50bookchallenge #30/50: Jarhead, Anthony Swofford

I’m unde­cid­ed on whether I’ll see the movie. I enjoyed Swof­ford’s mem­oirs so much that I’d hate to have them spoiled for me by Hol­ly­wood. Swof­ford is artic­u­late and direct, a rare and good com­bi­na­tion. He has an easy, relaxed writ­ing style that invites the read­er to relate even to expe­ri­ences with lit­tle in com­mon to his own.

The sub­ject mat­ter fas­ci­nat­ed me. I have some shame for not hav­ing served, and read­ing about oth­er peo­ple’s sac­ri­fices holds some inter­est to me. Swof­ford is my age and I remem­ber watch­ing Desert Storm on CNN won­der­ing if I would have to dodge a rein­stat­ed draft. I pre­tend­ed to have some moral oppo­si­tion to war but as I got old­er I saw that it was sim­ple cow­ardice and that in fact my moral oppo­si­tion would have been the best rea­son for me to have served. To para­phrase a bumper stick­er, what if they had a war and no one but those with­out moral oppo­si­tion to war showed up? If the nation must sur­vive by immoral acts, then they must be com­mit­ted by moral men who will serve as wit­ness to the atroc­i­ties and whose actions will be tem­pered by their faith and moral­i­ty. If it is true that we must kill for our coun­try, we want those who will stop when the job is done. If I had a real moral griev­ance when I was 21, I should have signed up.

I did­n’t, and so today I occa­sion­al­ly read the mem­oirs of those who did serve with a bit of grat­i­tude for those who essen­tial­ly paid for me.

All that aside, this was an enter­tain­ing and illu­mi­nat­ing read. My only com­plaint is that Swof­ford occa­sion­al­ly skimped on depth where he pro­vid­ed con­text. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed his brief his­to­ry of the Scout/Snipers but wish he could have writ­ten more than a cou­ple of pages. It seemed like a bit of a tease, but I sup­pose that it was appro­pri­ate not to go too far off top­ic just to pro­vide con­text. It felt like he had more to say and held back, either because an edi­tor was urg­ing him to make a book that was easy to read or by author­ly lazi­ness. I can’t blame him for that; it’s best to skim over con­text and get to the stuff he’s an expert on: his own expe­ri­ence. Per­son­al­ly, I want­ed a lit­tle more back­sto­ry to build it up.

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