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Former Marine Anthony Swofford

He served on the front line in a U.S. Marine Corps Surveillance and Target Acquisition/Scout-Sniper platoon during the Gulf War. He's written the new memoir, Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles. Journalist Mark Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down) writes of the memoir, "Jarhead is some kind of classic, a bracing memoir of the 1991 Persian Gulf War that will go down with the best books ever written about military life." Swofford attended the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and is currently a Michener-Copernicus Fellowship recipient.


Other segments from the episode on March 4, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 4, 2003: Interview with Anthony Swofford; Interview with Hank Ballard; Interview with Gidon Kremer.


 TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
 PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Anthony Swofford discusses his book "Jarhead" and his
experiences in the Gulf War

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

In August 1990, Anthony Swofford was deployed to Saudi Arabia as a lance
corporal in a US Marine Corps sniper platoon. He'd just turned 20. In his
new memoir "Jarhead," about his experience during the Gulf War, Swofford
describes the tedium and the absurdity and the loneliness of waiting in the
desert for the ground war to begin. He writes of the relentless sand and
heat, of blood lust and the devastation of war. In a review, Mark Bowden
called "Jarhead" a classic that will go down with the best books ever written
about military life. He writes, `As Swofford moves through a nightmare
landscape of exploding ordnance, raining petroleum, the threat of invisible
killing gases and death, his terror and his joy are one.'

Swofford's fiction and nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's
and The Iowa Review. "Jarhead" is his first book. We begin with a reading.
In this passage, Swofford comes upon a group of dead Iraqi soldiers, still
arranged in a circle around a campfire, where they had been surprised by
American bombs.

Mr. ANTHONY SWOFFORD (Author): `Six tin coffee cups sit among the remains of
the fire. The men's boots are cooked to their feet. The man to my right has
no head. To my left, the man's head is between his legs and his arms hang at
his sides like the burnt flags of defeated countries. The insects of the dead
are swarming. Though I can make out no insignia, I imagine that the man
across from me commanded the unit, and that when the bombs landed, he was in
the middle of issuing a patrol order, "Tomorrow we will kick some American
ass." It would be silly to speak, but I'd like to. I want to ask the dead
men their names and identification numbers, and tell them this will soon end.
They must have questions for me, but the distance between the living and the
dead is too immense to breach. I could bend at the waist, close my eyes and
try to join these men in their tight, dead circle, but I am not yet one of
them. I must not close my eyes.'

BOGAEV: What made you go down there and sit with those corpses?

Mr. SWOFFORD: Oh, fascination, wanting to become closer, more intimate with
the devastation, perhaps a hope that moving into that tight, dead circle that
I would kind of find some distance between me and my own possible death that
was forthcoming maybe to the north, which is where we were heading to fight.

BOGAEV: Were you told anything about how to prepare for combat or possible
death? For instance--I don't know--to clean up your stuff in case you're
killed and there might be something among your effects that would be
embarrassing to your family.

Mr. SWOFFORD: It was probably a few days before ground combat began, and a
few days prior to that, my platoon started running missions across the border.
There was a big berm that had been built between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and
we were right up at the berm for a few days and running missions across in the
evening. But our staff sergeant directed us to get rid of, oh, say, you know,
any Marine letters that weren't from your girlfriend or your wife or
pornography. Essentially it was anything that your wife or your girlfriend or
your mother would rather not see. There was word that a few guys who died in
a friendly-fire incident--an A-10 had dropped a rather devastating bomb on a
troop carrier, and there was word that among the effects of one of these guys
who was married, there were--oh, I don't know--half a dozen photos and letters
from various people that, you know, may have been nothing serious and simply a
way of finding solace over there for him. But, yeah, the word was get that
stuff out of your ruck, out of your sea bag, bury it, burn it, get rid of it.

BOGAEV: When you did first engage the enemy in combat, what happened?

