Killing Zone Beyond 'The Wire'

By Rob Patterson

Whoa! Generation Kill rocks. The seven-part HBO miniseries by the men behind The Wire —former journalist David Simon and ex-cop Ed Burns — bring the war in Iraq to the home front in a TV tour-de-force that simply should not be missed.

Yeah, that’s means you when I say this is must-see TV—those liberals, leftists or progressives who find war movies objectionable and won’t watch them. Yes, I understand, if I still don’t fully get why you might feel that way—from tender sensibilities to not wanting to glorify a horrid human activity mankind by now should have transcended to simply having better things to do with your time. And I urge you to get past any and all reasons to avoid Generation Kill and watch this vital work of dramatic brilliance either via On Demand or when it’s released on DVD.

This is not the place to fully offer my feelings on how war films and literature can tell us such important and essential truths about ourselves. I’ve lived through a war—the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt and Syria, during which the Golan Heights front was terrifyingly close to the Israeli kibbutz where I was living on a college study group—and can attest to how the heightened state of existence that results from war distills people and life to their most telling essences. That’s one big reason why war has been part of some of the greatest artistic works of history.

And one other reason why Generation Kill is all but required viewing for everyone and anyone who cares in any way, shape or fashion about the Iraq war and how it affects this nation and the world is that it opens a door of understanding into something we all must grasp in order to do so. It’s the story of those who have gone off to fight this war—specifically the Marines First Recon Batallion during the first 40 days of the war—who, as fellow Americans, whether you loathe or cheer their mission, are our fellow citizens and humans.

The war that has kept us embroiled in continuing conflict in Iraq and is quite possibly the hugest foreign policy mistake in American history—which is quite an achievement, albeit a dubious one indeed—is also the defining event of likely this decade if not maybe the first quarter or even half of this new century. And if you oppose war as much as I do (fully and absolutely as a concept, and only as a defensive move even beyond last resort), the only true way to effectively oppose it is to understand it.

And even though the Iraq war has yielded many cinematic properties that have all failed to connect, Generation Kill is the one dramatic work that must be seen. It goes beyond all those inane “Support The Troops” yellow magnets and bumper stickers (that I despise and which sicken me) to truly support those who have fought in this insane misadventure by showing us who they are and what they lived through.

Plus, it’s as great a work of television art — and one with an immediacy that cannot be ignored by anyone who cares about the state of our nation as well as our world — as has ever been made. It may even be the best television series ever made, a claim I resist, given how great the best television has been over the last decade, though if pressed I would likely have named The Wire until now.

And credit Simon and Burns, who are TV’s masters of telling it like it is. As with The Wire, Generation Kill has a complexity of characters, setting and situation that make it a bit more daunting to get into. Within the 24 hours of the first episode’s debut, I was compelled to watch it again just to integrate my mind within its dramatic density. And since then it’s been the addictive weekly thrill of my life, not because I in any way like war, but because it is human storytelling at its finest.

I’ve by now as I write this seen three episodes, and can attest that everything one may despise about war and also what makes it one of the ultimate vehicles for revelatory human storytelling are found in Generation Kill and more. And its genius for capturing the fullness, flaws and humanity of those who fight in our name, like it or not, says as much about modern America as it does the war itself.

And I’ll leave you with one line from episode three that says something huge about both war and our nation. “Can you believe that retard is in charge of people?” Watch Generation Kill, and make the smart choice in November’s election. The nation and the planet depend on you to do both.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, Sept. 1, 2008

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