- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

Don’t tell Marine-turned author Anthony Swofford that the new film based on his experiences in the first Gulf War isn’t political.

“Jarhead’s” narrative is dictated by the Powell Doctrine, which demands among its key tenets overwhelming force and a clear exit strategy, Mr. Swofford says.

That only hints at the sly messages embedded in the film, directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes and starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a 20-year-old Anthony Swofford.

“The politics at play here are the politics of a man at war,” Mr. Swofford says. “The film isn’t devoid of politics, but it’s not articulated in simple dialogue.”

Still, at a time when every other artist from the Beastie Boys to Burt Bacharach is splicing antiwar ideology into their work, it’s refreshing for a film covering the Gulf War to be so unpolemical.

To inject ideology would be a disservice to the soldiers, the author says.

He does, though, anticipate some swatting at the film for its lack of propaganda.

“There are different films for that, documentaries,” he says. “People can do that on op-ed pages. To say the film is pro or antiwar is a simplification of the lives that are much more complex than that.”

Mr. Mendes and screenwriter William Broyles Jr. (who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War) saw “Jarhead” through the same apolitical lens.

“I was careful about who I’d allow to touch the book,” says Mr. Swofford, who read, at Mr. Broyles’ request, some of the screenwriter’s drafts before shooting began.

Mr. Swofford didn’t start writing immediately after the war ended. It took about a decade before he began what would become his best-selling and critically adored memoir. It’s a delay he thinks might help would-be artists considering the current battle in Iraq.

“It takes time for people who lived it and for the greater culture to digest it,” he says. “I needed that time before I could attach my lens to this part of my life. It allows for a richer, more complex storytelling.”

He was aware of existing war memoirs before writing “Jarhead” but was convinced his reflections were starkly different. Nowhere is that originality more apparent than in how the soldiers spoke to each other, a language captured in Mr. Mendes’ often profane film.

“It’s a crass and obscene language, and I attempted to poeticize it,” Mr. Swofford says.

Soldiers past and present — including those fighting overseas now — have thanked him for his portrayal of men at war.

“I chose to be honest about that. It’s not always an attractive figure who emerges,” he says.

Mr. Swofford remembers receiving letters from friends back in college while he was overseas. Some expressed support; others did the same but admitted they were attending antiwar rallies all the same.

Mr. Swofford doesn’t see the harm in that duality.

Whether a war gains or loses support at home “doesn’t really affect [soldiers],” he says. “That sort of larger stuff falls away when the guy on the ground has to fight.”

Mr. Swofford, who is wrapping his first novel for publication next year, deflects the chance to choose sides in the current Iraq conflict. Instead, he steps into the shoes of those fighting now to remind us of something easily overlooked.

“There are a large number of men and women serving abroad and living the life of combat. These people are returning to our communities. They’re our firemen … they’ll be your children’s friend’s parents and neighbors. We need to recognize them and make sure the government supports them,” he says. “That isn’t always the case.”

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