Mr. SWOFFORD: Well, the first time, we were in sort of a high spot in the
desert, and our communication shop was setting up in an area where they would
get the best reception, but where it also made us visible to an enemy
observation post that was across the border and in a bit of a range, and so
that first event was artillery rounds that were incoming on our position. We
were just beginning to dig in around the battalion command post when the
rounds came in, and at first, you know, I didn't believe that they were
artillery rounds exploding in front of me.

BOGAEV: When the rounds hit the sand, what did it look like?

Mr. SWOFFORD: Well, for me, it looked like a flower blooming, exploding and,
you know, the sand is burnt a bit black and, yeah, there's a little explosion,
so it's the burnt munitions, along with the beige of the sand combining, and
then kind of raining down after the explosion.

BOGAEV: Now after the all-clear was called, what did you and the rest of your
unit do? Did you set up to attack the enemy position?

Mr. SWOFFORD: Well, as the, you know, forward observers for the battalion,
that was our mission, and my partner Johnny was the first to gain visual on
the enemy observation post. And with his guidance, along with another Marine,
I gathered the map location of the enemy position and prepared a call for fire
to put into the fire center. I was going to be asking for bombs from a plane,
probably a Harrier. But just as I was about to make that call, a captain
arrived who thought it best if he called the mission in, and so the handset of
the radio was taken from my hands and handed off to this captain, who, indeed,
made the call, and the bombs were impacting shortly thereafter on this enemy
position across the way.

BOGAEV: During your time in the Gulf War, did you train your sniper's rifle
at a living being and did you fire?

Mr. SWOFFORD: I did train my rifle on a few living beings. I never did fire.
Johnny and I were deployed with another battalion that was fighting at the Al
Jabar airfield in southern Kuwait, and there were enemy officers in the air
control tower on the airfield, which all the glass was shot out, and they were
rather prime targets. We asked to take shots, asked for permission. We were
in our position and prepared to shoot, but we were asked to hold off.

And then later in the day, as the infantry did their work on the airfield, a
group of Iraqis--probably a little less than a platoon--they were attempting
to surrender, but there was no one near to surrender to. They had their boots
off and strung around their necks and were waving T-shirts or underwear,
whatever kind of white material they'd found. And eventually, they sat down
and began eating their rations, and I guess they assumed that someone would
come along that they could surrender to. And I was somewhat frustrated with
those men because, you know, I obviously couldn't shoot them, but I popped
around from head to head, pretending that I might have.

BOGAEV: You did that in your mind's eye, you mean. No?

Mr. SWOFFORD: I did that with my rifle, with my scope.

BOGAEV: And then you took them prisoner or what happened then?

Mr. SWOFFORD: Someone else took them prisoner.

BOGAEV: How did you find out the war was over?

Mr. SWOFFORD: Well, in a rather peculiar way. My partner Johnny and I had
been on a mission, and over the course of the mission, which was about a day,
we'd seen a lot of retreating Iraqi vehicles, and over the radio frequencies
we heard of an occasional fight, an occasional skirmish with troops, but we
weren't picked up the next morning when we were supposed to be, which caused
us a bit of concern, and we decided to hike our way back to what we knew was
supposed to be the last position of our unit, and as we made the rise that was
just our side of the flat where our unit was supposed to be, we heard music
and we were kind of concerned. We thought it was a trick. We didn't know
really what was happening because the war was still on, and we slowly climbed
up this rise, our bellies in the sand, and on the other side of it, there were
men from our battalion with their shirts off playing football. You know, Jimi
Hendrix, I think, was piping through the com towers. The first sergeant who'd
played the game with a kazoo was handing out cigars, and everyone was happy
because the war was over, and that's how Johnny and I had found out that
things had ended.

BOGAEV: Now after the war was declared over, you took part in the cleanup
operation, and you went through Iraqi bunkers, and you write that you all
gleefully ran through the enemy positions and noting the hundreds of different
ways a man might die when 500-pound bombs are dropped on a weakly fortified
position. And a Marine in your battalion became obsessed with one of the
Iraqi corpses. What was the nature of his obsession?

