Generation Kill

After watching this superb mini-series on HBO I decided to pick up Generation Kill.  I took it with me to Houston, and I was able to pretty much read the whole book in the airport because of all the delays that came from Tropical Storm Eduardo.  As good as the mini-series is the book, for me, is even better.  Evan Wright goes step-by-step in his journey with First Recon, and events that get cut short in the show are more fully explained in the book.  The greatest strength of the book is the fact that Wright doesn’t try to turn the book into some treatise into why the war is bad, or good, or any other crap like that that usually gets in the way.  Instead he makes it unpolitical, and just tries to relay to the reader what life is like for the these Marines in a war zone.  He doesn’t hold back with the language or in any of the events that happen throughout the march to Baghdad.  I really found it to be a fair and impartial account of life in the Marines during the invasion.  This book is an incredibly smooth and easy read, and as long as you can handle reading a book with often times filthy language you should be able to cruise through it no problem.

One of the best parts of this book was that my old battalion got a little shout out, and I found out something that I have been wondering about for a long time.  This chapter was cut down a bit in the show, but in the book it goes more in depth.  The set-up is that a Marine is killed, and his body is taken into the town of Ash Shatrah and mutilated by the populace.  My company was called in, along with others, to look for his body.  The CIA was also called in, because supposedly Ali Hassan al-Majid or “Chemical Ali” was hiding out in the town.  Probably one of the most bittersweet moments of my life leading a patrol to find this Marine and getting complimented by the CIA, but yet not being able to find the Marine.  We didn’t not find him for lack of looking though.  We tore up the hospitals and other locations, and ended up finding intel on other terrorists, but not the missing Marine.  We were told by some of the elders that his body was taken out to the desert, and given a Christian burial.  However, we all knew this was bullshit.  Unfortunately we didn’t get Chemical Ali either, and after looking for him, and looking for the lost Marine again we had to leave for another mission.  I have often thought about the guy since then.  Who was he? was he ever found? does his family know how hard we looked for him?  Things like that, and then I read:

The body of this Marine is discovered a week later by other American forces.  They find him buried in Ash Shatrah’s trash dump.

Over six years later I finally find out what happened to the missing Marine.  That alone makes the book worth the read for me.  It feels good knowing that he was found, and that his body was brought back to the US to his family.  It’s just too bad that it took six years for me to find this out.

Now I want to post a couple of excerpts from the book.  This first one I like because I think it sums up perfectly some of the feelings that are prevalent throughout.

Yet despite how much it sucks here, it’s kind of exciting, too.  I had almost looked down on the Marines’ shows of moto, the way they shouted Get Some! and acted so excited about being in a fight.  But the fact is, there’s a definite sense of exhilaration every time there is an explosion around and you’re still there afterward.  There’s another kind of exhilaration, too.  Everyone is side by side, facing the same big fear: death.  Usually, death is pushed to the fringes in the civilian world.  Most people face their end pretty much alone with a few family members if they are lucky.  Here, the Marines face death together, in their youth.  If anyone dies, he will do so surrounded by the very best friends he believes he will ever have.

Exhilarating like the best roller coaster ride ever times a million.  This next excerpt comes from the new afterword, and it’s just a great anecdote, about Lt. Fick and Evan Wright.

Fick and I met in Washington during Bush’s second inauguration.  Somehow we wound up on that cold, dreary day sitting on the bleachers near the  parade route, which were rewarded to Republican loyalists.  As the president’s black Cadillac DTS rolled in front of us, FIck leaned forward and peered at the gray ghostlike form of Bush’s head, barely visibly behind several inches of bullet-resistant glass.  “His windows are rolled up?” Fick asked.

During the several weeks of combat in Iraq, I’m not sure I ever heard Fick raise his voice in anger.  Now, in the Republican bleacher section–seated it so happened beside a pair of young White House speechwriters–Fick let loose a Marine Corps-grade epithets.  I won’t reprint what Fick said, but basically he called the president a big pussy.  “What about all those Americans driving around in Iraq and Afghanistan in open Humvees?”  Fick shouted.  “You can’t even put down your window in Washington?”

