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Old 06-29-2003, 07:13 AM   #1
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New Book by "Steven E. Kuhn about Iraq war

Steven E. Kuhn is a war veteran from the 1st iraq war ('91) he writes about the things he did, the things he saw and how this changed his life.

Sadly that book is only avail. in German yet.

Whatever.. if you can read German, "Soldat im Golfkrieg. Vom Kämpfer zum Zweifler." gives you interesting insights.

He still calls himself a patriot and says "Sometimes i wish i'd stayed blind" - somehow this statement reminded me at "Staring at the sun" :-)


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Old 06-30-2003, 09:37 PM   #2
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i am not familar with that book.

I keep hearing about this one.
Here is an exerpt:

The sniper's tale

Anthony Swofford came from a military family. He was a US marine to the bone. But when he was sent to fight in the 1991 Gulf war and saw the devastation he was part of, doubts and despair set in. What were they fighting for? He tells how it felt to be a soldier on the ground, under fire from the enemy, and, worse, from his own side.

Saturday March 15, 2003
The Guardian

Buy Jarhead at

As a lance corporal in a US Marine Corps platoon, I saw more of the Gulf war than the average grunt. Still, my vision was blurred - by wind, sand and distance, by false signals, poor communication, by stupidity and fear and ignorance. Thus what follows is neither true nor false, but what I know. I have forgotten most of the statistics and must look them up. For place names, I refer to maps. For unit deployments and order of battle, I must consult published charts. I remember most of the names and faces of my platoon mates. I remember the names and faces of some of their girlfriends and wives. I remember some of the sand, but there was so much of it.
On August 2 1990, Iraqi troops drive east to Kuwait City and start killing soldiers and civilians, and capturing palaces and expensive German sedans - though it is likely the atrocities are being exaggerated by Kuwaitis and Saudis and certain elements of the US government, so as to gather more support from the UN, America and the international community.

That same day, my platoon - STA (pronounced stay), the Surveillance and Target Acquisition Platoon, scout/snipers, of the Second Battalion, Seventh Marines - is put on stand-by. We're stationed at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, in California's Mojave desert. After hearing the news of imminent war, we march in a platoon formation to the base barber and get fresh haircuts. We call ourselves jarheads - our heads look just like jars.

Then we send a few guys downtown to rent all of the war movies they can get their hands on. For three days we sit in our rec room and drink beer and watch all of those damned movies. We concentrate on the Vietnam films because it's the most recent war, and we rewind and review famous scenes - Robert Duvall and his helicopter gunships in Apocalypse Now; Willem Dafoe getting shot by a friendly and left on the battlefield in Platoon; Matthew Modine talking trash to a streetwalker in Full Metal Jacket.

There is talk that many Vietnam films are anti-war, that the message is war is inhumane and look what happens when you train young American men to fight and kill. But, actually, Vietnam war films are all pro-war, no matter what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. Mr and Mrs Johnson in Omaha or San Francisco will watch the films and weep and decide war is inhumane and terrible, but Corporal Johnson at Camp Pendleton and Sergeant Johnson at Travis Air Force Base and Lance Corporal Swofford at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base watch the same films and are excited by them, because they celebrate the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills.

When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait City, Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Jabir al-Ahmad as-Sabah, flees to Saudi Arabia and establishes his government either in a Saudi palace or the Ad Dammam Hilton, depending on what paper you read. At a press conference on August 3, President George Bush calls Saudi Arabia, Kuwait's southern neighbour, a "vital US interest". Defence secretary Dick Cheney visits Saudi Arabia on August 5 and brokers a historic deal allowing US troops on Saudi soil for the first time. On August 6, the UN Security Council passes Resolution 661, imposing an economic embargo on Iraq and occupied Kuwait. And on August 7, the deployment of American fighting troops begins.

