3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
To sum it up in a brief sentence; I've never read a book like it. Every page, paragraph, sentence and word I was hooked from start to finish. Evan Wright is a truly gifted writer that managed to capture the raw brutality of War and the mixture of emotions that come with it to create a book that taught you so much whilst entertaining you at the very same time. Laughter, horror and raw sadness were just some of the emotions I was put through as a result of reading this book. In its context, I struggle to find a flaw with this perfectly crafted, deeply honest account of Wrights time accompanying the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the United States Marine Corps during the invasion of Iraq.
Initially released as a three part series featured in Rolling Stone magazine, author Evan Wright was placed with Recon Marines to follow them and take an account of the invasion of Iraq. As with most journalists, you would expect Wright to be placed at the back out of the way of any danger, but during the entire book, Wright is smack bang in the middle of the war which has undoubtedly won him the respect he gained. Throughout the time Wright spends with the Marines, he reveals a purely brutal atmosphere that is both comical and frightening at the same time.
The team Wright spends most of his travelling time with in a Humvee consist of Sergeant Brad `Iceman' Colbert, Corporal Josh Ray Person, Corporal Harold James Trombley and Corporal Gabe Garza (switched a short time after with Corporal Walt Hasser). Although these are the main team, there are a lot more secondary characters mentioned in the book drawn from Second Platoon and some come across a bit more interesting. Sergeant Antonio Espera or First Lieutenant Nathaniel `Nate' Fick are the two more interesting secondary characters whose parts I really enjoyed reading. The incompetence of the higher ups in Second Platoon comes across quite shockingly to consider exactly how people, with such blatant lack of ability, can reach a position to be in command of an entire fleet.
When you first start reading, it's fairly easy to misunderstand the humour and actions of the Marines as being cold, callous and uncaring and you can very easily mistake that as being the Marines core personality. However, when you read on, Wright reveals that the dark humour or the supposed uncaring nature of the Marines is simply a coping measure as a way of dealing with the sheer horror of seeing mangled corpses of Iraqi soldiers, civilians and even in some cases children. The banter between Marines is as laugh out loud funny as it is childish as it almost entirely consists of racial, gay or some other kind of insult that in the civilian world would have no place.
War is a horrible thing. I don't think anyone would deny that. And in this book Evan Wright gives the anti-war protestors some ammo they could use to enforce their cause, but he also presents a lighter side that you would really struggle to sincerely understand unless you were in the position yourself. He presents the beautiful camaraderie formed between the Marines who, in some senses, through the time spent with Wright, have formed a kind of unbreakable brotherhood that is only strengthened by the horrors that surround them. The stories told in this book are of sincerely good men. They're men who find themselves in a truly alien situation that no amount of training and rules can really prepare them for. You understand their humanity and their hatred. You understand their purposes and their ideologies. And you understand that regardless of what we think of the war, they're over there putting their lives on the line and they deserve praise and respect for the job they're doing, and Wright deserves praise for telling their story.
Brilliant book. Buy it. Or give the HBO Mini-series a watch as it stays very close to the story told in the book.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 2006
Rolling Stone contributing editor Evan Wright gets himself embedded --riding in the lead Humvee -- with Bravo Company of the US Marines' First Recon Batallion as they smash their way from the Kuwait border to Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The result is probably the best war reporting we're likely to see from that phase of the conflict.
Some of the things that set this book apart is Wright's proximity to the fighting - recklessly close - in addition to his use of First Recon's unofficial nicknames for certain officers, which allows Wright to expose their misjudgements or downright incompetence in some cases.
The battle plan is to put the doctrine of "maneuver warfare" into practice, with First Recon leading the charge straight into and through enemy positions, destroying any resistance and then moving on without bothering to secure the area. The idea is to move quickly and wrong foot the defending forces and in this the plan is a stunning success.
Not that the Marines of First Recon have any idea what the plan is. Wright chronicles a story of chronic equipment failures, constantly changing orders and stimulant-fueled extreme violence. Just make sure you're clean shaven when you enter Bagdhad. There is no plan for what happens after that.
A good compliment to this book is "The March Up" by Bing West and Major General Ray L. Smith, which tells the story of the entire 1st Marine Division's invasion of Iraq and capture of Baghdad from the point of view of a senior career Marine officer.
Keep in mind that both of these books are about the invasion of Iraq. There are hints of the coming chaos of the occupation, but both books end with the capture of Baghdad. Highly recommended.
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
If in relation to the two Gulf Conflicts, you were left feeling the news coverage (TV and media) and subsequent "military history" copy was too removed from what actually happened on the ground and the few personal stories by actual combatants either were too much ex-SAS adult Boys Own stories or when they were honest depictions of the experience(notably "Jarhead"), were limited in helping you understand the wider context in which events unfolded at the front, then this book is likely to answer your prayers.
The writer was a US journalist on assigment from the unlikely source of Rolling Stone magazine sent to the Gulf before the most recent Conflict occurred. He was allowed to be a full team member of a platoon of the elite US Marine Reconnaissance Group from the beginning to the end of the fighting (for reasons that are not fully explained given his non-combatant experience and the personal risks he would face). This unit was used by the US military command to operate as a mobile Humvee motorised group and continually probe forward of US lines to identify Iraqi military defences and engage them in firefights as the main US forces advanced to Baghdad. This in itself was a role reversal for an elite unit trained as the name implies to operate like the SAS and usually observe in secret enemy positions and only engage in fighting when deemed necessary (which had been their immediately preceding role in Afghanistan).
This book is outstanding for many reasons, including:
1. It is extremely well written by a correspondent who both observed and recorded the many different elements and forces at play, and is thus not just a record of what he saw. In so doing, he succeeds in conveying what it was like to be in the front line in this Conflict.
2. By being a constant passenger in the Platoon Leader's Humvee he saw how the fighting affected the team members plus can provide a unique insight of how command chains operate and decisions get made in the rapid unfolding of such mobile conflicts. Prime targets are the poor ground radio telecommunications systems (despite the hi-tech gloss given to the war in formal military briefings) and a number of more senior staff who for obvious reasons to any reader are referred to by nickname only!
3. He objectively covers the endless military errors and mistakes from chickens imported to detect chemical attacks but who all die in the first sand storms before the fighting started to poor equipment supplies (lubricant for the Humvees main guns given the constant sandstorms faced making them inoperable at several critical times and batteries for the body heat scanning detectors, which all upped the risks for the platoon in fighting) plus the experience of "friendly fire" (both US airforce and artillery) and the CIA's botched effort at using a sponsored Iraqi emigre army sadly reminiscent of the Bay of Pigs.
4. Given how events have unfolded in Iraq (and elsewhere) since this conflict ended, the book shows a number of warning signs that were ignored from the start of the war - the continual disappearing of the Iraqi army into civilians dress whenever they are attacked, with little attempt made to capture them; the main fighting being with foreign Jihad volunteers as a result (with little attempt from the start to try and identify and isolate them as they moved freely around the country) and the immediate collapse of order and ensuing anarchy and domestic violence as the Saddam regime infrastructure was removed at each town and village level.
While not an enjoyable or pleasant story, I have not read such an outstanding example of front line war reportage since Michael Herr's "Despatches" on Vietnam - I hope the book enjoys great success and recognition for its achievements as a result.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Embedded journalists? Too close to their subject; lacking distance and perspective; likely to produce a flattering, uncritical report, sycophantic even; will identify to an unhealthy degree with the subject matter. All of these things I had in mind, when approaching Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright's Generation Kill, his account of life with the United States Marines of Bravo Company, First Recon, as they spearhead the invasion of Iraq in the Autumn of 2003.
My initial skepticism was ill-founded, thankfully. Wright lives and travels with the Marines and they are responsible for his safety but even so, his book seems to honestly report events as they appeared on the ground. For every gung-ho episode where the Marines punch the air and shout, "Get some!" as something blows up, there are many more vignettes where the Marines express very real and serious doubts about what they are doing. "When I get home" one of the Marines says, "people will probably ask me to speak at high schools about this. I don't know how I'm going to explain all the dead women and children I've seen, the things we've done here."
The above is not an uncommon expression in a book filled with horrendous images. Evan Wright manages to capture the chaos and random violence of life on the ground as well as the incompetence of those 'managing' the war. Wisely avoiding the lyricism of Michael Herr's Dispatches, Wright gives a plain, clear voice to those at the destructive end of the 'War on Terror' - the teenage and twenty-something American youth - who are not the ignorant rednecks of popular image but often quite thoughtful young men, sometimes proud, often times confused or simply ashamed of what they are being tasked to do.
The violence Wright captures is often sickeningly brutal: Whole hamlets are bombed to dust, along with their civilian populace. Houses with women and children in them are knowingly destroyed with grenades. As passengers in cars, children are shot in the head. It is not the Marines themselves who are guilty but their superiors and obviously, their Commander in Chief. The Rules of Engagement are a spurious attempt to impose a moral framework where it simply doesn't exist; this book is testament to the simple truism that all war is a crime.
In Generation Kill, Evan Wright has written not only a great book but a valuable document of what it is like to be part of an invading army. The military machine is not something geared towards democracy promotion or nation building; it is good - exceptional, even - at two things: killing people and blowing stuff up. As one Iraqi says, "You have taken this country apart and you are not putting it together." Not bad for a book that won the General Wallace Greene Award from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 8 September 2008
After watching the mini series on DVD I ordered this book with no small amount of trepidation, the actual series was fantastic, I was totally enthralled by the characters and the often life threatening situations they found themselves in, so when I ordered the book I hoped it would live up to the series... It did and them some, the level of detail, the realism you could almost taste the ineptitude of the Marine commanders, I found it incredulous that even in a war as hi-Tec as the one portrayed they were forced to endure some officers who were blatantly mad, this is a book I would strongly recommend to anyone with an interest in the American marines or warfare in general, it's one thing to be killed by the enemy it's entirely another to be killed by your own commander because he's an idiot.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Evan Wright embeds with the lightly-equipped (and Humvee mounted) First Recon whose job is to lead the US invasion to Baghdad. The men are the usual mixture of saints and sinners (often at the same time) for whom the USMC feels a vocation. They are shooting civilians one moment and trying to save them the next. Wright is excellent at sketching the boredom of soldiering, the sudden jag of combat, and the long recovery from the combat high. If there is a villain in the piece of non-judgemental reporting it is the officers a number of whom (disguised by nicknames)are roundly criticised by the men and by the author. First Recon is an elite formation and its performance makes for an interesting contrast with "Ambush Alley".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This remarkable book that may well become the defining one about the soldier's experience of the war in Iraq.
Generation Kill tells the story of a group of "Recon Marines" - the Marines Special Forces - during the invasion of Iraq. The time line for the story is necessarily short because the invasion stage of the war was short lived, and by the end of the book the war had not taken the form it now holds - IED's, and attempted consolidation of what has been captured. The book itself is so rich in characters it could easily pass as fiction - the crazy brave new guys, the medics that seem to represent the soul of the men, junior offices competent beyond their rank and offices promoted beyond their competence, a chain of command that at times seems more interested in the size of a Marines moustache rather than the fact that they are short of food, batteries or maps.
Generation Kill reminds me of Dispatches (Picador), in that it places a greater emphasis on reporting the war from the view point of the boots on the ground combatants, than on a viewpoint of strategy or politics. This is not to say that justified confusion about both the politics and prosecution of the war is absent from the book - far from it.
Another aspect of this book that seems to draw parallels with Dispatches is the authors use (or more to the point the authors reporting) of the language used by the Marines with which he travelled. While the Marines may spew violent, curse rich, language which they would not use "if they were talking to your grandmother" it does seem to carry far more truth and honesty than the news briefing and scripted words produced for media consumption.
If you come to the book (as I did) after the TV series you will not find much that is new in the book, but I would still recommend it simply because of quality of the writing.
While some of the people you meet in this book are clearly not at the cutting edge, some of the Marines in this book are intelligent and strangely eloquent. Those are the ones who start to understand the implications of what they are doing - both morally and in terms of their owm mission. I think we should listen to what they have to say.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Books about war are a vicarious pleasure . On the one hand they are educational- offering the man on the street compelling empirical reportage of what actually happens when young men are sent into battle. On the other hand however they offer the reader the voyeuristic thrill of combat in the safe sanitised world most of us live in . In some instances Michael Herrs "Dispatches" and Anthony Swoffords "Jarhead" they can achieve an eloquence that steps outside the chaos and arbitrary nature of the wars they reported on.
Evan Wright was a reporter for "Rolling Stone" magazine embedded with the First marines Reconnaissance Battalion when the USA first invaded Iraq as part of the "War on Terror". He lives with the Marines , doing everything they do , except of course firing a gun- something most of these young cannot wait to do. Wright writes with candour, empathy and shows admirable restraint-unlike some of the Marines(Usually officers) he encounters -and is remarkably non judgemental about some of the events he witnesses When you consider that these include indiscriminate slaughter of civilians , friendly fire , and some mind bogglingly gung-ho opinions that must have taken some doing. Wright reports , he does,nt opine and in a way that makes this book more powerful.
Wright is placed with the second platoon of Bravo Company , commanded by 25 year old Lieutenant Nathan Fisk riding in a Humvee with four men led by Sergeant Brad Colbert. The unit are charged with pushing ahead of the main invasion force in order to serve as bait to draw out Iraqi forces. Their ROE (Rules of Engagement) dictates that they will be engaging enemy engaging in guerrilla tactics -often they will be dressed in civilian clothes - and this means that there will be inevitable collateral damage.
However Wright reports that many of the civilian casualties are down to bloodlust , incompetence, or Marines fuelled by coffee granules and M&M,s wired by lack of sleep, adrenaline and fear or as one Marine puts it -how they "Fought retarded". These are young men , often from poor backgrounds and broken homes who are trained to kill. Their basic principle is when in doubt "Bomb the shit out of everything" and large number of the Marines admit that combat feels unreal , like a video game. As one Marine observes :"We are like America,s pit-bull. They beat it ,starve it , mistreat it and once in a while they let it out to attack somebody". If they are shot at from a building their response is usually to obliterate the building with high calibre rounds .
Consequently civilian casualties are inevitable and there are numerous harrowing incidents in this book to illustrate this. The Marines deal with this in a number of ways but some are clearly deeply affected by some of the things they witness and at times countermand direct orders in order to help injured civilians- usually children. Things are definitely not helped by commanding officers- given nicknames like "Encino man" or "Casey Kasem"- giving ludicrous orders. The worst is one dubbed ,"Captain America" who many of the men wish dead, who panics in combat situations and completely loses it when enemy prisoners are taken. One anecdote is actually shocking and hilarious at the same time.
If you are looking for existential or philosophical musing s on the nature of war this is,nt the book for you . If you want a riveting exercise in conventional journalism with empirical authority "Generation Kill" more than does the job.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2004
Having read Evan Wright's original Rolling Stone series "The Killer Elite" last summer I could not wait for this book to hit the shelves - and I wasn't disappointed. Mr Wright takes the reader into the true heart of darkness that exists in any combat situation - the dirt and bullets, the long spells of ennui punctuated by the teeth-chattering adrenaline rush when facing enemy fire - but adds to this the human face of the soldiers involved. This is the real beauty of the book, when Wright describes the men of 1st Recon with whom he rode shotgun. They are fleshed out beings, not mere cyphers, with all the grace and failing of any of us, and I found it impossible not to empathise with them at certain times throughout the book. Wright also avoids depicting a one-sided view of this conflict - one particular incident, involving a young Bedouin shepherd and a possibly fatal gunshot wound, stuck in my mind for weeks after I read it.
I enjoyed this book above the many others I've read about the war in Iraq for the very reasons I've outlined above - a beautifully descriptive narrative which places the reader smack-bang in the Humvee along with the team; and characters - no, real people (Person, Espera, Fick, Garza and Colbert - gentlemen, it was an honour to make your acquaintance) whose humanity in a warzone has stayed with me ever since.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2009
I am an avid reader of war books by journalists and this one files neatly under this category.
Saw the television series before reading the book, and the book fills in the gaps nicely.
Mr Wright manages to both tell the stories of individual marines and the story of the campaign as a whole.
He rode in the front during the entire campaign, and I can see how he has been criticized for taking the side of Finch and the platoon over the command level. This is only natural, and I look forward to reading Nathaniel Finch' book next to get a clearer pictures of the events.
All in all the book is enjoyable, telling a story of going into battle, and at the same time writing about the individual marines. If you are interested in an socio-political book about the invasion, this is not your book. If you are looking for a book telling a personal tale of the Iraqi invasion as he saw it at the time, you will not regret the purchase.