Evan Wright – Generation Kill
Length: 372 pages
Started: 30 October 2011
Finished: 04 November 2011
Where did it come from? Present from a friend.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 12 March 2010.
Why do I have it? If we’re reaching back far enough, I suppose it’s Charlaine Harris’s fault. Or rather, my friend’s fault for renting season 1 of True Blood and making me watch it. And, then, once I was aware of Alexander Skarsgaard’s existence, I started Netflixing his movies (because I am a shallow, shallow person when it comes to my movie selection). The Generation Kill miniseries is extremely well done (although it’s so weird to see Eric Northman tan!), and so I wanted to read the book.
Evan Wright gives us
an insider’s view of the
second Iraq War.
Summary: Generation Kill is the book that came out of Rolling Stone writer Evan Wright being part one of the journalists embedded with U.S. troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was embedded with the First Recon Marines, a unit of soldiers that are among the best of the best – highly trained special ops forces. But what they’re not trained to do is to drive unarmored Humvees in a slow, evenly spaced line through hostile territory, where it’s frequently impossible to tell civilians from enemy soldiers. On top of this, the soldiers that Wright rode with also had to deal with a lack of proper supplies (most notably insufficient batteries for their night vision goggles and a lack of lubricant to keep their guns firing despite Iraqi dust and sandstorms), unreliable communications, and a command structure that seemed to be more intent on maintaining the grooming standard or scoring machismo points than on keeping their troops both safe and effective.
Review: This is going to be one of those book reviews that shades into a movie review, despite my best efforts to keep them separate. In part, that’s because the book and the film version are very, very similar, primarily due to the fact that the miniseries stays remarkably true to the book not only in story but also in terms of characterization, message, and general tone. In a lot of ways, they compliment each other, since the book can provide background details that can’t be readily explained on film, and the film can provide visuals for those of us who don’t have the military knowledge to be able to picture various types of weapons from their written description. But they’re also both complete and perfectly understandable on their own.
Together or apart, they paint a really compelling picture of the current state of warfare, and of the people and personalities involved. I’m not a current-events junkie by any stretch of the imagination, but I know well enough that Generation Kill gives a (literal) on-the-ground look at some of the reality of the Iraq war that gets lost in the translation to a 30-second news clip. It’s easy to sit at home and bemoan the number of civilian casualties or the cost of the war, but this book makes you take a hard look at what it’s like in the moment, in situations most of us could never imagine. I do wish Wright had given us a little bit more of his first-person outsider’s POV, though. There were certainly touches of it, and I found them particularly fascinating (and often quite funny, for example the story of him running in a zig-zag pattern to avoid sniper fire, to the consternation and amusement of the soldiers he was with).
What I appreciated most about Generation Kill was that it gives a very clear picture of the soldiers of the First Recon Marines as real people. They’re obnoxious and crude and thoroughly un-PC, but there’s a very clear sense that they are pretty much just regular guys, dealing with the situation and the constant danger and the lack of sleep and the surges of adrenaline and the randomness of war however they can. Wright doesn’t do a whole lot of political analysis or authorial pontificating, for the most point preferring to let the story speak for itself, but his respect for the men he rode with (if not for their commanders) comes across loud and clear… and I think will be unavoidably contagious to his readers. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Hard to say, since I don’t usually care for politics/current events/war books (Emergency Sex excepted), but I quite enjoyed this. Really, I’d recommend it for just about everyone who has an opinion of any kind about the war and/or wants an inside look into what the war was like for the men who actually fought it.
First Line: It’s another Iraqi town, nameless to the Marines racing down the main drag in Humvees, blowing it to pieces.
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