I'm in the base gym at noon that day, lifting a few hundred pounds over my chest, when I hear an announcement: all personnel from STA 2/7 are ordered to report immediately to battalion headquarters. Our deployment is inevitable. On August 14, two days after my 20th birthday, the Seventh Marines arrive in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

As I disembark the plane, the oven heat of the desert grips my throat. In the distance, the wind blows sand from the tops of dunes, cresting beige waves that billow like silk through the mirage. The scene is like that at any busy international airport, only we are wearing fatigues and carrying loaded rifles, gas masks strapped to our hips. Fighter jets patrol the sky. We're marched toward large, bright green Bedouin tents, where the colonel calls a battalion formation and proudly announces that we're taking part in Operation Desert Shield. Our mission is to protect Saudi Arabia and her oilfields. We joke about having transferred from the Marine Corps to the Oil Corps, or the Petrol Battalion, and while we all think we're damned funny, we know we might soon die - deployed to protect oil reserves and the profits of certain American companies, many of which have direct ties to the White House.

At this point, we also know the outcome of the conflict is less important for us than for the old white fuckers and others who have billions of dollars to gain or lose in the deep oilfields of the Kingdom of Saud.

By the end of November, more men arrive. Despite disagreements on anything from religion to poker rules to the best measurements for breasts, waists and hips, we are a tight platoon. It's not original to say a combat unit works like a family - but the best combat unit works like a dysfunctional family, and the ways and means of dysfunction are also the ways and means of survival.

By December, the weather has cooled; the temperature hasn't hit 80 in over a month. In America, the anti-war movement gains momentum. My friend Jenn sends me articles opposing the build-up. They link the Gulf conflict with US energy and economic policies that rely on fossil fuels and the defence of low prices for those fuels. But we marines of STA do not care about fuel; we care about living and shooting.

Combat Engineers have built a rifle range in the middle of the Triangle, the desert training/security area. The platoon shoots for an hour, and after consistently hitting in the bull, we stop bothering with the targets and simply fire away. The sniper knows as soon as he pulls the trigger whether the shot will become a kill or a miss.

After the shoot, we clean our weapons. While the rest of the platoon returns to base camp, we police the range, retrieving what remains of our targets. I notice four Bedouins nearby. Through binoculars, I watch the men remove a piece of plywood from the soft side of a rise and begin to enter the rise. We often see Bedouins in the Triangle - it's their home, and we're visitors - but the behaviour of these men is abnormal, and we've never seen a subsurface structure before. It might be a cache of food, but we're concerned that the men might be hostile and entering a weapons bunker or long-term observation post.

Crocket and Dettmann remain behind with a sniper rifle, and Johnny and I approach on foot. With each step the heat seems to increase and the distance between us and the possible aggressors to grow larger. Their robes warp in the mirage until they look like a battalion rather than a squad. I decide the men are Iraqi spies, sent across the border in the early days of the conflict and working reconnaissance ever since, blending in with local tribesmen. I struggle to recall the phrases of Arabic I learned during the first few weeks in-country: I am your friend, Drop your weapons, You are surrounded, I am from the United States military, Stop or I'll shoot. Since I can't recall any of the Arabic, I plan to shout all of these phrases in English - if the men are spies, they were probably trained in western schools.

I've been on thousands of training patrols, but we've never actually seen potential enemy.

Three of the men are squatting on top of the rise. We're within 100 feet. I could, in seconds, produce fatal injuries to all three. This thought excites me and I know that, whatever is about to occur, we will win. To our right, I see five camels, obviously belonging to these men. We stare at the men and the men stare at us, until one of them waves and Johnny waves back. This gesture is both alarming and comforting.

He approaches us, young and handsome and smiling. I slowly settle my trigger selector into the safe mode. The man squats a few feet in front of us and draws in the sand, speaking a frantic hybrid of Arabic and English. While he points at the camels, a few men exit the hide with bundles of supplies. Now eight men are visible and I begin to see that his complaint has something to do with the camels. But we still don't understand. We're huddled over his field sketch, and he slowly reaches for my rifle. I place my palm on his head and with little effort push him to the deck. I realise his move was not violent, but rather a desperate attempt to communicate. I remove my magazine and eject the round from the chamber.