Mr. SWOFFORD: Well, for this Marine, I think the corpse both signified hope,
because he was alive, and also maybe despair, because the war had ended and
he'd been looking for more of a fight, and perhaps he was already having
trouble with the issue of having not really been involved in a long war.

BOGAEV: What did he do to the corpse?

Mr. SWOFFORD: Well, he desecrated the corpse. He took his E-tool to it,
which is a small folding shovel, and he made this corpse his kind of special
project and went at it daily until it was buried.

BOGAEV: Who buried it?

Mr. SWOFFORD: I did. I was tired of knowing that that was happening. It was
sickening and troubling, though this Marine probably, you know, went on to
another corpse to do the same and, you know, he had his reasons for doing that
that are probably not acceptable to anyone.

BOGAEV: Did you take anything from these Iraqi bunkers with you?

Mr. SWOFFORD: Yeah, I did. I took some dog tags off of a few corpses. Their
dog tags were rather crude things, whereas in the US, we use a press, and
their dog tags are just on thin sheets of metal and the information is
scrawled in with an awl. And I still have those dog tags

BOGAEV: Yeah. There's a lot of mythology about dog tags. I think you write
in the book that people would order tons of them to surround themselves with
as many pairs as possible, as if that would be a talisman against death.

Mr. SWOFFORD: Yeah, absolutely, the idea that, you know, your mother has a
pair and your little brother and your girlfriend, and you nail them to the
wall in some bar in the Philippines, and you've spread yourself so far and
wide that there's no way you can die because your dog tags are out there,
pulsing, you know, around the globe.

BOGAEV: Anthony Swofford's new memoir is "Jarhead."

Coming up, we remember singer and songwriter Hank Ballard. This is FRESH AIR.

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Interview: Gidon Kremer discusses his family and his musical

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

The next time it's your birthday, instead of listening to friends sing to you
off-key, you could play one of the variations of "Happy Birthday" from the new
album by my guest, Gidon Kremer and his KREMERata Baltica orchestra.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: And that's "Happy Birthday" in the style of Dvorak. Gidon Kremer is
an internationally renowned violinist. This is how Yo-Yo Ma describes
Kremer's playing: `It's as if he's creating the music at that moment, that
he's organically part of the composer's mind, and the notes are passing
through him.' Kremer is also known as a musician who takes risks. Throughout
his career in post-Stalinist Russia, he championed contemporary composers who
were out of favor with the Soviet leadership. After emigrating to the West,
Kremer became enthralled with the music of Astor Piazzolla, before the tango
was widely accepted in the classical repertoire. In 1996 he founded the
KREMERata Baltica, a chamber orchestra made up of young musicians from three
Baltic states--Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Let's hear some more "Happy
Birthday" variations from their new CD.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: I asked Gidon Kremer how he put the chamber orchestra together.

Mr. GIDON KREMER: It was just a couple of weeks before I celebrated my 50th
birthday and I had this idea to give myself a present by organizing an
orchestra, but I intended to assemble the musicians only for a summertime, for
the 1997 festival in Lockenhaus, a festival which I do run now already for 22
years. So around my 50th birthday I wanted to assemble musicians from the
countries I was in my youth the closest to, since I am a native of Latvia.
But once I got to know these people, once I started to work with them, it
became evident to me that I can't part from them, and I just want to maintain
this wonderful atmosphere of cooperating with these musicians.

BOGAEV: Now you were born in 1947 in Riga, Latvia, and your parents were both
violinists, also your grandfather, right?

Mr. KREMER: That's correct.

BOGAEV: Did they all play in the state orchestra?

Mr. KREMER: My grandfather was a professor at the Academy of Music in Riga,
and both my parents played in the National Radio Orchestra. My mother worked
there for 27 years as a violinist.

