So many books to read, so little time.

Generation Kill

with 5 comments

Evan Wright is a lunatic. Not by the traditional definition; one that is in exactly zero command of his own mind, rather in the same sense that a Dodge Viper is “bad,” Bert Blyleven’s curveball was “filthy.” Evan Wright is a lunatic who embedded himself with the Marines First Recon and willfully experienced the American invasion of Iraq at the “tippity-tip of the spear.” Wright’s experiences were captured in a multi-part report for Rolling Stone and then later expanded to become a book.

Published in 2004, Generation Kill is an account of Wrights experience riding, eating, sleeping and generally experiencing the twenty three Marines of First Recon as they rocket forth from Kuwait to Baqubah.

Wrights prose is not eloquent, not learned and not melodramatic. It’s cadence is fast, it’s descriptive qualities clipped and macroscopic references beyond the microscopic details are sparse. Wright posits little description of the strategy of the operation (though he does allow occasional peeks at it) rather restricts his reflections to the microcosm of men at arms executing (complaining) on the behalf of the military upper echelon.

In this sense Wright falls a bit short of another lunatic, Robert Kaplan, in presenting a multidimensional study of the conflict within which he embeds himself. If your looking for an in depth analysis of a conflict that includes hairy, personal, real time reflection, Generation Kill is not your book.

However, Wright’s personal account of the confusion, violence, comedy, boredom and general anarchy that entails war or more specifically, America’s invasion of Iraq is as gritty and “there” as one can expect. Wright’s work includes descriptive accounts of friendly fire, civilian casualties, brutal and abject civilian murder and highlights the disconnect between upper echelon strategy and “boots on the ground” tactics.  Additionally it highlight’s a particularly fascinating psychological transformation as the platoon’s attitude toward combat evolves from initial excitement (“get some!”) to extreme fatigue (what the fuck are we doing here?) to a semblance of normality (a debate between Sgt. Colbert and  Cpl. Person regarding country music is interrupted by a violent fire fight only to be rejoined as though nothing happened after the threat had passed.)

My cohort Kotare lamented the nonexistence of a “first person shooter” reflection of a conflict. Generation Kill might not be exactly what he seeks but it’s very likely a close bet.

In closing, Generation Kill reads like a work of fiction (hence it’s easy translation into an HBO series) but packs a mighty account of actual ground level warfare and a healthy dose of the personal reality of America’s invasion of Iraq.

Generation Kill, written by a lunatic, is good stuff.


Written by subadei

October 25, 2008 at 12:46 am

Posted in Nonfiction

Tagged with ,

5 Responses

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  1. I’m rather suspicious of this style of journalism. By embedding with a combat unit, there’s a real danger that a journalist identifies with the mission of that unit and loses touch with the mission of reportage.


    October 27, 2008 at 6:59 am

  2. Kotare:

    But by not embedding the reporter misses the fight entirely.

    It is a tradeoff. The reader can make the needed adjustment.

    Ernie Pyle knew which side he was on. He was still an honest reporter.

    Lexington Green

    October 29, 2008 at 9:04 pm

  3. Indeed, Kotare as Lexington wrote, there is a trade off. I would say that there are portions where it was obvious to me that Wright was “forcing” a degree of objective reporting or had edited it in after some previous drafts. Mostly on balancing out the boots on the ground cynicism for Maj. Gen. James Mattis (his “reckless” modus being the result of career ambition by their eyes) with Mattis’ own strategic reasoning. It seems added as almost an after thought. Not particularly glaring but obvious none the less.
    Of course when your riding in a humvee with four marines, being shot at and relying on them to keep your ass alive, you’d have to be a machine to maintain a steadfast semblance of objectivity.
    I’d add (and should’ve added in the post) that when a friend gave this book to me and I read “contributing editor for Rolling Stone” on the jacket insert I was immediately suspected the book a thinly disguised diatribe against the Iraq war. It was, IMO, no such thing.

    Lastly, anyone caught the HBO series? I haven’t and would be curious to see a review of it here.


    October 29, 2008 at 11:01 pm

  4. John McHugh, writing for the Guardian, and embedded with US army units in Afghanistan, is a good example of a reporter who is with the troops but not of them. He maintains a professional distance.


    October 30, 2008 at 7:47 am

  5. Oh yeah ! Wright may be nuts, but I’m gonna get this book on my “to – buy” list. Thanks, soob, for this post.


    November 10, 2008 at 8:05 am

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