Julian Assange said dryly, on the release of what he called the Afghan War Diaries, that war is just one damn thing after another, which is a somewhat polite way of putting it, and makes him sound a bit like Biggles. Perhaps ‘one fucking atrocity after another’ would have been more to the point.
The day before the WikiLeaks documents were released, I finished reading Evan Wright’s Generation Kill, a book I’d been meaning to get around to reading but life, etc. Generation Kill has become something of a celebrity book now. It’s Wright’s account of being embedded for two months with a company of marines of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion spearheading the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Wright, who cut his reporting teeth – if that’s the word – writing porn reviews for Hustler, where he seems to have learned something about misogyny, has gained something of a reputation as a sort of latter day Hunter S. Thompson. A Thompson he isn’t, but he is a fine observer and takes full advantage of his role as an embedded journo. We won’t get an Australian equivalent as the ADF controls its info on its operations with an obsessive po-faced secrecy that borders on the ludicrous, and a compliant media ensures that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are events we are not going to be asked to think about too much.
Anyway, I was thinking that Evan Wright’s marines seem like cuddly angels compared with the antics of their comrades who followed them over the next seven years. Evan Wright’s soldiers are a kind of more profane, intensely homoerotic Dirty Dozen.
They are very real, but they are also strangely moral in their own way. Generation Kill, a book that was further mythologised into a weird HBO TV series, became notorious because of its supposed claim that today’s GIs kill with no more compunction than they would if they were playing Grand Theft Auto. Actually, Wright never said this, but it became an interesting way of demonising individuals and sensationalising the war and playing into the moral hysteria around video games and so on, while ignoring the politics of the Iraq invasion.
Evan Wright’s marines were just a few weeks into a brand new war. Today’s marines are seven years into an occupation, and its brutalising effects on the invaders, and the horror upon horror that seem to be piled on the invaded are so staggering its difficult to fathom the stupidity and evil of the US administration that was so gung-ho in prosecuting the war, not to mention its enthusiastic cheer squad in Australia.
Something very, very horrible went down in Fallujah, for example, after the US assault in late 2004. A recent epidemiological study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Studies and Public Health, has documented rates of cancer, leukaemia and so forth far greater than in Hiroshima after the dropping of humankind’s first atomic bomb. Fallujah was a free-fire zone for the US in their attack there – i.e. you shoot whatever you want with whatever you want – and whatever the Americans were using obviously had quite a lot of highly radioactive material. The local rate of leukaemia is 38 times, childhood cancer 12 times, breast cancer 10 times, and infant mortality 5 times higher than in other comparable Middle East countries.
The larger-than-life hyped up kids of Generation Kill have now become the brutalised, psychotic perpetrators of atrocity after atrocity. The deliberate murder of an Iraqi husband and wife and the murder and the rape of their daughters by drunken GIs at an isolated military outpost in 2006 (one probably similar to Combat Outpost Keating whose destruction was described in the WikiLeaks documents) reads like a criminal act committed in some American horror flick by strung-out psychos trying to cure themselves of years of satanic abuse and torture.
The marines of Evan Wright’s 1st Recon battalion are already hopelessly out of date. Whatever war they were fighting didn’t exist in the first place, and whatever it was has been revealed as a kind of hell that it is difficult to grasp, or understand, or think of. A war pretty much ignored by mainstream media until some kind of vivid ultra-violent intrusion such as the WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Damage’ video makes it briefly visible for a few minutes. The current WikiLeaks documents – an explosive scoop if ever there was one – haven’t been able to compete in the Australian mainstream media with the Masterchef final and Abbot and Gillard’s ludicrous ‘debate’.
The marines of Generation Kill are people who fitted the mould of a hip HBO mini-series, a kind of Deadwood in the desert. Wright’s Bravo Company move through the chaos of Iraq like a sort of strange mediaeval morality play acted out in the confines of a Humvee. Seven years later that theatre is starting to look more like a suburb of Pandemonium, where morality is an object paraded for political convenience, occasionally inconveniently hung with the bodies of the murdered and imprisoned. I doubt that if Evan Wright returned to Iraq now he’d be able to write a similar narrative of what has happened since he was last there. I don’t think anybody could. In fact it has written itself, and we can upload it any time we want to our very own laptops. It has been compiled by WikiLeaks and it junks every other attempt to write about the war.