BOGAEV: And your mother was--spoke German, your grandfather was Swedish and
your father was from--was a Baltic Jew. So it's really a very mixed
ethnicity. Did you fit in?

Mr. KREMER: Exactly. Yeah. Recently I had to think about my father because
seeing the movie "The Pianist," by Roman Polanski, such a strong and striking
movie which impressed me a lot as well everyone that is going to see it. I
had to think about my father because, in fact, the story, the plot of the
movie, is exactly the story of my father, who escaped and survived the ghetto
in Riga, where 35 relatives of his were killed, including his wife and his
little daughter.

BOGAEV: How did he survive? People hid him? He hid in apartments, he hid in

Mr. KREMER: Yeah, he hid in cellars and in an apartment which one Latvian
lady--not an apartment, but in a little back room off an apartment which a
Latvian lady gave him to hide--in cellars, but he did hide for two years and I
think now I can much better understand what it meant to him.

BOGAEV: So how early did they begin to groom you as a part of the family
violin dynasty?

Mr. KREMER: In fact, I started to play violin when I was four and a half
years old, and I'm still playing it.~

BOGAEV: That sounds as if there must have been a lot of pressures, a lot of
dreams that your parents had had that they invested in you.

Mr. KREMER: For sure. I even wrote in my book called "Splinters of
Childhood"--I wrote about the pressures of my encounters with my father, for
whom I became his second life, because after such a tragedy that happened to
him, he still had the ambition and the patience to make his son a musician.

BOGAEV: You studied at the Moscow Conservatory, and this is in the '60s and
the '70s, the post-Stalinist Soviet Union, and it was really very bleak times
economically and politically. What were your circumstances as a music
student? What was that time like for you?

Mr. KREMER: It's very difficult for me to answer it in a few words, but it
was a tough time in Moscow. You had to be very careful what you play, what
you say, with whom you associate, who are your friends. And I rather early
understood that I can't give in to all the expectations of a governmental
system, that I want to live my own life, and I want to choose myself what to
do, what to play, with whom to be friends. And so pretty easy and pretty soon
I got into conflicts with the state system.

BOGAEV: Can you give me an example?

Mr. KREMER: As a result of this conflict, I didn't belong for many years to
those of us who were sent as representatives of the country, as
representatives of the Soviet Union abroad. Even more, I was literally
stopped from traveling for many years abroad. I was not allowed to go to
foreign countries, except in the very beginning, when I succeeded to win
certain competitions. But after I won my main competition and very recognized
competition, the Tchaikovsky competition 1917, after that for a number of
years I was not allowed to travel at all, except within the Soviet Union

BOGAEV: What then did music mean for you during that time? Was it a safe
place to express yourself and your individuality or the tensions that you were
suffering from, or did you always feel that music was subjected to these
political and these conformist pressures and that there was tension there

Mr. KREMER: I always felt like the music was subjected to these tensions and
to this pressure, but at the same time, I did fight for my own freedom, and I
still, already at that time when I was not allowed to travel, enlarged
immensely my repertoire and got associated with people that I valued a lot,
like Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Part, Sophia Gubaidulina, Edison Denisou, all
those composers who did work, live under the same pressure as all of us.

BOGAEV: Violinist Gidon Kremer. Kremer is currently performing on a US tour
with Canadian pianist Naida Cole.

We'll continue our conversation after the break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back with violinist Gidon Kremer. He's known as the founder of
KREMERata Baltica, a chamber orchestra made up of musicians from the Baltic
states. Their new CD is called "Happy Birthday."

Throughout your career you've championed the music of Alfred Schnittke, and he
was not considered acceptable in the time that you were playing him in the
Soviet Union. Can you tell us about him? And what drew you to his music?

