Thursday, March 20, 2003

Support the troops, redux

"It is fashionable to present our forces as composed of peace-loving people who have been reluctantly coerced into risking their lives for us – "They'd give anything to be doing such mundane things as walking to work in the spring sunshine or meeting their friends for a pint," said one commentator yesterday – but when ex-soldiers speak out about their experiences, they do not usually see themselves in quite such a gentle fashion.

A telling account of the first Gulf War, Jarhead, by Anthony Swofford, has just been published. It gives us the experiences of a young marine 13 years ago, and he is horribly honest about what drew him into the army. "I wanted to be a killer, to kill my country's enemies," he says. He gives you a sense of his fellow soldiers' desire for the actual physical experience of killing, and he vividly describes how, when he and his colleagues were cheated – as they saw it – of that experience, some of them carried out acts of desecration on corpses as if in a spirit of revenge."

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