Anthony Swofford

The author of Jarhead discusses its movie adaptation.

Visiting Seattle recently, Anthony Swofford looked more like the heavyset, bearded New York novelist he is today, rather than the young Marine he was in his Jarhead prime (see review). Times have changed, and the wars with them, and the erstwhile college teacher takes a suitably long view of the literature of war. "I'll probably teach again. I want to teach again," he says, citing a curriculum as diverse as Plato, Rousseau, Philip Caputo, and Tim O'Brien. What about the sudden boom in books about the current Iraq War—seemingly a new military memoir every week? "I find it sort of odd. The books by reporters always come out very soon after [a war begins]. They're there reporting, with pens in their hands. I think probably the better books by soldiers will come out a few years hence, when they've had a few years to reflect on the experience." Swofford doesn't feel the need to keep abreast of all these titles. "I think part of the plethora now has to do with media and coverage. A guy gets a few hits on his blog, and a publisher wants to ship him a contract over to Baghdad. I'm not trying to keep up on war literature. I read the papers every day. A book I loved was War Reporting for Cowards. And from a reportorial perspective, [author Chris Ayres] really captured those Marines." As for the press coverage of Swofford's war, "There was a guy with [The New York] Times that we really liked. He was a guy who we had nothing in common with, and yet he was trying to tell our story. And for that, we were fond of him. There was the real understanding that one facet of our story was going to be told—and that was the one that the military approved. Which was: 'We're young, tough killers. We're going to go get these guys and kill them. And we're gonna go home.' But the other, more complex story is—'We are young, tough killers, but I'm kind of afraid. I'm 20 years old. I don't want to die. I've got a girlfriend back home.' That's the side of the story that's not always made available." Was that vulnerability made available in the canon of World War II? "I think that's definitely there in The Naked and the Dead, that sort of longing for home. In The Thin Red Line. That's part of the soldier's plight, being sent to this foreign culture that you know nothing about. You don't know the language. You don't know the food. You don't know how they wipe their asses. And you're supposed to be there killing people. And then you're supposed to go home and normalize."

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