A few weeks ago, a friend of mine bought me a book called ‘Generation Kill’ for my birthday. I admit I was a little skeptical about trying it at first as it’s not the type of thing I usually read but I gave it a shot and now I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The reason he bought it for me is because it’s been made into a US TV mini-series with the same name by David Simon and Ed Burns, the creators of The Wire, probably the best show to have ever been on television.
Generation Kill is the true story of a Company of Marines in Iraq and is written by Evan Wright, a journalist who accompanied them for two months during the start of the invasion/liberation in 2003. It’s completely true, very emotional and incredibly engrossing, giving the reader a fascinating (and often scary) insight into what it’s like to be a solider during a modern-day war.
One of the first things that struck me when reading the book (apart from how well written it is) is just how innocent the soldiers are and how that they are really no different from me and my peers. I always imagined Marines being grizzled old veterans but these ones are young men into computer games and comics, the only real difference between them and myself is that most of them come from poor backgrounds, tend to not be the most well educated of people and have a strong streak of violence and blood-lust, fueled by a super-macho atmosphere. Here’s an excerpt from the books prologue:
Trombley is beside himself. “I was just thinking one thing when we drove into that ambush,” he enthuses. “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I felt like I was living it when I seen the flames coming out of windows, the blown-up car in the street, guys crawling around shooting at us. It was fucking cool.”
Later on in the book a Marine psychiatrist is quoted saying “The whole structure of the military is designed to mature young men to function responsibly while at the same time preserving their adolescent sense of invulnerability”. This theme definitely comes across strongly in the book as squads are depicted as tribal family units, led by strong alpha males who command the weaker and less experienced but at the same time go to great lengths to care and look after them. This is no more obvious than when one of the commanders , Sgt. Colbert, grills one of his youngest squad members Cpl. Trombley, mentioned above, as to the state of his urine upon returning from the bathroom.
Generation Kill offers a huge insight into the army and the Iraq invasion/liberation. For instance, it clearly shows how classist the Armed Forces are and how massively disorganised they can be (although it does seem perfectly understandable when you realise the difficulties in co-ordinating attacks and movements). Another thing which surprised me was how little any of the Marines actually cared about why they are in Iraq or what their long-term objectives were, something I thought would’ve been paramount to them. Thinking about it though, they need to focus on surviving on a day-to-day basis and thus political and long-term objectives become rather meaningless.
I’d definitely recommend this book, regardless of anyone’s feelings towards the Iraq war. It’s certainly given me a lot of respect for the soldiers out there and made me realise and confront some of the difficult issues they deal with on a regular basis. It also grants a great perspective on daily life. Why do we stress about our work life when soldiers and civilians are in other countries trying to survive and avoid death every day?
Anyway, time for me to log into World of Warcraft and join my guild in a relentless, adrenaline-fueled PvP session. It’s the closest thing I want to come to war.