By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
“Have you ever smoked crack?”
(Click to enlarge)
Tanked up: Evan Wright
“Not my thing.”
Sitting opposite me on the couch, in the living room of his Los Angeles home, Evan Wright is attempting to describe what it’s like to be the target of Iraqi machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. He’s having a tough time. Who knew Rick James was best suited to grasp the fog of war?
“I’ve done plenty of hallucinogenics,” I offer, attempting to help.
Wright shakes his head and smiles.
“Hallucinogenics are good for the general feeling of war, but the specifics of rolling into a combat zone — now, I haven’t smoked a lot of crack, but there’s a feeling when you do ... there’s a little moment where your consciousness is accelerating ahead of your central nervous system and you can just feel it ... ‘Oh my god, this is going to be incredible.’
“The thing most people will never understand about war is that it’s completely exhilarating. That’s the real reason people keep fighting. It’s intoxicating.”
To mildly understate, Wright is an interesting guy. A former Hustler and L.A. Weekly writer, in 2003, as a journalist for Rolling Stone, he embedded with the U.S. Marines' 1st Recon unit as the Marines crossed the Kuwaiti border at the very beginning of the Iraq war and made a push toward Baghdad — the very tip of Rumsfeld’s proverbial spear. Wright’s book on the initial phase of the war, Generation Kill, was a best-seller. Now, David Simon and Ed Burns, creators of The Wire, have turned the book into a seven-episode HBO miniseries of the same name, set to premiere on July 13.
Wright, who wrote parts of the script and was involved in other aspects of the production, has invited me over before the series debut for a private screening. But though we started the show more than a half-hour ago, we haven’t gotten very far — five minutes in at best. Despite apologetically promising to let me watch, Wright keeps pausing the DVD to offer behind-the-scenes tidbits that suddenly evolve into fascinating non sequiturs and counterintuitive spiels about the war.
I’m not complaining.
During the opening scene of the show, in which Marines undergo a high-speed Humvee training assault in the Kuwaiti desert, Wright stops everything to let me know that the scene was slightly fictionalized.
“In real life, none of these guys ever actually practiced firing a SAW gun [the high-caliber automatic weapon mounted at the top of a Humvee] from a moving vehicle. They only had stationary practice.”
Wait, considering Rumsfeld’s blitzkrieg approach to the war, one that emphasized speed and maneuverability, wasn’t that kind of a major oversight? Weren’t these guys going to be pretty much exclusively firing out of moving vehicles?
“Here’s the thing — I tend to give the military a pass on things like this. Name me one job you had where everyone did their work flawlessly. Have you ever had a boss that’s incompetent? People expect perfection out of the military, but it’s just not possible. And that’s especially true under combat conditions.”
Wright’s sympathetic stance is in keeping with his larger approach to Generation Kill — one that seeks to depict the war at face value from the firsthand experience of the Marines on the ground.
“My concern, and David Simon and Ed Burns’ concern, was simply to portray things accurately from the perspective of the Marines in that Humvee. If I had any intent, it was to be voyeuristic — to allow the audience to spy on the Marines in this vanguard unit.”
As if on cue, the show shifts from desert combat to the inside of a Marine tent, where we see Rudy Reyes — a Marine in the 1st Recon unit who was given the task of playing himself in the series — completely naked.
“Rudy’s ass time,” Wright says with a laugh, as the shot lingers on Reyes’ chiseled wall of naked gluteal muscle.
Though the scene is played for comedy — the other soldiers in the tent stare at Reyes’ pinup physique and assure each other “it’s not gay to think Rudy is hot” — there’s also something more subtle going on, something in keeping with Wright’s empathetic take on military shortcomings.
Reyes, for all his physical perfection and imposing musculature, is the subject of ridicule among his buddies. He’s both dangerous and vulnerable simultaneously. In other words, he’s human, something many of us, as Wright pointed out earlier, seem to forget about our military men and women.
The uncomfortable truth is that human beings and human institutions, even those with explosives and automatic weapons, are inherently flawed. That may seem an obvious realization, but it’s a terrifying one, considering the tremendous responsibility we put on the shoulders of our military.
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