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Inside Generation Kill

Writer/Consultant: Evan Wright

When we previewed parts of the mini series prior to the broadcast, a few bloggers seized on Colbert's line in episode two--"Thank you. Vote Republican."--and argued that it must have been penned by liberals inside HBO bent on mocking the Republican party. The line was in fact spoken by Colbert at that time (though for reasons of pacing, we moved this line which he actually said outside the humvee to inside the humvee). The funny thing is I'm pretty certain Colbert did not mean this as an anti-Republican jibe. Knowing Colbert as I do, I believe he said it with no irony whatsoever.

In both the mini series and on the actual occasion in which Colbert spoke this line, the Marines were encountering Iraqi civilians along the invasion route who were cheering, and seemed grateful to be liberated. This depiction itself--of Iraqis celebrating the invasion--has also proven controversial.

Since returning from my first trip to Iraq in 2003 I've encountered a number of people who believe no Iraqis supported the invasion. The reality was, as we show in episode two, large numbers of Iraqis cheered on the invaders, the overthrow of Saddam and the belief, common among them at the time, that in short order American know-how would turn their country into an affluent democracy.  While their enthusiasm was not borne out by events, it was genuine at the time. 

The war is so politically, even culturally polarizing that anything you do about it is subject to a vast range of interpretation, much of it infused with suspicion as to what one's true motives are.  At one advance screening, someone castigated David Simon, Ed Burns and myself for having created a show that doesn't focus on war from the Iraqi civilians' point of view.  At the same screening, a senior member of the armed forces suggested that I went into this project with an anti-officer slant, based on the portrayal of "Captain America."

People sometimes forget to what extent a reporter simply plays the hand he or she is dealt. This story springs from reporting I did while embedded with Colbert's team in Bravo Second Platoon. My aim was to tell the story of the invasion from their perspective, since that was the point of view in which I had the greatest expertise. I lived with Colbert's platoon for nearly two months.  Had I lived side-by-side with Lt. Col. Ferrando for those two months, or written about the invasion from a Baghdad apartment, I would have produced a far different work. The logic seems obvious, but occasionally I still find myself answering the question: Why this story? I wrote this story because this is the story I followed on the ground in Iraq.

As for the portrayals of the officers, Lt. Fick, "Captain America" and "Encino Man" were the only three officers who served in Bravo Company.  Bravo normally had an additional platoon and commanding officer attached, but during the invasion of Iraq the company deployed with just two platoons, one commanded by Fick, the other by Captain America, and two of them under the command of Encino Man. As the nicknames of two of those officers suggest--nicknames which were bestowed by the Marines under their command--they were not universally respected. Captain America began to display the troubling behavior we see in episode two, starting with his seemingly random shooting of an empty car. Encino Man was well-liked by his men, considered fair in his treatment of subordinates and calm during combat--two qualities which Marines tend to respect a great deal. His greatest failing, as his men saw it (and as I witnessed several times in my reporting), was the slowness with which he passed orders.

After we got to Baghdad in early April, I was able to spend time interviewing more officers throughout the battalion. These interviews left me with the impression that my experiences inside Bravo Company didn't accurately represent the generally high calibre of officers across the battalion. To remedy this, when I wrote my book, I shoe-horned Captain Patterson, commander of First Recon's Alpha company, into the narrative. He was widely respected by his men and by other officers. Since I didn't actually encounter Alpha all that much in my Bravo-centric reporting, he wasn't a natural fit in my account. But I wanted his presence to demonstrate to readers that there were outstanding company commanders in the battalion.

For similar reasons, Simon and Burns choose to keep Patterson in the mini series. Played by Michael Kelly, Patterson's first notable appearance occurs in episode two, where he seeks approval for his men to take out unarmed Iraqis serving as enemy spotters by the Euphrates. 

I watched this episode many times as we worked on it through post-production. Each time I am astonished at how director Susanna White and Ed Burns, who was on location during the filming, captured the tone and pace as the battalion moved toward its first experience of combat by the bridge at Nasariyah.

Marines who were there will notice one detail has been shifted. As we faced the Euphrates, the bridge over the river was on our right, not left as it was filmed. Due to conditions on the location, the scene was better filmed with the bridge to the left.

The conversation between my character and Sgt. Espera (played by Lee Tergesen and Jon Huertas) beneath humvee the night before crossing the Euphrates is from my notebook. We crawled under the humvee to share a cigarette, using the cover of the vehicle to hide the light of the burning cherry. I'd quit smoking a few years before. It was my first (and only) cigarette. I really only smoked it to be able listen to Espera. His commentary on American culture and on the war as it was being fought was priceless. Much of it was tongue-in-cheek.

The original script did not include Person's conversation--after clearing Nasariyah--about why each of the men in the humvee had joined the Marine Corps. We had finished with the script when David Simon pulled me aside on the set of The Wire in Baltimore. He pointed to the script and said, "It feels like something is missing here." Based on my notes, we came up with this discussion on what motivated each Marine in team one to sign up. The actual Josh Ray Person, who worked as an adviser in additional dialogue recording sessions, saw this scene in the rough cut and thought the conversation was accurately placed. I credit this to Simon, who from the start, demonstrated an eerie ability to channel the presence of Josh Ray Person in the scripts.  Oddly enough, something I discovered during post-production work in Los Angeles is that both Simon and Person possess a similar ability to drive for long stretches of time while talking and not looking at the road.

One of the truest moments in this episode is the scene after the ambush at Al Gharraf, when Colbert turns to Person and says, "We got f**king lit up." Though this wasn't explicitly in the script, Susanna White captured the euphoric light in each person's face as we left the ambush. By underplaying this scene, by lingering on the silences, White rendered the moment as a sort of dream, which is exactly how it felt at the time.

2: The Cradle Of Civilization

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Photos Craig Schwetje Bryan Patterson John Sixta and others are briefed at night

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