In the man's eyes I see a mixture of wonder and fear. I submit my rifle to him. He takes it the way a child might and, holding it from his hip, he points the weapon toward the camels and makes firing noises. Johnny and I look at one another. Eight men, five camels. Some of their camels have been shot and they think we're responsible. The man inspects my rifle. I know he wants to find gunpowder, evidence that the weapon has recently been fired, but all that comes off on his fingers is cleaning fluid/ lubricant/protectant. The man turns and speaks to the others, and they go back to their business.

We patrol backward for a hundred yards. Johnny says, "I'm glad we didn't have to shoot anyone. I wonder who played target practice with their camels?"

We drive back to the Triangle and I sit in the back with Dettmann and Crocket, and tell them what happened. They think the story is funny and make jokes about "camel jockeys". I'm not happy to be in the Triangle, 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.

Before I have a chance to explain the difference between the Bedouin and the Iraqis, a Mercedes sedan approaches from the rear, travelling at high speed. We occasionally see large Mercedes sedans on the superhighway, a Saudi male driving with a female or a few females in the back seat, each wearing a hijab. These brief, high-speed glances are our only exposure to the citizens of the country we're protecting (the Bedouins are less citizens of the country than denizens of the land). We're sure the Saudis prefer this arrangement. We are the ghost protectors. As the car closes in, Crocket stands and puts his hand to his mouth, flicking his tongue between two fingers. The driver of the Mercedes turns his head slowly, a little late to see Crocket, but one covered woman sits alone in the back seat of the car, and I watch her eyes follow Crocket's crude gesture. I don't know if she's registering shock or confusion or disgust, but I know I will always remember her eyes, locked on the crude young American.

The Mercedes blows past and Crocket and Dettmann yell profanities and excitedly slap each other on the back. Dettmann calls Crocket a "ballsy motherfucker" and Crocket says, "That bitch will never forget me. She wanted me."

A half-million troops are now deployed to Saudi Arabia, and on January 17 the war begins.

Within hours, the Iraqi air force threat is demolished. Two days later, the coalition has flown over 4,000 missions with the loss of only 10 aircraft. The Iraqis are not so lucky. After the loss of many aircraft, and the transport of over 100 Iraqi planes to safe airfields in Iran, the only semi-long-range air-delivery capability the Iraqis command is the Scud.

On January 18, the colonel announces that we are now involved in an offensive operation named Desert Storm. He tells us we are both the tip and the eye of the storm. I think he's blending metaphors, and he's confusing the troops. The colonel insists chemical-laden Scuds are still a serious threat to our safety and that an Iraqi ground offensive is possible, so we need to fortify our defensive positions. He adds, "Please do not consider this a bunch of bullshit."

The following day we are given further instruction in nuclear, biological and chemical defence. An officer tells us again that the pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills we are taking aren't harmful, that they will help us. The PB is intended to enhance the post-exposure antidote we'll self-administer, to reduce the likelihood of dying from nerve agent.

We swallow these pills not because we need to, but because the intelligence is incorrect - the Pentagon received bad dope concerning the number of Iraqi chemical warheads in Kuwait. They didn't know it was bad but they knew that when soldiers and marines, good old rough American boys, started dropping dead on the battlefield from nerve gas, the public perception of the war being worth fighting would change.

Kuehn is the only one of us who spits out his pills and buries them in the desert. He isn't smart enough to rebel against an experimental drug, but he's angry enough to rebel against anything that doesn't produce immediate and positive results. Me, I'm afraid. I rarely, if ever, disobey orders. I believe that the Iraqi army has tens of thousands of artillery rounds filled with chemical weapons. I take the pills.

