During my final days in the newspaper business, the editor of my tiny (and getting tinier by the quarter) p.m. daily had the idea to send someone to Afghanistan. As our paper was not the sort to keep a foreign bureau, the hook was the time-honored “follow some local troops” angle. The only problem is, our local troops were on, shall we say, a really boring mission. They were an ordnance company. One of my fellow copy editors was a veteran, and when she heard this, said, “I can see the stories now: ‘Today we delivered some bullets here. Then we delivered some bullets there.’” (And you know what? She was right.)
But of course, that was only part of the hook. The rest was a big, newspaper-sponsored support-the-troops hoo-ha, in which the paper raised funds to send “care packages” to the front. I suggested we fill them with Cpl. Person’s suggestions: Some good porn, maybe a flask-bottle of bourbon, you know the drill. They went out with paper and pencils, “fruit-flavored drink mix,” diaper wipes, the usual. Watching the troops read the kids’ letters in Episode 1, I suspect they were received the same way.
But never mind that. As you can see, I’m getting to this game late, having vacationed through episodes one and two and only getting caught up recently via OD. I’ll confess to a little early disappointment; Burns and Simon are far out of their usual territory, at least geographically. It took me an hour or two to see that some things — incompetence up the chain of command, mainly — never change, whether in Nasariya or Baltimore. And these two are about the best chroniclers of that particular problem we’ve got.
Still, I can see Nancy Franklin’s point when she wrote, in the New Yorker, that none of this feels particularly new. It’s not as though the tragedy of this war is a secret. We don’t see the depictions of top-down lack of planning, supply-chain shortfalls, muddled orders and the rest of it as revelations, at least not if we read “Fiasco,” and who hasn’t?
But. I’m enjoying the way “Generation Kill” is taking the clichés of military movies — mainly the way a group of ethnically diverse soldiers work, or don’t work, together — and making them fresh again. I suppose they can be freshened because they’re true; the military has been one of the great American mixing bowls throughout our history, throwing together people who normally wouldn’t encounter one another in a lifetime and requiring them to sleep, eat and shit in close proximity for months on end. The lesson close quarters teach you is how to get along, and it’s entertaining to watch.
I wonder what sort of viewership this is getting. Franklin’s point is, I think, part of the reason Iraq-war movies are tanking all over. This is going to go down as a painful period in our history, maybe even an epochal turning point, and frankly, it’s a big fuckin’ bummer and you can’t blame people for wanting to watch something else. Bummers on screen can be strong black coffee or brussels sprouts, both of which can be a bear going down.* But only one leaves you energized.
I’m looking forward to the next four parts, just the same. These things are important and, besides, hasn’t Blown Deadline shown us they know how to do this?
(This might be the stupidest sentence ever written. I leave it in to remind you you’re reading a blog, and not The New Yorker.)