting details of what he and others went through during the first Gulf War. It is this brutal honesty of his that make the memoir memorable and endearing, despite how fucked up everything seems throughout the book. You can’t help but feel a certain amount of compassion for Swofford’s younger self, as well as his Marine brethren, despite some of their despicable behavior.

    Throughout the book, Swofford not only displays compassion for his comrades, but even for his enemy. In the midst of war and the forced mob mentality of patriotism, Swofford remembers that the artillery he is fighting against is more than just machinery. There are human beings on the other side of the guns. This quiet compassion rings throughout the memoir, subtle and stirring.

    While many find this book controversial, I found it fascinating and sad. Many would prefer that Swofford didn’t relate all the details of his time in the Marines, this rite of passage with an aura of secrecy around it. He breaks open the flood gates with this memoir and doesn’t hold back. I don’t mean to say that I believe Swofford’s point of view of the military experience is the right one or the only one, just an honest one. One man’s opinion of his life changing experience as a Marine, a Jarhead. Once a Jarhead, always a Jarhead.



  1. Despite your absence of reviews, I think it has been a good thing. The writing here sounds refreshed and more honest. Since I have seen the movie as well I have been very interested in Swofford’s memoir especially since your journal entry.

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