Once a member of the U.S Marines Surveillance and Target Acquisition Platoon, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, Anthony Swofford studies himself with the same intensity and relentlessness as he would have a potential target. Jarhead is an historical from the heart, through the scope account of not only his involvement in the 1991 Gulf War, but of the 20 year old Scout/Sniper he was. The chronicle is his attempt to explain himself and his part in the conflict by examining the mind, surrounding events and history of this young man in the most intense and compelling of styles.
This unrelenting, intimate and painfully truthful memoir spans the time and space of Swofford’s life. There is no hesitation, nothing held sacred or in reserve as he draws from experiences both pre and post war, analysing and dissecting the man he was and the man he is by describing in vivid prose the history of “Swoff”. Locations span the globe from bars to barracks, with stories comedic to deeply upsetting – many memories long buried unearthed that are instrumental in the enlightenment of both himself and the reader as to what it is to be a modern day warrior in action.
The language used in Jarhead is poetic. There are no sonnets and rhymes – rather the sighing reflective melancholy is beautifully illustrated by a barrage of some of the most creative strings of expletives imaginable. Swofford occasionally takes a back seat in telling tales, allowing events to speak for themselves and often with these events come a mixture of inspired profanity coupled with a vocabulary more extensive and intelligent than is commonplace in the war memoir genre. The language used creates a clear voice. A voice which enables the reader to paint a vivid mental picture of both image and sound.
Whether or not the reader is familiar with modern warfare - especially the tactics, training and weapons used in sniping and counter-sniping - it is easily perceived that the author understood his discipline and was highly skilled. Small details throughout, intentional or otherwise, point to the fact that the mind of a sniper may be very different from that of an infantryman. Possibly the mentality of a sniper or a person with the potential to be a sniper is the reason this book exists. Without detached sensitivity and a clear picture at distance (in this case time) there could be no end result.
The first thing I thought when I put this book down was how much it reminded me of Guy Sajer’s Forgotten Soldier. Perhaps not in any context other than the fact that both have had a lasting impression on me. This is not another sensationalised account of one man’s experiences during the Gulf War of ‘91, but rather an intense and audible regurgitation of personal events and feelings which attempt to explain who Anthony Swofford was at that time, who Anthony Swofford is today and a reconciliation between the two. This glorifies nothing. War memoirs will never be the same.