‘Jarhead’ author speaks on life as soldier, writer
Anthony Swofford also promoted his upcoming book about life as a veteran.
Nov. 12, 2010
Former Marine Anthony Swofford, the author of "Jarhead," visited campus Tuesday evening to speak about his life as a soldier and a writer. The speech was part of a series of veteran events in the spirit of Veteran's Day.
Swafford tried to relate the difficult transition from soldier to citizen with the acknowledgement he would always be a veteran.
"When I first left the Marines, I wanted to avoid the term veteran and most people wanted to avoid the reality of the veteran in their midst," Swofford said. "Luckily I found an art, writing, that helped me find the language to convey the meaning of my military experiences."
Throughout the presentation, Swofford let his dry humor fly with black comedy similar to his writing.
"I sat alone in my underwear for eight months in an office in Portland, Ore., and at the end of it I had this book," Swofford said. "It's one of the great parts about being a writer. You can work in your underwear usually, sometimes slippers if it's cold."
He told the audience after years in the military, most of which were spent waiting on orders, he found it took him many more years to rewire his brain from the sort of brainwashing the Marines had instilled within him.
"I wanted the next four years of my life to exist in the kind of bubble made of learning and books, devoid of weapons and brutality, absent of profanity, rage and angst," Swofford said. "In the fiction that I'd been writing about the Marines, I'd been able to hide behind made-up characters. Now there was nothing to make up. There was only pure experience, and I needed to transfer it to the page."
Swofford spent about half his time at MU reading a clip from his upcoming book, "War Memoir." He said he was inspired to construe the novel when he noticed a 25-year-old veteran walking down the street with a cane. Swofford wondered how the man could possibly integrate himself into New York City and then wrote a novel from the man's perspective.
The opening line of the novel is a quote by philosopher Bertrand Russell.
"I supposed that most people liked money better than anything else, but I discovered that they liked destruction even better," Swofford quoted.
The rest of the clip Swofford read followed along the same lines as the quote, adding in sarcasm and Marine profanity.
After reading from the new book, Swofford took questions from the audience. When asked if he considered himself an absurdist, Swofford reminded the audience of the importance author Albert Camus held in his mind, and he claimed he was more like Camus than authors such as Ernest Hemingway.
"War is an absurd situation," Swofford said. "You're asked to do something that is really unnatural. You're asked to kill another person. For many years, the only thing that mattered everyday was whether or not someone would take a bullet for me, and I would take a bullet for him."
Students in the audience had the opportunity to get their books signed by Swofford after his presentation.
"We actually just saw the film 'Jarhead' last night, and then we saw a flyer about this," junior Ian Arnold said. "It was a bit fortuitous."