Just finished Generation Kill

Following on from The Wire which I loved I've just finished watching the 7 episodes of David Simon's follow up project Generation Kill. This follows the United States Marine Corps' 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the invasion of Iraq . It's based on the book published by Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright who was embedded reporter with this unit and whose article resulted in three marines being disciplined.

Apparently the series is pretty true to events in the book and this is probably part of the reason why it haven't received the popular acclaim the War did. There are no big stories beyond the backdrop of the invasion of Iraq itself. As in the real war while Iraq's both military and civilian are slaughtered in large numbers the marines suffer almost no casualties. Their story is long hours of boredom as they drive through Iraq broken by occasional firefights against an enemy they massively out equip and out train.

On paper the risks are greater, in particular when their officers order them on missions that would be suicidal if the Iraqi army had stood and fought. But the vast majority of Iraqi soldiers during the war had no wish to die for Saddam and headed for the hills at the first opportunity. In the first episode this reality is portrayed when the invading marines collect dozens of Iraqi soldiers who have abandoned their posts and are trying to walk out of the battle area. As in the war these 'prisoners' are abandoned as the marines are ordered to push on despite the known presence of Saddam death squads in the area who are executing soldiers who abandon their posts.

This isn't an anti-war serial by any means. A supporter of the war could probably sit through it and enjoy the seeming invincibility of the marines as they slaughter their way to Baghdad. But it does contain a critique of militarism most openly expressed when one of the marines observes that if they behaved in the same way in civilian life they would go to prison. The military is shown as a machine, the individual killing units are at first hard to distinguish from each other. Unquestioning obedience is central to discipline, even if those issuing the orders are idiots. As with the Wire although many of the individual marines are deeply unpleasant characters performing terrible acts, including the murder of civilians for kicks, they are human despite this. The Iraqi's are not. Only two of them have more than a dozen words but then this reflects the reality of the war from the point of view of the US military.

The idea that the war and the way the war was conducted was a massive policy mistake for the US state is there, but at this point in time how could it be otherwise. So we are shown that the invasion generates both Iraqi and international resistance to US power, we see that the lack of preparation for the occupation if leading to chaos and that even at the start of the occupation part of the policy was encouraging a low level civil war within Iraq to eliminate those who opposed US state power. The closing scene suggests that on an individual level most of the marines are not comfortable with what they did during the invasion but there is no suggestion of a collective understanding developing, much like the Wire the sense is of a machine that will simply trundle on, chewing up people and making the same mistakes over and over.

As entertainment is scores highly in my opinion although many found it boring. It's a pity that no more are likely to be made and not just from an entertainment value but more because the story ends as the real story start's to get interesting. The story of the occupation, the resistance to it and the shifts in policy strike me as something that could well do with the sort of multi-level treatment given to the drugs trade and 'war on drugs' in the wire. I suspect though the results might proves a little too strong, even for HBO.


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