The bridge

More thoughts on Episode 1, and the story as a whole, to span the distance between what we’ve seen already and Episode 2, The Cradle of Civilization, airing tonight.

Lynette mentions upstairs that GK “is no Wire,” and true that.  And on the whole, I think that’s good.  Things end, things change. There are lots of stories we need to hear.  But we want some kind of map, some way in, so we look for connections, or at least, that’s what I find myself doing.  It’s impossible not to compare and contrast, and right up front we see our testosterone-fueled anti-heroes in Generation Kill treading along some seemingly familiar Simon/Burns ground: the futility of the individual actor in a larger scheme dictated by forces beyond his control.

As we all know by heart now, the thematic structure of The Wire was tragedy: whatever actions the characters took to triumph or make sure someone else fell, were, more often than not, confounded by the larger truth:  the game was rigged. There were a few villains in The Wire, I’d argue there was at least one hero, Bubbles, and most everyone else was in the gray zones between. Their moral differences and character traits served to move the story along, but few of them could be classified as heroes in the literary sense, few fought and triumphed against the larger system. Bunk and Omar had their codes, they understood the system, the game, and chose to hew to their own code of behavior, and that made them admirable, made them stand out, apart from the other poor slobs that were pawns in the hands of the gods, the post-modern institutions Simon often refers to. As for the other characters, some were fatalists, some were opportunists, some were completely unwitting, but in the grand scheme of The Wire, everyone was a just a player on the chessboard.

So, what about our soldiers, and their officers, in Generation Kill?  One of the points made by Evan Wright early on in his book, and I think we’ve seen it already in Episode 1, is that the Marine knows his place in the scheme of things, which is as a tool, a cog in a larger machine, a member of a pack — “Mission accomplishment first, then troop welfare.”  Unlike the futility experienced by our Wire characters who were pawns in a game they often didn’t understand, I would say our Marine are liberated by this, and I think that’s a key, one of them,  to our map.

Despite the “Vote Republican” bit, Wright takes pains to point out that the average Marine in his story doesn’t have, or doesn’t care as much as you or I do about, a political point of view, doesn’t expect to be respected by the Commander in Chief, doesn’t care that yeah, they’re probably fighting for oil and the corporate state. They aren’t anti-heroes, they are following a wholly different script and tradition.  Their individual characters and morality don’t matter as much as being good Marines.  Their identity is as part of a larger whole, like individual body parts (speaking of Deadwood), they are members dependent on the larger body, even meaningless without it.

Or not.  As stated, they are liberated by the framework, and are rewarded. That liberation and reward is enjoyed by the individual actor and motivates them. In addition to the romance of battle, to the festival of testosterone, they get to break the ultimate taboo: kill other humans.  They are allowed license the rest of society isn’t.  “Allowed” isn’t even accurate. They are encouraged, honed, trained, to do all these things. In return, they fall in line and set aside their own wills. For the most part. Even if they are well-practiced in setting those selves aside, they aren’t truly separate from those individual selves, those men, those boys, with their backgrounds and beliefs.

And here is the dramatic tension of Generation Kill. Events will happen, we’ve already seen many small ones, and one major one (the “unsurrendering” of the deserting Iraqi soldiers) and individuals will make choices, will question the system and its hierarchies, will act apart from the whole, will question the larger body. And our “road movie” takes a different route. Does heroism lie in surrendering their selves to the whole, or in asserting themselves against it? Is heroism even relevant, or just an outmoded construct?

I’m not sure this is a helpful framework to look at the series as a whole, or to extrapolate out beyond the individual soldiers, beyond the troops, to the masters of war that took us into Iraq, but it’s the direction I found myself taking, on the bridge between The Wire and  Generation Kill.  Your thoughts and feedback, like-minded or divergent, are welcome.

Finally, sorry for the lack of posts. Team NuPac isn’t as well-organized right now as you might think. The encryption codes are screwed up and we’re all out of batteries.



  1. Yeah, it’s interesting to view GK as its own beast, but informed by The Wire. I think Simon’s sensibility shines through in the “you need to do more with less” message that’s brought down from on high in both series. I guess what’s interesting to me in comparing the two is that in The Wire, you have broken institutions failing everybody who tries to correct them. What result when the institution (here, the particular slice of the Marines spearheading the invading force) seems to have functioning channels for individuals to address problems, but the screwups (lack of supply/coordination) come from on high? So there’s that tension between what’s good for the group’s objective, and what’s right.

    As the Onion AV Club review said, this is the anti-Apocalypse Now. No charms!

  2. Have you read the book, Jay? Something emphasized in the book, but not yet mentioned in the show, is that the First Recon Marines don’t usually go into the field with their supervising officers.

    The invasion was the beta test for the Rumsfieldian vision of maneuver warfare and the General in charge tried to shoehorn the First Recon into that niche, which they only partly fit. They were trained in maneuver warfare and to function more as individuals than most Marines, to be independent thinkers in harsh situations: jumping out of planes, scuba diving, surviving in the elements, but not (as Godfather notes) for riding through the desert in open Humvees, and not with their commanding officers sitting on top of their heads.

    So you have troops that are not accustomed to being reined in, and you have commanders who are not accustomed to dealing with those troops in a combat situation. The Godfather had NEVER been in a combat post before the invasion.

  3. Marine friends tell me that it took three full rotations to get the real command-grade officers sorted out and to weed out enough of the mid-level deadwood and non-coms to get “locked and loaded.” On the other hand, they say now they can take any unit in the Corps, send it in a month, and build a school, blow a bridge, or drop and do fifty, colonel to slick sleeve private. They are itching to get sent to Afghanistan where they can (in their words) do it right from boots on to boots off.

    They’re very proud of their ability to do good civil affairs, but perversely you will hear Marines like GK because they want people to remember that their real primary skill is “to kill people and break things — everything else is politics.”

  4. perversely you will hear Marines like GK because they want people to remember that their real primary skill is “to kill people and break things — everything else is politics.”

    My army buddy says the same thing. They’re not nation-builders, they’re a fighting force.

    VT, I think it is a very helpful frame – I’ve watched these first couple episodes with the “man vs institution” theme in my mind and had some scattered thoughts, all of which you pulled together very well in this post.

    I’m having a hard time dealing with the bloodlust – but that’s for another post, which I will work on for this week.

  5. […] are the biggest threat to cohesion.  The ones piloting that unified machine, the brain driving the body,  the officers — they are the ones in a position to really fuck things up.  And in this […]

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