Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Jarhead by Anthony Swofford is an account of Swofford's experiences as a young Marine in the first Gulf War. It's a riveting book, well worth reading, especially for the description of the training and culture of the Marines. There is not much combat in the book, largely because the combat phase of the war was so short. But there is some interesting insight about the relations between the U.S. forces and the local population. This story takes place in Saudi Arabia, after a small group of Marines have encountered a tribe of Bedouins who were complaining that someone had been using their camels for target practice.
We drive back to the Triangle on the superhighway and I sit in the back of the Hummer with Dettmann and Crocket and tell them what occurred with the Bedouins. They think the story is funny, and they both laugh and make jokes about "camel jockeys." I'm not happy to be in the Triangle, and I'm even less happy about going to war as a hired man for another government, but I find their heartlessness particularly disturbing. I want to defend the Bedouins against this assault from these ignoramuses.It's not hard to see why sending our armed forces into a foreign country tends not to be an effective way to capture hearts and minds. The Marines are nineteen-year-old kids, far from home and trained in the difficult and specialized arts of winning wars. They are not a skilled cadre of career diplomats. And that's the way it should be; empathy for the Other is not a skill that helps soldiers win battles, and might even help you get killed. Being a fighter is different than being a negotiator or statesman. If we are going to make a habit of nation-building in countries that aren't fully convinced of our benevolence, we're going to have to figure out better ways to manage the transition from battle to rebuilding.