Acquaintance With the Tragedies of the Iraqi War

Generation Kill: A First Hand Insight on the Tragedies of the Iraqi War

I recently watched the HBO series “Generation Kill,” by David Simon (2008). “Generation Kill” is a seven-part American television miniseries produced for HBO that aired from July 13 to August 24, 2008. It is based on Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright’s 2004 book of the same name. Wright’s autobiographical work covers the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He comprehensively details his experience as an embedded reporter with the United States Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion.

This provided a firsthand insight into the way that the United States treated Arabs and Muslims upon their intrusion into Iraq in 2003.

The true events displayed in the show are disturbing. The Marines of “Generation Kill” devised checkpoints on roads that civilians and firefighters rely on. the Marines of Generation Kill set up checkpoints on roads that are used by civilians as well as fighters who are not in uniform. The consequences are disturbing scenes that illustrate the tactics that lead to tragedy, not only for the civilians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time but for the Marines who must live their mistakes.

The battalion killed a number of civilians and after, a lance corporal surveying the carnage angrily told me, “How can you tell who’s who? I don’t think I have ever read about a war in which innocent people didn’t die.” The consequences are not attractive and such gut-wrenching scenes best illustrate the tactics that lead to tragedy. This guesswork is oftentimes fatal not only for the civilians who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for the Marines who must live with the implications of their lethal mistakes.

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After storming across a bridge, the first Battalion killed a number of civilians. Afterward, a lance corporal surveying the carnage angrily told the First Battalion, “How can you tell who’s who? I don’t think I have ever read about a war in which innocent people didn’t die.” The process of shooting at approaching Iraqis without knowing with certainty who you are targeting began in March 2003. It even continues today, and is unavoidable with an imperfect military and an ambiguous battle space. Moreover, one character unintentionally kills civilians during a military version of a drive-by shooting. A Marine challenges this problematic practice by referencing the far greater carnage of when American bombs are dropped on innocent villages. He retorts, “So fucking what? It’s war, dawg.”

I found this series to be especially fascinating because it is based on true events that are otherwise unfathomable to the outside world. Wright bravely endured two months embedded as a reporter during the conflict. Occasionally brandishing a weapon and frequently put in danger, Wright wrote a gripping three-part account of the war’s early days. ‘Generation Kill’ won a National Magazine Award for Excellence in Reporting. The public eye found Wright’s tale so gripping that it does not come as a surprise that its miniseries version is so acclaimed.

Because it is so tangible, the production effectively captures the dark undergirding inherent to the US marines. Within the first 20 minutes of the first episode, the spectator notices the Marines depicted are blatantly racist, homophobic and ignorant beyond reproach. They complain about the lack of supplies, decry their mission and mock letters of support from children back home. One Marine goes so far as to describe the little girl who wrote one of the letters as “hot.’ “The dialogue also pays the mission no favors. ‘It’s destiny, dawg. White men got to rule the world,’ says one Marine of color, while another jokes that his fellow Marines going in to ‘loot and pillage a country.’ No one comes anywhere near supporting the invasion. Yet Kill, based on the nonfiction book by reporter Evan Wright, overcomes its initial bombardment of anti-soldier sentiment. Generation Kill delivers a remarkably realistic glimpse of modern warfare.

The way Wright portrayed the treatment of US soldiers towards the civilians of Iraq were horrifying. He claims he witnessed one solider shoot down at least 17 civilians because he was not 100% sure they were not undercover. Major Shoup, an augment Forward Air Controller in the Battalion, posted a commentary on the book in which he contrasts the events he witnessed with Wright’s descriptions of them. Shoup also states that Wright based his account on one group of enlisted Marines’ version of events without including the perspective of others. Wright replied to this blog post citing his own extensive interview with Shoup that directly contradicts Shoup’s later version of events. Wright also cites interviews he conducted with other Marines in the unit that differ from Shoup’s account, noting that Shoup’s direct superior, Major Eckloff, claimed to have single-handedly killed at least 17 insurgents with a shotgun fired from his truck.

Wright states that he reduced that number to 1-2 after other sources contradicted Eckloff. Wright states that his book had to take into consideration interviews from a wide variety of Marines in the battalion, including officers, and could not advance the perspective of just one person. It really does a great job of showing the different backgrounds of certain marine and army members, giving a first-hand insight on the good, bad and ugly events that take place within a battalion. Several scenes stood out to me, and the fact that they were based off of true events made it even more gut wrenching to me. One of the members of the battalion, nicknamed Captain America, saw two Iraqi civilians, who were completely unarmed. Despite orders from the rest of the unit Captain America proceeded to unleash rounds of bullets on the civilians. It is hard to think that some of our troops resorted to such disgusting measures out of pure stereotyping and hatred for a certain race.

Generation Kill is just one example of movies and Television that specifically stereotype Iraqis as terrorists. An example I can think of off the top of my head is the critically acclaimed film American Sniper. American Sniper does not delve into the circumstances surrounding the Iraq War and what many consider the US crimes and fabrications that led to it. It certainly doesn’t present a point of view in which Iraqis, still reeling from the trauma of decades of totalitarian oppression, are protecting their homeland from brutal foreign occupiers. Instead, the Iraqis are derided as “savages” in the film by Kyle and others. in one scene, Kyle and his men kick in the door of a family to use their house as a staging area.

