Thursday, August 18, 2005


GENERATION KILL: DEVIL DOGS, ICEMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE NEW FACE OF AMERICAN WAR. This is a review by Michael Lorenzen of the book by Evan Wright. The author of the review has given me permission to reproduce it here. Thanks!


My favorite war book of all time is Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. It is not a surprise then for me to discover that I really liked Generation Kill by Evan Wright. Both books tell the story of a military unit engaged in a large scale offensive. Ambrose wrote his book after interviewing members of Easy Company. However, Wright tells his story from a first-person perspective as he was an embedded reporter with the Marines of the First Recon unit.

The book begins before the start of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It then covers the progress of the war for the first month from the perspective of the First Recon Unit which led the vanguard of allied forces in Iraq. Its mission was to drive into small towns and draw fire to reveal enemy positions. As such, the small group (reporter included) repeatedly and deliberately drove into ambushes. The unit was successful and took surprisingly light causalities. It was one of the first units to enter Baghdad.

In the progress of the war, we learn a lot about the men. This includes information on their past lives, their annoying personal habits, and how they each deal with killing people including in many cases innocent civilians who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is powerful writing and it is easy to envision being amongst this group of hungry, foul-mouthed young men who are suffering from a lack of sleep, battle fatigue, and a lack of cleanliness.

The title of this book reflects the author’s belief that this generation of American soldiers is perhaps more predisposed to combat due to the violent popular culture they grew up in with violent video games, movies, television programs, and music. Further, Wright also thinks that the large number of single parent homes and neglectful adults has also made this group more homicidal. Fortunately, he does not push this idea much other than to justify the title. I think this would be hard to argue. For example, how can we say the current generation of soldiers is more violence prone than American soldiers in the early nineteenth century who grew up in a country were dueling was legal and common, slaves were kept in brutal conditions, and warfare with the indigenous population was a way of life?

Wright also does not seem to like officers very much. Of the officers he writes about, he only gives Lt. Fick good coverage. The higher ranking officers he does not even refer to by name but instead creates pseudonyms such as Captain America and Encino Man. The writing makes it appear as though the officers are out-of-touch with battle conditions, are using the men to promote their own careers, and give orders that make no sense. Although I am sure the officers were not perfect, I have trouble believing they are as bad as they are portrayed. The First Recon in little more than a month was spectacularly successful in invading Iraq and it took very few casualties. It is doubtful this would have been possible with incompetent officers in place.

The book has an excellent collection of photographs included. The pictures show the men in a variety of conditions as they slugged through Iraq. In particular, I enjoyed the picture of First Recon in front of a statue of Saddam Hussein after the fall of Baghdad. The men are numbered allowing the reader to match up faces with the people written about in the book.

This is a good book and I don’t doubt that it will be considered a classic. HBO is currently working on a miniseries based on this book which will certainly bring more attention to this work. There is no index which makes finding particular passages hard but the book is worth reading despite this. This is a solid piece of historical writing which will become part of the cannon of the literature on the Iraq War.


CoInSide said...

Good points in your blog are supported here: Gen Kill Rebutted.

CoInSide said...

The first link expired; here's another Gen Kill Rebuttal