On February 18 we move to the Berm, the man-made obstacle of sand that follows the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia border. Shortly after arriving, we come under fire. The first few artillery rounds land within 15 feet of the fighting hole that Johnny and I are digging. As they impact, they make a sound of exhalation, as though air is being forced out of the earth. The rounds explode beautifully, and the desert opens like a flower. Sand rains into our hole. Our kit is stacked a few feet away. More rounds land nearby, and someone yells Gas! Gas! Gas! - this being what you're supposed to yell when you believe a chemical or biological attack is in progress. Now Johnny yells Fuck! - what you're supposed to yell when someone yells Gas! Gas! Gas! and your gas mask is out of reach. I crawl to our gear, throw it to Johnny and crawl back. More rounds impact, and I begin to weep inside my gas mask, not because of fear but because I'm finally in combat.

After the artillery assault ends, we begin to look for an enemy observation post, scouring the biblical range 2,000 yards to our east, our bellies flat to the warm sand. Johnny is first to notice the enemy position. I make out the physical structure, dug into the side of the range like a wound into the ribs of a martyr. Those poor fuckers, I think, those sons of bitches.

A captain from S-3 appears and pulls rank, insisting that he direct the fire mission, not STA. He calls in the planes, and a minute later the devastation starts. I've seen thousands of bombs land on targets, but I've never witnessed the extermination of human life before. The bombs make a soft thud that reverberates through the shallow valley. In the dust cloud floating slowly down the ridge, I imagine that I can see the last breaths of these men now dead.

We return to digging our holes. We have just experienced a formal exchange of fire. The reports will be forwarded to regimental and division S-1 - we've earned our Combat Action Ribbons. But we don't discuss this. I suppose that during war men rarely talk about warring - they talk about war before the war. I continue digging. I no longer doubt the existence of our enemy, but I feel good and safe and American.

At battalion, we learn that the final-final deadlines for complete withdrawal from Kuwait are being issued to Saddam Hussein, and that the real battle is about to begin. The battalion moves directly on top of the Berm. Iraqi troops have set fire to hundreds of oilwells in southern Kuwait, and we're told that they're also spilling crude on to the desert floor. The oil fires burn in the distance, the sky a smoke-filled landscape.

In the late afternoon the wind shifts and droplets of oil begin to fall on us. I read The Iliad and The Stranger, choosing a page randomly and reading aloud, then stopping and by memory trying to construct the story before and after the page I've read, as though closing a wound. Helicopters fly overhead, playing Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. I like rock music, but I don't think it belongs in my war. It was fine in the movies, on the boat with Martin Sheen or with the grunts patrolling the Ho Chi Minh, but I don't need the Who and the Doors in my war, as I prepare to fight for or lose my life. Teenage wasteland, my ass. This is the other side.

The next afternoon, the entire battalion and First Marine Division combat units - about 30,000 men and hundreds of tanks - mount a massive offensive posture, waiting for the word Go or No.

Fountain has the division freqs dialled on his radio, and we hear that the order to fight has been issued. The word passes around like a wave. We aren't crushed, nor excited, even though we know that we're making history, that never before in modern times have so many fighters been massed on a border, waiting for the order to invade after spending nearly seven months training in the same region. We stand and throw on our rucks and check each other's gear.

On the northern side of the Berm, we hook up with the other sniper teams, and they tell us about the surrendering Iraqis, 20 or so. The Iraqis looked dirty and defeated, and clutched the propaganda pamphlets dropped by the helicopters as though the charred paper were stamped with gold.

The battalion forms in a column behind us. There's little work for us to do other than watch the engineers blow the place to hell and hope they detonate all of the mines in the obstacle belt running along the border.

The next morning, on foot, we lead the battalion through the cleared approaches. Our forward assault into Kuwait is halted for half an hour while Harriers drop bombs on artillery and troop positions to our front, softening them for our coming assault. Word over the freqs says that many Iraqi positions are abandoned or full only of corpses or men who prefer surrender to combat. We consider this good news.

