One Soldier’s View

Jarhead: A Marine’ s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles<br> By Anthony Swofford | Scribner. $24.

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Anthony Swofford’s Gulf War memoir, Jarhead, could hardly be more timely. But the author, who served as a Marine sniper in Desert Storm, has wisely avoided virtually every nod toward direct commentary on current politics and every cliché of battlefield memoir. Instead, much of the story alternates between descriptions of Swofford’s training — his rise through the ranks and eventual deployment to Iraq — and descriptions of his personal degradation by that process. In the end, Jarhead emerges as a scary, detailed, well-written indictment of life in the military.

Swofford also offers some essential reporting. A military recruiter doesn’t offer the then-17-year-old enlistment-brochure promises — that he’ll get to see the world and defend the Constitution. More perniciously, he entices the teenager with the truth: that he’ ll spend his time getting drunk, starting fights, killing people with interesting weapons, and buying lost weekends with port-of-call prostitutes.

Swofford’s concise writing and liberal use of unquotably coarse military lingo underscore both the intensity, and ambivalence, of his experience. As he rises to a coveted spot in a prestigious sniper unit, he sucks on a bullet as a kind of pacifier and talks about wanting to kill people he meets: Bedouins encountered on a desert patrol, distant soldiers seen through a telescope.

In the end, Jarhead captures the blackest of black comedy. His Marine troop, spoiling for a fight, starts shooting at camels and firing captured weapons at burned-out Iraqi tanks. Swofford himself teeters on the edge of sanity, contemplating suicide, torturing a cohort at gunpoint, and watching his fellow soldiers desecrate Iraqi corpses. The similarity between the recruiter’s promises of a soldier’s life and the reality of Swofford’s account is instructive.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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