TV REVIEW - Generation Kill and the reality of war


In Workers Solidarity 105 we reviewed David Simon's 'The Wire'. His follow on project 'Generation Kill' which features some of the same actors is a 7 episode series following 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.
Apparently the series is pretty true to events in the book and this is probably part of the reason why it hasn't received the popular acclaim ‘The Wire’ 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 civilians 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 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.