Generation Kill: Nothing But Depression
Generation Kill, the adaptation of gonzo journalist Evan Wright’s account of spending time with Recon Marines in Iraq, reaches and pass the midpoint of its seven-episode arc tonight and brings on very difficult emotions.
The series itself, on a purely aesthetic and televisual level, is wonderful. The acting is pitch-perfect, the language is reassuringly filthy and the characters well-judged. You’d expect nothing less from The Wire’s David Simon and Ed Burns for sure, but the performances and characters, which started to come into shape last week and are likely to develop further towards total actualisation, are outstanding and at least empathetic given their situation.
The problem with watching the series, and it’s not a problem as such but certainly becomes somewhat off-putting at points, is the relentless anger and depressing machinations of the storytelling. The Wire itself is a howl of anger at the social injustice of America between those in poverty and the elites, particularly regarding the impact on those at the bottom of decision made at the top. Certainly in its first four seasons, that’s the key issue of the show, understanding institutional power and the individual.
The same concerns arise in Generation Kill but, due probably to it being a single mini-series run rather than a five season expanse like The Wire, they are utterly furious. Each episode contains at least one moment when the powers that be will make decisions that fail to understand the true nature of war and the procedural needs of the Iraq conflict. In the last episode, the Recons are sent to take over an airfield before British paras can get there so the glory will fall on their commander. Just prior to this decision being made, the troops launch a strike on a small city and believe they have destroyed Baath headquarters. Rather than go to investigate this, as is suggested by the commanders on the ground, they travel north through the country to the airfield and leave the city behind.
Generation Kill is a less a howl and more an explosion of fury. There is a helplessness to the plight of those on the ground against the literal fools in charge. Encino Man, a surrogate of their chief on the ground, is quite literally a complete idiot while the commander of the unit, Captain America, is not only stupid but reckless and paranoid. All figures at the top are glory-hunting fools intent on creating legend for themselves, those on the ground are aiming to try and do it right, to get by with poor machinery and weapons and to follow orders they know could be wrong.
The series is brilliant, both in terms of its exploration of masculinity and the unique mind of a soldier and in terms of its railing against American military procedure. But this, alongside No End in Sight and Taxi to the Dark Side, is just relentlessly depressing in portraying the bone-headed mistakes made to create the unwinnable war now going on.