Suddenly, only feet above our heads, the sky splits open as a round passes over. The sound is like a thousand bolts of lightning striking at once. A five-ton truck blows 100 yards behind us. Its water buffalo also blows, into a large bloom of 500 gallons of water.

The tanks shooting at us are M-60A1s, friendlies. The Task Force Ripper tanks are north-east of our position, and even with their naked eyeballs they should've known we were friendly. We know our own guys will not stop until the entire convoyis annihilated, because that is the way of the Marine Corps. We are fighting ourselves but we can't shoot back.

Johnny dials the Ripper executive officer and asks, Who the fuck do your tanks think they're shooting at to their south-west, it's fucking friendlies! It's my team and the goddamn supply convoy, you motherfuckers! I hear in his voice astonishment and rage, because of all the things that Johnny believes in, he believes that the Marine Corps doesn't kill its own.

Word is that only two men died and six were injured at the hands of the trigger-happy tankers. I don't believe this, because the damage is extreme, three five-tons and a Humvee are burning, and marines are swarming around the vehicles. The carnage is only 100 yards behind me, but it might as well be 10,000 yards away and many years past. Lieutenants and sergeants are yelling up and down the ranks for us to get off our asses and start moving forward, there's still a goddamn war here that we need to win.

We march 20 miles, and the only enemy we see are those who surrendered, and their dead friends in trenches and burnt vehicles. I've never seen such destruction. The scene is too real not to be real. Every 50 to 100 feet, a burnt-out and bombed-out enemy vehicle lies disabled on the road. Dozens, hundreds, of them. Perhaps those two burnt men, one missing both arms, perhaps they were thinking they might make it back to Baghdad and their families for a picnic; and that man crushed under the T62 turret, he was running from God knows what to God knows what, and of all the godfuckingunlucky space in the desert, he stopped and paused right where the turret landed.

This is war, I think - the epic results of American bombing, American might. The filth is on my boots. I am one of a few thousand people who will walk this valley today. Whether I live or die, the US will win this war. If colonialism weren't out of style, I'm sure we'd take over the entire Middle East, not only safeguard the oil reserves, but take them: We're here to announce that you no longer own your country, thank you for your cooperation, more details will follow.

The sky is a dead grey from the oil fires billowing to the north. We hump and hump, and look at one another with blank, amazed faces. Is this what we've done? What will I tell my mother?

Johnny and I are ordered to take part in an assault on Ahmed Al Jaber airfield. We drive with Fox Company in five-tons. Occasionally we pass a POW internment area, a mass of surrendered men, constrained with plastic thumb cuffs. Marines walk the perimeter with M16s. We drive close enough to the wire so that I see the faces of the POWs, and the men look at us and smile. Occasionally an embarrassing scene of thanks unfolds as a detainee is processed, the detainee kneeling in front of his once enemy, weeping and hugging the marine's legs.

We dismount the trucks not far from the airfield. The entire area is blanketed with thick, dark smoke from the burning wells. Occasional brown pockets of lucidity are available, and they offer a scene of devastation, the landing strip pocked with bomb depressions and disabled vehicles and corpses. Enemy soldiers are moving inside the air control tower. Two commanders are arguing. They point at each other's faces and gesture toward the enemy troops, us, and I'm sure one man wants to fight and die and the other man wants to not fight and not die.

I request permission to take shots. The men are perfect targets. The CO tells me, Negative, Sierra Tango One - break. Negative on permission to shoot - break. If their buddies next to them - break - start taking rounds in the head - break - they won't surrender, copy. I reply, Roger, roger. I want to say, Fuck you, sir, copy.

I can't help but assume that they don't want to use us because they know that two snipers with two of the finest rifles in the world and a few hundred rounds between them will in a short time inflict severe and debilitating havoc, causing the entire airfield to surrender. The captains want some war, and they must know that the possibilities are dwindling.

In a few more hours, the assault is over and I've remained a spectator.