Mr. KREMER: I was lucky to be befriended with Alfred Schnittke. He was my
friend for almost 30 years. Unfortunately, he passed away now already five
years ago. One should not forget that the '70s were not the same time as the
'30s or the 50s in the Soviet Union. Nobody was killed or put into a labor
camp for not conforming to the regime, not writing political music, music of
socialist realism as the regime maybe wanted. But still, hindrances for
performances existed, and most of the composers like Alfred Schnittke, Sophia
Gubaidulina, Edison Denisou, Valentin Silvestrov were not subject to many
performances. Their work would sound here and there on occasion.

BOGAEV: Well, what was Schnittke's life like then in the Soviet Union? Did
he earn a wage with his composing?

Mr. KREMER: Luckily, as in many countries, and I guess in the United States
as well, the cinema helped a lot. You must know how many composers in the
'30s emigrated, went to LA and worked for the film industry, so many gifted
composers among them like Bernard Herrmann or Michelot Gosh(ph), just naming a
couple of them. The same thing happened somehow, as well, in Russia or in the
Soviet Union, composers like Denisou, Alfred Schnittke, Sophia Gubaidulina
earned their living by writing film music or occasionally music for theater,
but the real compositions they often had to keep in their tables.

BOGAEV: Well, you have a polka from Alfred Schnittke on your new album,
"Happy Birthday," with the KREMERata Baltica orchestra. Let's listen to it.

(Soundbite of polka number from "Happy Birthday")

BOGAEV: A polka from Alfred Schnittke performed by my guest, Gidon Kremer,
and his orchestra, KREMERata Baltica, from their new CD, "Happy Birthday."

You left the Soviet Union eventually in 1980. What kind of break was that?
Was that a gradual or a dramatic one for you?

Mr. KREMER: Any break, even a very soft one, was a dramatical one at that
time. In fact, I did stay abroad during one of the tours, this particular
tour when I brought Alfred to the West in 1977, and I demanded at the same
time from the authorities to be a free man. I asked them to allow me for two
years to follow my commitments and concerts in the West. It was a formula
which some musicians like Slovas Dipovich(ph) used to articulate no return to
the native country, but at the same time I didn't want to cut my ties with the
Soviet Union and with my friends and with my audiences. And that's why I
enlarged my statement, saying, `I'd like to stay in the West, but I want to
follow up also all my commitments which I have with my concert activities in
the Soviet Union.' For two years, like a miracle, I was allowed to have a
passport, which gave me such a privilege, a privilege among most of the
musicians living in Russia at that time. But after two years, in 1980, the
authorities said, `This is enough and you have to return.'

And then I decided not to return consciously, and I had to face another kind
of punishment for about eight years before the perestroika, in fact, started.
I was not anymore considered to be a Soviet artist, to be an artist that can
perform in the Soviet Union.

BOGAEV: Did you have visiting privileges?

Mr. KREMER: Yeah. I was allowed to visit, and I did visit my daughter, who
lived in Moscow, and my friends during this year here and there, but just as a
tourist. I was never allowed to perform. Before my return in 1988, when I,
for the first time, played again on a stage in Moscow in St. Petersburg, at
that time still Leningrad, and this was probably the first case of someone
that left the Soviet Union for good returned, like many of the Russian
musicians that emigrated returned. But I was probably the only case of a
Soviet musician with a Soviet passport that was not allowed to play on the
Soviet stage for eight years, and then returned as a Soviet artist living

BOGAEV: Violinist Gidon Kremer. He's currently on a US tour. We'll hear
more of our interview after this break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: I'm talking with Gidon Kremer. He has a new CD of music recorded
with his chamber orchestra, KREMERata Baltica. He's currently on a US tour.

Another composer that you're known for your interpretations of is Astor
Piazzolla, and his tangos you've played long before he became as popular as he
is now. You've recorded--What?--six albums of his music. When did you first
hear his work?

Mr. KREMER: Falling in love with Astor Piazzolla was a very unexpected thing
for me. I never thought that I would play a tango. Even I knew from my youth
already what tango means.

BOGAEV: So when you were young, you had heard tangos.

