Sunday, January 16, 2022

John Musgrave and Jerad Alexander, Veteran Q&A memoirist

John Musgrave and Jerad Alexander had very different experiences as marines in the war, and they wrote very different memoirs.

In Raising Corporal John Musgrave, published earlier this month, Musgrave devotes a third of his book to his days in Vietnam, which ended up being shot in the chest and dragged out by fellow Marines under fire. But much of the rest has to do with his tumultuous return to the civilian world and his growing disenchantment, leading to work with Vietnamese anti-war veterans and other groups in the decades to come.

Alexander is betting on his territory in his new book, Volunteers: Growing Up in Eternal War. There are short bursts of action in Iraq, where he was stationed near the end of his eight-year stint in the Marine Corps, but the book focuses primarily on Alexander’s childhood in America’s military empire – his family has deep military roots – and how myth-making and propaganda shaped the views of everyone he knew.

Despite all the differences, this memoir brings together two important elements: a skeptical, if not cynical, view of American politicians who misdirect foreign policy, mislead the public, and abuse the military; and despite this, a strong bond with his fellow Marines. After another failed battle – in Afghanistan – the authors recently joined The Times for a video interview that has been edited for clarity and duration.

Jerad, you’ve read books about the horrors of Vietnam, but still signed up. How do you hope your books can influence readers?

Alexander: I read James Webb, John Del Vecchio and Tim O’Brien, and I was motivated to join them, even though these books should put me off. I understood the Vietnam War — it sounded like a noble cause, but it was built on a lie — and then I entered Iraq knowing that the conflict was built on a dubious premise. Hopefully the reader will ask, “What is so special about war that makes it so attractive? Why would such a terrible story induce people to get involved? “

Musgrave: I want people to take three main points out of my book. First, it’s the extraordinary work that the Marine Corps is doing to stop being civilians and changing our DNA in a matter of weeks. In addition, what is enacted on the battlefield is that the Marines never leave their wounded, and that is the only reason I am alive today. We loved each other so much that we died for each other. I don’t think you can love anyone more than that.

Thirdly, it is a long and painful process, during which I realized that the war that the government made us wage was not the one we were told about.

John, you wrote about dehumanizing the enemy in order to survive, about the decision that has haunted you since then: “The dead sleep on your chest.” But could you survive without doing this?

Musgrave: There was no way for me to avoid it. The first time I killed someone was a terrible experience. I thought I was prepared, but I am not. Then I saw my first Marine die and realized that I would have to make a deal with the devil. You come to the realization that the road home is paved with the bodies of your dead enemies, and you will not get home until you have paved it. So we needed to find a way to come to terms with it.

Alexander: John’s war was very brutal and brutal. What we faced was nothing compared to [that]… And our approach to people was much easier. Of course, not everyone was good right away, but the military learned from Vietnam: we constantly heard that every bullet you fire has consequences for the next Marine; If I hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it, it could hurt the Marine later.

Photo of John Musgrave as a young Marine in "Raising Corporal John Musgrave."

Is war part of human nature – or human nature – or can it be avoided?

Musgrave: As long as we have enemies, we will have a war; unfortunately we have many enemies. You just hope that we learn from our mistakes, because our mistakes cost us our most valuable treasure – children who believe in their country.

Alexander: It is part of human existence; we have a tribal fighting instinct similar to a caveman. To shorten this, you need to carefully study it, study its ugly and noble sides – and there are both. If we ignore him because he says too many unpleasant things about us, we repeat the same cycles, waging wars for no reason or for terrible reasons.

John notes that we have not won the war since 1945. How should this affect future hostilities?

Musgrave: The definition of war changed in August 1945 when we dropped these two atomic bombs. War is what you do to win, so we haven’t really had one since then.

We must get into conflicts, understanding how we are going to get out of them. We have to decide what we are ready to invest and where we are ready to draw the line – be it a military victory, a political settlement, or a flight to the last helicopter to fly out of town. We won the battle with Saddam [Hussein] and after that we had no plan, and the country went into pure anarchy, and we were devils.

Letting our military forces fight our wars may not be such a bad idea, because civilians [mucked] it has been growing since 1950. Maybe next time we should let the professionals try it. First of all, I would like us to choose more carefully before sending our children.

Alexander: I would oppose what John said about letting the military decide. This is probably not the best move. Generals have been fighting a war in Afghanistan for 20 years. But he says well that we did not win the war. Apart from scraps of fighting in Afghanistan at an early stage, I’m not entirely sure that we have fought for legitimate American interests since World War II. We have fought for the freedoms of other nations – there is some fairness in that, but American society should not be fully involved because we are fighting for someone else, not for us.

Jerad W. Alexander in Marine Corps uniform on the cover of the magazine "Volunteers: growing up in the war of eternity."

How did you react to the disaster in Afghanistan in the summer?

Musgrave: To see these young men and women [gets choked up] to put in a hopeless situation, to kill 13 children so that the president could leave on the day he wanted to – I was just sick. We saw all this before, on the roof of the US Embassy and with the tragedy of the Vietnamese boatmen. It was hard to watch and know that we didn’t know a damn thing.

Alexander: This is the most annoying attribute. That’s not news. Getting off the battlefield or country is a struggle to be done in better circumstances, but how do you have 20 years of war and not plan what you do best?

But I am increasingly angry at the idea of ​​waging a cheap war, without public participation, with a half-finished foreign policy. We made this decision: if we contain it, the American public will not be upset. and we can maintain this precarious balance and withstand conflict without any commitment. Do or not do, but don’t swim halfway because you end up wasting lives.

Musgrave: Amen.

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