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Jarhead

Jarhead

A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles

  • reading group guide
Anthony Swofford's Jarhead is the first Gulf War memoir by a frontline infantry marine, and it is a searing, unforgettable narrative.
When the marines -- or "jarheads," as they call themselves -- were sent in 1990 to Saudi Arabia to fight the Iraqis, Swofford was there, with a hundred-pound pack on his shoulders and a sniper's rifle in his hands. It was one misery upon another. He lived in sand for six months, his girlfriend back home betrayed him for a scrawny hotel clerk, he was punished by boredom and fear, he considered suicide, he pulled a gun on one of his fellow marines, and he was shot at by both Iraqis and Americans. At the end of the war, Swofford hiked for miles through a landscape of incinerated Iraqi soldiers and later was nearly killed in a booby-trapped Iraqi bunker.
Swofford weaves this experience of war with vivid accounts of boot camp (which included physical abuse by his drill instructor), reflections on the mythos of the marines, and remembrances of battles with lovers and family. As engagement with the Iraqis draws closer, he is forced to consider what it is to be an American, a soldier, a son of a soldier, and a man.
Unlike the real-time print and television coverage of the Gulf War, which was highly scripted by the Pentagon, Swofford's account subverts the conventional wisdom that U.S. military interventions are now merely surgical insertions of superior forces that result in few American casualties. Jarhead insists we remember the Americans who are in fact wounded or killed, the fields of smoking enemy corpses left behind, and the continuing difficulty that American soldiers have reentering civilian life.
A harrowing yet inspiring portrait of a tormented consciousness struggling for inner peace, Jarhead will elbow for room on that short shelf of American war classics that includes Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, and be admired not only for the raw beauty of its prose but also for the depth of its pained heart.
  • Scribner | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743254281 | 
  • November 2005
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Reading Group Guide

This is a raw, irreverent, unforgettable memoir of military life. Swofford was not just a soldier who happened to write, but a writer who happened to be a soldier. His prose is sharp and vivid. In contrast to the real-time print and television coverage of the Gulf War, which was highly scripted by the Pentagon, Swofford's account is authentic, contrarian, and singular.
Throughout Jarhead, Swofford is a tormented consciousness, yet the tone of the memoir shows that his brief, searing war experience has provoked a yearning for reconciliation and the first hope for a new, inner peace.

Discussion Questions:
1. Why do you think Swofford joined the marines? What appealed to him, and what was he looking for?
2. How would you describe Swofford's temperament? How does it differ from the personalities of the other marines? And how does it affect his experience as a soldier?
3. What do you think of Swofford's girlfriend Kristina and their relationship?
4. Swofford shares the unfortunate story of a fellow soldier receiving videotape from his wife. Why do you think she sent that tape and what was your reaction?
5. At one point, Swofford describes placing the muzzle of his M16 in his mouth and visualizing his own death. Swofford writes of the incident, "The reasons are hard to name...It's not the suicide's job to know, only to do" (p. 70). What do you think is the nature of his despair? In this moment, how seriously does he consi see more

About the Author

Anthony Swofford
Dan Winters

Anthony Swofford

Anthony Swofford served in a U.S. Marine Corps Surveillance and Target Acquisition/Scout-Sniper platoon during the Gulf War. After the war, he was educated at American River College; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has taught at the University of Iowa and Lewis and Clark College. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, Men's Journal, The Iowa Review, and other publications. A Michener-Copernicus Fellowship recipient, he lives in New York.

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