After a time, the family invites Kyle and his men to dinner. During the meal, Kyle suspects that the man is an insurgent. He leaves the table and searches the house, finding a cache of weapons: the man is the enemy he is suspected of being, and Kyle brutalizes him. Later, like so many of the Iraqis in this film, the man is mowed down by a US machine gun. And though that may represent attitudes held by the characters, Eastwood does not make it clear enough that the filmmakers don’t share their views, one of the reasons why the liberal U.S. media has criticized the film. These critics are correct when they say that American Sniper is consistent with historical representations of Muslims in Hollywood movies.

Generation Kill documents life inside an armed bureaucracy run by marines, many of them are quite crazy themselves. One officer, nicknamed Encino Man after a movie caveman, mistakenly calls down a potentially murderous artillery strike on his own men; they survive only because he got the map coordinates wrong. A gunnery sergeant who forgets to order lubricants for the unit’s machine guns, leaving them hopelessly jammed by Iraq’s ubiquitous sandstorms, offers the men counseling instead: ‘Remember, I am a certified combat stress instructor.”

Against officers who can mislay a truck containing the unit’s entire supply of food and explosives, then bawl out a corporal who lost his helmet during an attack, the men have no weapon but irony. They deploy it to stinging effect, greeting every new cascade of fratboy and disgusting humor is their defense against almost everything: the awful food they are served, the malfunctioning radios, and friendly fire from units of non highly trained reserves. They come off as a jumbled group of racist and far left psychopaths, right-wing members, and homophobes.

Generation Kill never condescends to its characters. It’s written and produced by David Simon and Ed Burns, the team behind The Wire, HBO’s morbid dissection of the criminal justice system’s war on drugs, and they’ve retained The Wire’s recurring theme of good people trapped in a bad system.

That’s never more apparent than when they’re dealing with the rules of engagement, or ROE, the ever-shifting regulations about when and at whom the Marines can fire their guns. In the opening hours of the invasion, the rules are so tight that when a convoy of armed Iraqis blocks the highway ahead, Bravo Platoon can only wave. ”Our ROE states uniformed soldiers only, and they should be firing at us,” explains a headquarters officer on what it would take to authorize shooting. Within a day or two, the rules have been relaxed enough that young boys tending camels are approved targets.

Even when headquarters stays out of it, the Marines learn, the war is a collection of painful uncertainties calling for split-second, life-or-death decisions. A man spotted through binoculars, 300 yards off, is that a rifle in his hand, or a walking stick? Is that vehicle speeding toward the roadblock driven by a suicide bomber intent on mayhem or a desperate refugee fleeing Saddam? One night, the lights of a village shimmering with the heat is mistaken for an approaching column of Iraqi armor, resulting in an air strike, again botched by bad map coordinates. ”Eleven thousand pounds of ordnance dropped,” muses an officer the next day, ‘and we didn’t hit any armor. Didn’t destroy any villages, though, either. I guess that sort of goes in the win column, right?”

The marines of Generation Kill are a depicted as a group of marines fighting their war through an unusual comradeship. Their comradeship is sexist, racist and homophobic jokes. They don’t even believe all the nonsense their officers tell them about being part of the US military elite. One soldier just turns round to his comrades and says, ‘We’re not professionals, we’re just semi-skilled workers.” Just like every soldier they are broken down and rebuilt into killing machines. One soldier explains to the Rolling Stone reporter, ‘See, the Marine Corps is like America’s little pitbull. They beat us, starve us, and once in a while they let us attack somebody.” The casual violence inflicted by the marines on the Iraqis in the show is gut-wrenching. In one scene, the Battalion keep a small village under surveillance for several hours. All they see are kids playing football and a woman baking bread. Without any warning an officer orders an air strike on the village.

In the blink of an eye it is reduced to rubble. After yet another round of killing of Iraqi civilians, a sergeant tells one of his men, ‘They are screwing this up. These idiots. Don’t they realize the world already hates us?” it also shows that these young men are also victims – victims of a society that forces the poor of the US to do all the fighting and most of the dying. Of the 4,421 US soldiers who have been killed in Iraq the vast majority come from low-income families. It’s not just a class thing: black people are proportionately twice as likely to join the army as their white counterparts.

Generation Kill also shined light on the way the marines were also victims. Many men who return home will also be victims of a system that doesn’t care. Government figures state that 43,933 US troops have returned home from Iraq injured. As of 1 August 2008, 1,214 were amputees and 8,089 suffered severe traumatic brain injuries. These stats are truly disturbing because many of these men don’t really have a choice but to Army, and they get stationed in places where they see awful things and when the get to come home they are treated like garbage.

Works Cited

  1. Maass, Peter. “What Generation Kill Gets Right about the Invasion of Iraq.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 18 July 2008,
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Acquaintance With the Tragedies of the Iraqi War. (2021, Dec 13). Retrieved from

Acquaintance With the Tragedies of the Iraqi War
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