Mr. KREMER: Of course. And I even tried at that time--probably this was the
last time, and then I gave up--tried to dance some tangos. But Astor
Piazzolla was introduced to me by a friend in Germany on a videotape, and it
was striking to see him play, and his music was striking as well. Every time
I went to Argentina, I visited many nightclubs, tango clubs, and heard music
which was different from all the other, and this was always recognizable that
it was the handwriting, the tunes of Astor Piazzolla. And so step by step I
tried to figure out if there is something for violin and included a couple of
anchors into my repertoire.

BOGAEV: Well, what did you love about it? It's very passionate. It's also
very nostalgic music.

Mr. KREMER: What is striking, that his music is as sincere, as nostalgic, as
dramatic as the music by Franz Schubert. To me, they go kind of together.
Even Piazzolla never wrote symphonies and never wrote piano sonatas, but the
tone of the statement is set on the same dramatic note. It is always
incredibly focused and it's always incredibly powerful. I like Piazzolla for
his ability to reach our souls and to speak directly to our hearts.

BOGAEV: Well, let's play one of your Piazzolla pieces. This is "Le Grand
Tango" from your first Piazzolla album, "Omaga Piazzolla."(ph)

(Soundbite of "Le Grand Tango")

BOGAEV: And that's my guest, violinist Gidon Kremer playing Astor Piazzolla's
"Le Grand Tango" from his album "Omaga Piazzolla."

I love those swooping high notes you get out of your violin in this piece and
also how it moves from very passionate to a kind of tense mournfulness and
then back again to a heated tango. Is that the challenge for you in
navigating the emotional arc of Piazzolla's music?

Mr. KREMER: I don't think Piazzolla's about embellishment. I don't think
Piazzolla can be expressed rightly just gliding on the surface of convenient
rhythms. This music can't be, in fact, performed. It has to be lived. And I
always can distinguish if someone is flirting with Piazzolla as a convenient
item of our commercial industry or someone really lives the life or the
heartbeat of the music of this great composer.

BOGAEV: So what does that mean musically, to live it?

Mr. KREMER: To live it, to allow oneself to be burnt by it. I saw a number
of artists in my life that went on stage and were burning, so to say, were not
pretending to be big performers or pretending to be big virtuosos, but really
were the expression itself. Such artists like Maria Callus or Jacques Brel
left a mark in my understanding what a stage presence is, and among them I can
also name an artist like Leonard Bernstein, who many described as a showman,
but I have collaborated with him so much that I know that whatever he did he
meant seriously.

BOGAEV: You've written three books. Your third book, "Between the Worlds,"
is due out soon. Your second book--you had a beautiful dedication. It was
dedicated to all those who are searching for quietness, because that's where
the most beautiful music is born. What does that mean to you, this search for

Mr. KREMER: It means search for meditation, it means listening to your inner
voice, and distracted by all the noises which nowadays surround us. We all
suffer from the tendency to promote stars, from the tendency to put stars
before the music, from the tendency to be easy listening or easy digesting to
the bias or listeners. We all suffer from it. And I'm trying, as much as I
can, to follow my own tastes, my own projects and my own visions, but it's
constantly a fight. It's a fight against promoters, fight against labels.
And you find collaborators, and I'm very happy to have found a number of them,
but here and there it becomes quite dramatic, this fight.

BOGAEV: Well, I'd like to end with some more music, perhaps something that
you'd suggest for us, a favorite of yours that we haven't gotten to yet.

Mr. KREMER: It's hard for me to choose something because each recording is
very dear to me. But maybe we should visit the CD of the beginning of
KREMERata Baltica, the CD of "Eight Seasons," which combines music by Vivaldi
and Piazzolla.

BOGAEV: Very good. Let's listen. And thank you so much, Gidon Kremer, for
joining us today.

Mr. KREMER: Thank you for talking to me.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Gidon Kremer's new CD with his KREMERata Baltica orchestra is "Happy
Birthday." He performs this week in Philadelphia and New York.


BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

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