Thursday, March 5, 2009

Generation Kill

We have one ep of Generation Kill to go, and I've finished reading the book. Reading the book was a really good idea, because it made the TV series somewhat (not wholly) more comprehensible although it has left me with a near unconquerable urge to end every sentence I address to someone else with the term 'dawg'.

Enjoy is not the right expression for engagement with GK. Evan Wright is a decent writer, he allows himself a moment of indulgence when he talks very briefly once in 400 + pages about his own therapy and issues, the story he tells is really interesting, and I did come out of the book feeling more sympathetic to Marines than when I went in. Both book and tv series capture that horrible mix of boredom and sheer confusion/terror that seems to epitomise warfare since 1914, and in the tradition of WW1 war writing, by and large the senior officers come off as remote and a little careless with their men's lives, there is incompetence and there is genuine heroism. One of the facets of this depiction of combat that struck me was the miracle that more Marines weren't killed/maimed.

War stories like this are fascinating and paradoxical. The camaraderie and wit, the banter and companionship make the life seem almost attractive, but there are balanced descriptions of the repulsiveness of the meals, the layers of grime and footrot thanks to a life of no apparent hygiene facilities, not to mention the consequent stomach problems ranging from squits to full on dysentery, and also most seriously, the brutalisation that comes with the territory. Military units go to the heart of our purpose here: they are at once deeply artificial, and also more intensely real - and they are adrenaline factories for young men (and I suppose, increasingly, young women) who find the buzz of extreme situations addictive.

Minion number 2 is at that stage of experimenting with career choices, telling me when he is a 'growed man' he will be a firefighter, no, a policeman, no, a cook, and maybe a pizza delivery man. When we hit soldier, my devout hope was that this would be another flash in the pan moment. Noel Coward advised Mrs Worthington against putting her daughter on the stage, and on the basis of the experiences described in GK, where extremely expensively trained Reconnaissance Marines were used experimentally by strategists playing with a new way to fight wars, I'd tell Mrs Worthington to keep her boy out of the military too. On the other hand, I'd recommend the book and the TV series to anyone interested in modern warfare.

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