One of the White House speechwriters seated near us told Fick to shut his mouth.  Fick stood up laughing.  I followed him as he waltzed off the bleachers into the crowded, grim city.  (Chief Justice Rehnquist, who was terminally ill with thyroid cancer, set the spooky tone that day when he administered Bush’s oath of office in a death-rattle voice, which when broadcasted over the PA sounded like Darth Vader’s.)

The last excerpt is from the end of the afterward, and has been posted partially in the comments of another post, but I wanted to post them in full.

In the prologue to Generation Kill I quoted Lance Corporal Trombley comparing an ambush to playing Grand Theft Auto.  The quote proved to be misleading to some.  After the publication of Generation Kill, Trombley’s reference to Grand Theft Auto was cited in several news stories as proof that the young men and women serving in America’s armed forces, war was no more real than playing a video game.

It struck me that such analyses had it backward.  It’s the American public for whom the Iraq War is often no more real than a video game.  Five years into this war, I am not always confident most Americans fully appreciate the caliber of the people fighting for them, the sacrifices they have made, and the sacrifices they continue to make.  After the Vietnam War ended, the onus of shame largely fell on the veterans. This time around, if shame is to be had when the Iraq conflict ends — and all indications are there will be plenty of it — the veterans are the last people in America to deserve it.  When it comes to apportioning shame my vote goes to the American people who sent them to war in a surge of emotion but quickly lost the will to either win it or end it.  The young troops I profiles in  Generation Kill, as well as the other men and women in uniform I’ve encountered in combat zones throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, are among the finest people of their generation.  We misuse them at out own peril.

Well said, but I think there should be apportioned a huge heaping pile of shame onto Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, whose ill planning creating the situation that Iraq is in now.  Well that’s that.  Go pick up the book it’s well worth the read no matter what side of the war you fall on, in fact it will probably teach you something that you didn’t know.

Update 5:40

Earlier I forgot to mention something else that the book and the show got right, and that is songs and singing.  For some reason we all sang a lot–whether it was on the Amtraks, or in our holes, or on patrol, or in any other situation–we all invariably sang to ourselves.  Lots of times in our downtime we would make up new lyrics for Tupac, DMX, Biggie, NWA et al. that had to do with killing hajjis.  Maybe not so appropriate now but very appropriate, and often hilarious at the time.    The night we invaded Iraq I remember me and a couple other guys were busting out DMX’s Ruff Ryder Anthem for hours just to amuse ourselves, and stay awake:

Stop, drop, shut em down open up shop oh, no
Thats how ruff ryders roll

Look what you just started
Asked for it, you got it
Had it, should have shot it
Now your dearly departed
Get at me dog,
Did I rip shit
With this one here I flip shit
Niggaz know when I kick shit
Its gonna be some slick shit
What was that look for
When I walked in the door
Oh you thought you was raw
Boom! not anymore!
Cause now you on the floor
Wishin you never saw
Me walk through that door, with that 4 4
Now its time for bed
Two more to the head, got the floor red
Yeah that niggas dead
Another unsolved mystery,
Its goin down in history
Niggaz aint never did shit to me
Bitch ass niggaz cant get to me
Gots to make the move,
Got a point to prove
Got a makeem grove, gotem all like ooh
So to the next time, you hear this nigga rhyme
Try to keep your mind, on gettin pussy and crime

Not a big fan of DMX, but I still enjoy this song as it takes me back.

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~ by Perpetual Memory Loss on August 11, 2008.

One Response to “Generation Kill”

  1. I, too, have been enthralled by the realism of the series. I read the book a couple of years ago, and was skeptical when I heard HBO was turning it into film, but they’ve done an awesome job. One interesting little side fact; when I saw the first episode, I thought they’d picked an excellent doppelganger for the Rudy Reyes character, as he looked just like the real Rudy Reyes from the snapshots in the book. Turns out, it *is* the real Rudy Reyes. The former 1st Recon Bn Marine was hired as a consultant, then they had trouble finding someone to play him, so they asked if he would be interested. Thusly, one of the actual Marines depicted is now part of the depiction.

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