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“This isn’t Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket. I wasn’t concerned with some larger message about the war,” says Wright. “I think pretty much everyone realizes war is horrific ... I’m not really worried about what the audience takes away from that experience.”
That wasn’t necessarily the case with Wright’s book; in the prologue he tells us that the role of 1st Recon was to serve as guinea pigs for Rumsfeld’s doctrine of maneuver warfare. The unit’s sole function was to travel far past enemy lines and souse out ambushes by serving as cannon fodder — allowing the main invasion forces to pinpoint the location of Iraqi resistance and to roll through and crush it with the greatest expediency. Though the narrative is largely a character portrait of the Marines in 1st Recon, the knowledge that these men are to serve as target practice for the Iraqi Republican Guard imbues the book with a political subtext — a referendum on Rumsfeld’s speed-over-brute-force ideology.
As Wright and I make our way through the first episode, it appears as if the miniseries will offer no such meta vision. The show progresses, but the eminent danger these men face remains hidden. The viewer knows no more than the Marines do, and that’s just the way Wright wants it. He stops the DVD to explain:
“In this case, the show is more honest than the book, because in real life, we didn’t know what the fuck was going to happen. I didn’t learn that strategic context until weeks later, when I started reporting my experience. So in that sense, the book’s narrative is artificial.”
Wright reaches for the remote control to restart the show but pauses, something clearly on his mind.
“The chaos and violence that erupted after the invasion is often cited as proof of the failure of the maneuverability doctrine. But here’s the thing: In 1989, when the U.S. invaded Panama, they went down there to take out one guy — Manuel Noriega. The military ended up killing about 3,000 people in the process, most of them civilians, and about half of them at roadblocks.
“Roadblocks are very tense, tricky situations. The military’s policy has been to fire warning shots to get people to stop. But it can be difficult to tell where the shots are coming from, so when people hear gunfire, their natural reaction is often to speed up and head toward the roadblock, thinking they’ll be safely protected. They end up dead.
“In the ’90s, in response to what happened in Panama, Bill Clinton tried to institute a ‘peace studies’ department — to help train troops to deal with situations exactly like this. Everyone tore into him, saying this draft-dodging weed smoker was trying to pussify the Pentagon. When Newt Gingrich came to power, one of the first things he did was successfully lobby to end the program. Fifteen years of willful neglect later, we’re killing tons of Iraqi citizens at roadblocks. If 400,000 troops had invaded Iraq, things wouldn’t have been any better. We would have set up that many more roadblocks and had that many more civilian casualties.”
Wright hits the play button. And the show plays on.
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