The morning after, Johnny and I are deployed to a hide about 20 klicks north of the airfield and 10 west of the Burqan oilfields. Our mission is to call for fire on armour or troops in our area and to snipe officers if they present themselves for such treatment. As we talk throughout the day and listen to the war unfold on the radio and watch the movement of US troops across massive swathes of desert which until just hours before had been controlled by the Iraqi army, we think the war is ending.

We are supposed to be extracted by Humvee the next morning, but the vehicle never shows, and at 0700 we begin patrolling on foot toward what should be the new battalion coordinates. We are concerned, and then, as though to confirm that a slaughter of our battalion has occurred, a squad of enemy tanks moves across the horizon. We kneel in the sand as the tanks head slowly north, and there is nothing for us to do but watch.

We patrol the entire route. It takes us three hours to move within 200 metres of where the battalion should be bivouacked. We don't encounter them, we don't come upon anyone. At the bottom of a rise, we dump our packs and sniper rifles and low-crawl up it. All I can see ahead is sand and sky, more blue than I've seen in weeks. The sand is warm against my body. Johnny loads a grenade. I've been on burst the entire patrol and my finger is still on the trigger, sweating against the trigger. We hear music and screaming, and we continue slowly, prepared for the worst.

On the other side we see men lying naked on sleeping pads, soaking up the sun that bursts between the grey smoke clouds. Weapons and rucks and uniforms are strewn about the camp. Two men throw a football back and forth. A poker game is in progress. We're unable to move, our legs stuck beneath us as under a great weight. We know what the commotion means, why First Sergeant Martinez is handing out cigars and dancing shirtless and playing a kazoo. Johnny and I stay on the rise, watching men we know and love celebrate the end of our little war.

Eventually we descend, and the first sergeant greets us, smiling broadly, and in his face I see his family and the happiness of a family man, this from a marine I've never seen happy except while insulting a subordinate, and he says to us, "Oh fuck, you guys got stuck out there, didn't you? Sorry, guys, but the war is over, the motherfucker is over." And he slaps us both upon the back and shoves cigars in our faces.

Everyone apologises for leaving us out there, but they really did run short of vehicles because of the mad rush of staff officers up to Kuwait City to view the victory. And they are so happy on peace that Johnny and I don't care, we call them bastards for making us run a tactical patrol for eight klicks without communication while the goddamn war was over, but we really don't care.

The music plays throughout the day, Hendrix, the Stones, the Who, music from a different war. Ours is barely over but we begin to tell stories already. Remember that time. Remember when. Can you believe?

© Anthony Swofford 2003

· This is an edited extract from Jarhead:

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Old 07-02-2003, 06:29 PM   #3
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I just liked the way he wrote it, he isn't talking about big strategies, he's writing verry personal - how it changed his life when he suddenly saw a ring on the finger of a enemy soldier and started to think that the guy he just killed has a family like he has himself...
...he talked about the feelings he had when a old iraqi man asked for help but he couldn't help because the order was to leave iraq (and after that the iraqi guy and his family were slaughtered by iraqi soldiers).

He found it out in a verry hard way that patriotism isn't about "doing what they say you should do" and ignoring every negative sidedffect of the things you've done.
So it seems to be a different approach how he tells the story, interesting insight in experiences that are verry different from my experiences.

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Old 07-02-2003, 08:11 PM   #4
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This is so intense...and familiar. Hope it doesn't become passe'.
Thanks deep, this helps to keep things in perspective.
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Old 07-03-2003, 01:28 PM   #5
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I think its too early for books about the friggin war. The dust has not settled yet.
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Old 07-07-2003, 05:01 AM   #6
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brettig: Are you talking about Iraq war of Mr. Bush senior (which is the war my book is talking about) or about the War of Mr. G.W. Bush?

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Old 07-07-2003, 07:30 AM   #7
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Oh! haha serves me right for not reading carefully! Yeah 1991...I think its safe

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