A number of books over the years have tried to exemplify the life of the grunt/boot/cannon fodder. Written from both the first-person and third-person perspective, they have often blended fiction and non-fiction. Much like the fog of war, it’s hard to draw the line, even in non-fiction, which is actual fact and which has become either hyperbolized or some sort of composite of truth.
Jarhead, with Black Hawk Down, has become my generation’s account of war, focusing particularly on the first Gulf War. Later generations will have Generation Kill, while earlier generations had classics like Dispatches, The Things They Carried, and further back to Red Badge of Courage.
Amongst these novels, Jarhead really brought forward the blend of pride and disgust. Swofford frequently swerves between being proud to be part of the Marines, while being disgusted both with the service and his part in it. He never feels just one emotion, but is constantly beset by its counterpoint. While certain stories may have been exaggerated, I never felt that he put more into his personal thoughts than the absolute truth. His book couldn’t stand up on the horrors of war, since he experienced so little conflict in the Desert Storm/Desert Shield. But he was instead able to use his own personal narrative to draw forward the theme of the soldier as pawn, and recognizing the inanity of the entire concept.
Book 48 of 189