Spurred by a rewatching of the miniseries, I reread my copy of Generation Kill by Evan Wright. It’s an account of the 2003 Iraq invasion as Wright, a Rolling Stone journalist, rides along with recon Marines into incredibly dangerous situations that I’m still shocked they let a journalist do.
This isn’t my normal reading fare. I prefer escapism. When the protagonist of my story gets attacked, there isn’t a real person who got attacked first. I’m not much of a nonfiction person, and I’m not even a fictional realistic war reader. Safe to say, I don’t have a comparison book for this one, though I’ve enjoyed it both times I read through it.
The book won’t change your overall view of the Iraq war. What it will do is add depth to your perspective, especially of those early days when the shock and awe campaign looked like it might lead to a quick resolution, not a prolonged occupation of conflict.
This is no light read, and it’s no light retelling of the situation. While you do get overall information about where they are, you also get the mundane conversations. In the afterword, Wright compares war to the movie Groundhog Day where the same thing happens over and over again, albeit with minor differences day to day. There are no unnamed soldiers. They are people as much as they are characters in the story. No one is painted as a hero, and no one is painted as a villain. Everyone you meet in the book is a person with flaws dealing with extreme situations.
An interesting perspective, and ultimately the reason I was drawn to rewatching and rereading the series, was the sociological nature of the Marines in the story. They’re not just automatons who blindly follow orders and otherwise don’t interact with each other. They bond in a manner the rest of us can’t imagine. Sports try to emulate this same type of relationship. Despite the fact that they’re going to be shot at on nearly a daily basis, they sit around giving each other shit before, during, and after conflicts. And to a certain extent, they probably have to. Staying on edge all the time is a good way to watch someone go insane.
The book provides nuanced description of what Wright saw going on around him. He does a fantastic job of calling out his own biases as he wrote. He also tells you what was told to him by Marines and then fact-checks with others’ accounts of situations, sometimes verifying an account and sometimes calling BS. At the end of the day, this was damn-good journalism in the form of a book.
If you’re a cynic, this book is probably tailored for you. It’s also good for those looking into leadership, teams, and family structures. There are a lot of ways to look at this book and draw out value. And hell, if you’re just someone who wants to have a better idea of what it’s like for members of the military in combat situations, you’re probably not going to find a better account out there. And the miniseries was no slouch either. It stayed pretty close to source material, featuring Marines from the book as consultants and one portraying himself in the show.