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Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and The New Face of American War Hardcover – June 17, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Wright rode into Iraq on March 20, 2003, with a platoon of First Reconnaissance Battalion Marines—the Marine Corps' special operations unit whose motto is "Swift, Silent, Deadly." These highly trained and highly motivated First Recon Marines were the leading unit of the American-led invasion force. Wright wrote about that experience in a three-part series in Rolling Stone that was hailed for its evocative, accurate war reporting. This book, a greatly expanded version of that series, matches its accomplishment. Wright is a perceptive reporter and a facile writer. His account is a personality-driven, readable and insightful look at the Iraq War's first month from the Marine grunt's point of view. It jibes with other firsthand reports of the first phase of the Iraqi invasion (including David Zucchino's Thunder Run), showing the unsettling combination of feeble and vicious resistance put up by the Iraqi army, the Fedayeen militiamen and their Syrian allies against American forces bulldozing through towns and cities and into Baghdad. Wright paints compelling portraits of a handful of Marines, most of whom are young, street-smart and dedicated to the business of killing the enemy. As he shows them, the Marines' main problem was trying to sort out civilians from enemy fighters. Wright does not shy away from detailing what happened when the fog of war resulted in the deaths and maimings of innocent Iraqi men, women and children. Nor does he hesitate to describe intimately the few instances in which Marines were killed and wounded. Fortunately, Wright is not exposing the strengths and weaknesses of a new generation of American fighting men, as the misleadingly hyped-up title and subtitle indicate. Instead, he presents a vivid, well-drawn picture of those fighters in action on the front lines in the blitzkrieg-like opening round of the Iraq War.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Its timeliness notwithstanding, this chronicle of an American reconnaissance platoon's mission to spearhead the invasion of Iraq is not one of those hastily thrown together "instant books." The author was the only journalist to travel with First Recon. He joined the platoon in March 2003 and traveled with its soldiers into combat missions (including the assault on Baghdad in April). His book is not about the war itself but about one group of men who fought in it. Today's American soldiers, Wright says, are young men who are "on more intimate terms with the culture of the video games, reality TV shows and Internet porn than they are with their own families." (One 19-year-old corporal compares driving into an ambush to a Grand Theft Auto video game: "It was fucking cool.") Wright also explores how today's pop-culture-driven soldiers differ from those who fought more than three decades ago in Vietnam. A perceptive, often troubling examination of soldiers' view of war, peace, and combat. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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My first contact with Generation Kill was the TV series I came across while researching war for a piece I was writing. The series and book differ slightly, although the difference is more in the manner of presenting things than in the core story. The two different representations actually complement each other as the book offers more backstory and the benefit of hindsight, while the series more accurately depicts the chaos and how the marines were left in the dark about their missions almost to the very end. While this chaotic storytelling was brilliantly incorporated into the series, it certainly wouldn't work in the book so the narration being supported by maps and additional information was a good choice for it.
What this book does so well is that Wright doesn't take sides (as much as that is humanly possible), he merely reports the goings-on around him as he travels with team one of 1st Recon second platoon. He's equally frank about the marines' having doubts when the ROE say that every human being is an enemy, as he is frank relating the darker, more disturbing traits of some of the men.
Perhaps the only 'fault' of this book is that it's so well written, has such compelling characters and fast paced plot that sometimes, as readers, we forget that it's not fiction. Reading it as fiction would certainly take away form its value and importance.
After embedding with the elite Marines of First Recon just before the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Wright rides with them through ambushes, firefights, and the seemingly endless desert. They meet crowds of waving, grateful civilians and Syrian jihadists desperate to experience war. Good men are wounded in ambushes and, most tragically, in a rear-echelon snafu involving nighttime minesweeping. Throughout, the thoughts and feelings of the soldiers around Wright are at the forefront. Not only do you find out what these Marines do and how, you find out what they think about it and why. This is one of a very few books in which I've felt like I was there.
The very best thing about this book, beyond the intimate knowledge it gives of what goes on in the minds and day-to-day lives of the soldiers in Iraq, is that it provides a ground-level view of what exactly it is like to fight--the subtitle's "New Face of American War." The terror, boredom, pain, excitement, and relief to be alive are all here, sometimes replacing one another within minutes.
Wright also effectively depicts "the fog of war," the terrible inability to know who is the enemy. There are civilian casualties throughout the book, and Wright shows us why--eager soldiers fighting in an environment they have not been fully prepared for, where cars won't stop for roadblocks and enemy soldiers don civilian garb to attack without warning.
What I especially appreciated about the book was that Wright keeps his own views on war in general and this war in particular in the background. In the afterword, new to the HBO miniseries tie-in edition, he alludes to being against the war, but otherwise one is hard-pressed to say where his sentiments lie. This book was written for the soldiers who Wright rode with and got to know so well during the invasion.
If you want to know what soldiers in the Middle East are living through, or even just who these young men are, Generation Kill is the book for you.
It's a very enjoyable read in that way.