- Publish Date
- Thursday, 2 November 2017, 11:29AM
- By Stephanie Jones
“War truly is hell. War is just sick. Even worse, war never really ends inside your head.” It is only near the conclusion of Bounty Hunter 4/3, Jason Delgado’s brisk, incendiary memoir of his career as a scout sniper in the United States Marine Corps, that the full toll of his tours of duty in Iraq, climaxing with a prolonged, savage showdown with an emergent ISIS force in the blown-out border town of Husaybah, is given account.
Back in New York City he can’t reconcile the enforced order of civilian life with the “borderline psychotic” behaviour encouraged and rewarded in Marines; he has three daughters with three women and is estranged from the eldest; and the memories and emotions attached to a war as maze-like and opaque as any the United States has ever pursued eventually drive him to a breakdown.
The book heralds Delgado’s recovery and captures a tale at once singular and typical. Men with his working-class roots dominate the military’s middle and lower ranks, and Delgado, enlisting as a teenager after dropping out of high school, had plenty of street smarts and no fear. As a five-year-old in the South Bronx - which he likens to 2004 Husaybah – he witnessed his uncle’s shooting death at the hands of a junkie, and his mother narrowly avoided a stray bullet a few years later. Gangs and drugs were central to the social and economic order, and Delgado learned to keep a cool head in proximity to the police.
He’s good at putting down trouble with his physicality, declaring he “reveled in the violence” of basic training and earned privileges such as phone calls home with his fists. What took longer to learn was finesse and discipline inside the “beast of exactitude” that is the Marine Corps, whose servicemen, in Delgado’s time, were subject to misemployment because of the lack of an institutional umbrella within the wider military structure.
The internal politics – and some judicious score-settling, though names of offenders have apparently been changed – come later. First there is 9/11, which Delgado and his fellow trainees watch on TV from their base in Okinawa, and then comes Operation Iraqi Freedom 1, which he experiences as a baffling mix of police action, humanitarianism, and assault.
Balancing the violence, which comes thick, fast and jarring, most of all when Delgado describes “dropping” a target or recounts some horrific assaults on his fellow troops, are captivating glimpses into life in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. On liberation, the United States military took over several ministries, and Delgado and his buddies saw first-hand how the Ba’athist elites had lived – Italian suits, Cuban cigars, garages full of antique cars and vintage motorcycles.
On another occasion, they commandeer a private house in an upmarket gated community in Husaybah, and Delgado, characteristic of the dark bro-humour of the Marines, juxtaposes the homeowner’s enjoyment of an American music video featuring barely dressed women – the vanishing of censorship a prize of freedom – with his vociferous objection to the presence of the liberators in his house.
Written with Chris Martin, Bounty Hunter 4/3 is a powerful war story not because Delgado’s name will figure prominently in the history books – though it’s clear he may be one of the finest Marine snipers of all time, and he takes credit, in his post-war service, for advancing the technology, weaponry and strategy beyond the Vietnam era – but for his restraint. Not for him an analysis of the war’s validity or the motives of its prosecutors; just a frank, often savage account of what war looks like from the business end of a sniper’s gun.
Every week Stephanie reviews the Book of the Week.
As the Coast book reviewer, Stephanie Jones shares her thoughts each week on the latest releases.
Stephanie has a BA (Hons) in history and English literature, and a background in journalism, magazine publishing, public relations and corporate and consumer communications.
Stephanie is a contributor to the New Zealand Book Council’s ‘Talking Books’ podcast series (listen here), and a member of the 2016 Ngaio Marsh Award judging panel. She can be found on Twitter @ParsingThePage.
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