Iraqi refugees walk past Brad Colbert and marine unitIraqi refugees walk past Brad Colbert and marine unit

How Generation Kill Defies Expectations

By Robert Silva


With asides on Jennifer Lopez and Depends diapers, Generation Kill probably isn’t what you’re expecting from a show about the Iraq War. Or any war, for that matter. David Simon’s immediate follow-up to his epic drama The Wire, Generation Kill defies the rules of the genre, presenting the realities of modern-day combat in sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, but always unexpected fashion. Based on the reporting of Evan Wright, the show remains a rigorously honest portrait of Marine life and modern warfare.

It’s a surreal road trip

This is a story about men in their 20s, full of energy and anticipation, on the road. Only they’re not headed Vegas, but to the heart of Iraq to topple a government. They’re 1st Recon Marines, but they’re also ordinary guys, seeing a country in a very particular way. The breakdowns, detours, accidents, and arguments along the way give the series the loose quality of a road picture — with the added complications of nerve-rattling ambushes and split-second death. It’s a journey that’s both ordinary and bizarre, and will change everyone undertaking it.

It’s brutally funny

Would real Marines crack gloriously crude jokes about their fellow soldier’s ethnicity, sexual orientation and immediate family? Would team leader Brad Colbert (Alexander Skarsgard) have the precision of an insult comedian in dealing with his men? According to the actual Marines who served as consultants, Gen Kill’s dysfunctional family dynamics and hothouse humor are absolutely realistic. “One of my assistant team leaders had both his hands blown off behind me,” said former Sgt. Eric Kocher in a DVD extra about humor as a coping mechanism. “The first thing he does is start cracking jokes about how we should have slept in.”

It gets the details right, especially the ugly ones

The title Generation Kill, according to author Evan Wright, was intended as a counterpoint to the term the Greatest Generation, which he felt over-sentimentalized war. Whether or not World War II was a “good war,” it definitely wasn’t clean. (Consider that the bombing of Dresden killed over 20,000 non-combatants in World War II. Now, name a single World War II film or TV show that shows civilians dying at the hands of American soldiers.) Gen Kill doesn’t hide the shocking moments: A village teeming with women and children incinerated in an instant. A little girl filled with bullets at a roadblock. This is the nature of warfare.

It’s not on message

Generation Kill looks at the invasion of Iraq through the viewpoints of soldiers trained to complete a mission. The mission is tactically complex and politically controversial. And for the 1st Recon Marines, their contribution is to kill and, maybe, score points with the generals — and they’re looking forward to it. Which is to say, if you’re looking for a polemic, look elsewhere. This isn’t going to confirm or deny anyone’s thinking about the Invasion of Iraq. Whatever their feelings, the soldiers weren’t given the option of not fighting. They follow orders.

War may be hell, but it’s also complicated as hell. What’s important, one might take from Generation Kill, is to present a clear picture.

Ready to Start?

Marines in Kuwait awaiting orders to invade Iraq are joined by a writer from Rolling Stone, in the first episode, "Get Some."