From: the public library
In a nutshell:
Evan Wright, a journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, describes the events experienced by the Marines in the First Recon Battalion as they invaded Iraq in 2003. Specifically, Wright rode with Bravo Company’s Second Platoon and much of the book consists of his direct observations of conversations, firefights, and decisions made from his arrival in Camp Mathilda (Kuwait) to his departure from the platoon in Baghdad.
Reading Generation Kill was not the first time I’d encountered the Marines profiled in its pages. During a miniseries-watching kick last year, I watched the series based on this book, also called “Generation Kill”. Then earlier this year I read and loved Nathaniel Fick’s One Bullet Away. Fick is the commander of Bravo Company’s Second Platoon and his book covers a longer time period, including the time that Wright chronicles in Generation Kill.
When I first decided to read Generation Kill, I imagined that my mind would be comparing it constantly with One Bullet Away. But of course my mind was more quick to compare the book with its cinematic version. Strangely, though the movie has the advantage of the visual medium, I felt that Evan Wright’s writing better evoked the sounds, sights, smells, touch and overall atmosphere of the war.
While everyone else stands around, slapping backs and laughing about all the buildings they shot up or knocked down, Colbert grows pensive. He confesses to me that he had absolutely no feelings going through the city. He almost seems disturbed by this. “It was just like training,” he says. “I just loaded and fired my weapon from muscle memory. I wasn’t even aware what my hands were doing.”
The shamal grows into one of the worst storms anyone has experienced so far in the Middle East. The sky looks like someone picked up a desert and is now turning it upside down on us. Then it rains, which comes down as globs of mud. To top it off, it starts to hail.
Every time I picked up the book, it was interesting. (I cannot say the same of the movie, which could be boring at times.) Wright is good at capturing detail and as far as I could tell, he also did well in capturing the moods and mindsets of the Marines.
There are the frustrations of war, the miscalculations and judgments made with incomplete information. Hardships are recounted in detail: the lack of sleep, constantly changing orders, and so on. Expectations almost never match reality. The adrenaline of a firefight is contrasted with a sobering view of the consequences.
The book is not for the faint-hearted. It is war and it’s messy. Wright observes many numerous wounded and dead Iraqis, some of them civilian. There is a particularly disturbing account about a little girl who is hit by Marine fire when the car she is in speeds toward a roadblock.
I liked that Wright also included his own reactions as part of the narrative. It was in fact part of the book’s appeal: how does this civilian journalist react to the situations for which the Marines are at least trained? Wright isn’t afraid to be self-deprecating, such as the time he decides to evade incoming fire by running in a zig-zag pattern, completely flabbergasting the Marines, who of course ran to cover in a straight line.
I wish I had One Bullet Away in hand so that I could more closely compare the two books. Several incidents described by Wright triggered my memory of Fick’s account, and it is interesting how the accounts differ in tone and emphasis. The platoon’s aid to a badly injured teenager in Baghdad is a major example of tough leadership decisions in Fick’s book. In Wright’s book, the incident is definitely described but it does not have the same weight as it does for Fick.
Wright comes in as an outsider to military life, which means he provides helpful explanations for the civilian reader. Fick’s book places the Iraq invasion in the context of Fick’s entire military career. Fick’s book dwells a lot on what it means to be a leader. Wright’s book is concerned with what it means to be a soldier in modern warfare. I think both are excellent perspectives to read.
If I were to do it over, I would read Generation Kill first, then One Bullet Away and then watch the miniseries.
I found this interesting blog, “On Violence”, written by two brothers, one a pacifist and the other a soldier. They did a series on post-9/11 memoirs and Generation Kill and One Bullet Away were both included. These are very insightful reviews and make some excellent points about both books: