Sunday, July 13, 2008

Generation Kill, part 1

After HBO's other recent 7-part miniseries, John Adams, concluded my dad and I discussed the that show's depiction of day-to-day life during and around the time of the American revolution. Specifically, how grim are the prospects for life that a parent would choose to inoculate themselves and their children from smallpox in a terribly gruesome, and dangerous, manner? There aren't many segments of 21st Century North American life that have to make decisions based on which one is slightly less likely to kill you. The conclusion that it took a different, stronger, breed of person to survive that life was hard to avoid.

The notion that each subsequent generation gets to have an easier, less brutal existence than its predecessor's is intrinsic to the American identity and experience. The thesis of Evan Wright's book, Generation Kill, and the HBO miniseries adaptation of it, is that the generation that has been most insulated by the successes and excesses of the United States now has its own war.

The first episode opens before the war proper has begun. A group of Marines runs a training exercise in Kuwait; marvels at the detritus left over from the last Gulf War; speculates that Saddam Hussein may still capitulate to United Nations weapons inspectors; and worries about rumors that Jennifer Lopez has been killed. When the ask after the latter concern they're reassured that, "The battalion commander offered no sit-rep as to J. Lo's status."

The miniseries was written and produced by a team that includes Wire geniuses David Simon, Ed Burns and Nina Noble. The first episode shares The Wire's sardonic humor, its skepticism of policies passed down the chain of command, and its allegiance to the the front-line perspective.

Another early theme of the show, a variation on another theme the The Wire played with, is that these Marines are fighting a war with technology and supplies substantially less advanced than they're used to living with in peacetime (and without basic supplies that they cannot, but embedded journalists can, buy in bulk). "Back home they're driving around in Mercedes Bens SUVs picking up their poodles at the dog cappuccino stand, and here we are invading a country with ghetto hoopties."

As with the first Wire episode, there's a lot of detail and a lot of characters to keep track of (though so far Generation Kill isn't quite as nimble in distinguishing between them). The guy who played Ziggy Sobotka in the Wire's second season has a big part and I'm pretty sure I saw Officer Colicchio around in a few scenes, too.

1 comment:

John Duffy said...

Interesting observations, but I don't think the takeaway is that it took a stronger, braver person to survive back then. The technique Dr. Rush used to inoculate against smallpox was a cutting edge treatment at the time.

Nonetheless, infant mortality at the time was something like 300-400 per 1,000 live births, and life expectancy was for most people in the mid-50s at best, better of course if you were wealthy or more educated. Life then didn't require tougher people, it just KILLED you instead.

The idea so often perpetuated that we have grown soft over time (always a topic brought up when a historical mini-series of some kind reaches critical mass) and are therefore somehow undeserving of the better life that earlier generations won for us is simply missing the point. We live easier, longer lives BECAUSE of the innovations, sacrifices, and dedication of our predecessors. We should recognize and celebrate that, not devolve into self-hate because we couldn't handle what they did. We could, there would just be fewer of us around.

Every time I speak to a WWII vet (the few that are around anymore) the conversation always somehow gets bitter..."you kids today don't know what we went through." To which I say, "No, we don't. You're right. You did it for us. And our lives are better because of it...thank you."

Would we rather have these folks not dropped everything and marched into the jaws of death to stop tyranny? I think not. So to say that we cannot fathom what they went through is proof that they did a good job. We owe them a beer, for sure, at least. But we don't owe them the condemnation of our own lives as ones of privilege, weakness, or sloth. Would they/we rather they had not have fought for what they did, when they did.