Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War

Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War

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They were called a generation without heroes. Then they were called upon to be heroes. Within hours of 9/11, America's war on terrorism fell to those like the twenty-three Marines of the First Recon Battalion, the first generation dispatched into open-ended combat since Vietnam. They were a new breed of American warrior unrecognizable to their forebears—soldiers raised on hip-hop, Internet porn, Marilyn Manson, video games, and The Real World, a band of born-again Christians, dopers, Buddhists, and New Agers who gleaned their precepts from kung fu movies and Oprah Winfrey. Cocky, brave, headstrong, wary, and mostly unprepared for the physical, emotional, and moral horrors ahead, the "First Suicide Battalion" would spearhead the blitzkrieg on Iraq and fight against the hardest resistance Saddam had to offer.

Generation Kill is the funny, frightening, and profane firsthand account of these remarkable men, of the personal toll of victory, and of the randomness, brutality, and camaraderie of a new American war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400159741
Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date: 09/28/2008
Edition description: MP3 - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Evan Wright, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, has also written for Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications.

Patrick Lawlor has recorded over three hundred audiobooks in just about every genre. He has been an Audie Award finalist multiple times and has garnered several AudioFile Earphones Awards, a Publishers Weekly Listen-Up Award, and many Library Journal and Kirkus starred audio reviews.

Read an Excerpt


MAJOR GENERAL JAMES MATTIS calls the men in First Reconnaissance Battalion "cocky, obnoxious bastards." Recon Marines belong to a distinct military occupational specialty, and there are only about a thousand of them in the entire Marine Corps. They think of themselves, as much as this is possible within the rigid hierarchy of the military, as individualists, as the Marine Corps' cowboys. They evolved as jacks-of-all-trades, trained to move, observe, hunt and kill in any environment-land, sea or air. They are its special forces.

Recon Marines go through much of the same training as do Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces soldiers. They are physical prodigies who can run twelve miles loaded with 150-pound packs, then jump in the ocean and swim several more miles, still wearing their boots and fatigues, and carrying their weapons and packs. They are trained to parachute, scuba dive, snowshoe, mountain climb and rappel from helicopters. Fewer than 2 percent of all Marines who enter in the Corps are selected for Recon training, and of those chosen, more than half wash out. Even those who make it commonly only do so after suffering bodily injury that borders on the grievous, from shattered legs to broken backs.

Recon Marines are also put through Survival Evasion Resistance Escape school (SERE), a secretive training course where Marines, fighter pilots, Navy SEALs and other military personnel in high-risk jobs are held "captive" in a simulated prisoner-of-war camp in which the student inmates are locked in cages, beaten and subjected to psychological torture overseen by military psychiatrists-all with the intent of training them to stand up to enemy captivity. When Gunny Wynn went through SERE, his "captors," playing on his Texas accent, forced him to wear a Ku Klux Klan hood for several days and pull one of his fellow "inmate" Marines, an African American, around on a leash, treating him as a slave. "They'll think of anything to fuck you up in the head," Gunny Wynn says.

Those who make it through Recon training in one piece, which takes several years to cycle all the way through, are by objective standards the best and toughest in the Marine Corps. Traditionally, their mission is highly specialized. Their training is geared toward stealth-sneaking behind enemy lines in teams of four to six men, observing positions and, above all, avoiding contact with hostile forces.

The one thing they are not trained for is to fight from Humvees, maneuvering in convoys, rushing headlong into enemy positions. This is exactly what they will be doing in Iraq. While the vast majority of the troops will reach Baghdad by swinging west onto modern superhighways and driving, largely unopposed, until they reach the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, Colbert's team in First Recon will get there by fighting its way through some of the crummiest, most treacherous parts of Iraq, usually far ahead of all other American forces. By the end of the campaign, Marines will dub their unit "First Suicide Battalion."

Mattis began hatching his plans for First Recon's unorthodox mission back in November. The General is a small man in his mid-fifties who moves and speaks quickly, with a vowel-mashing speech impediment that gives him a sort of folksy charm. A bold thinker, Mattis's favorite expression is "Doctrine is the last refuge of the unimaginative." On the battlefield, his call sign is "Chaos." His plan for the Marines in Iraq would hinge on disregarding sacred tenets of American military doctrine. His goal was not to shield his Marines from chaos, but to embrace it. No unit would embody this daring philosophy more than First Recon.

In the months leading up to the war on Iraq, battles over doctrine and tactics were still raging within the military. The struggle was primarily between the more cautious "Clinton generals" in the Army, who advocated a methodical invasion with a robust force of several hundred thousand, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his acolytes, who argued for unleashing a sort of American blitzkrieg on Iraq, using a much smaller invasion force-one that would rely on speed and mobility more than on firepower. Rumsfeld's interest in "maneuver warfare," as the doctrine that emphasizes mobility over firepower is called, predated invasion planning for Iraq. Ever since becoming Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld had been pushing his vision of a stripped-down, more mobile military force on the Pentagon as part of a sweeping transformation plan.

Mattis and the Marine Corps had been moving in that direction for nearly a decade. The Iraq campaign would showcase the Corps' embrace of maneuver warfare. Mattis envisioned the Marines' role in Iraq as a rush. While the U.S. Army-all-powerful, slow-moving and cautious-planned its methodical, logistically robust movement up a broad, desert highway, Mattis prepared the Marines for an entirely different campaign. After seizing southern oil facilities within the first forty-eight hours of the war, Mattis planned to immediately send First Recon and a force of some 6,000 Marines into a violent assault through Iraq's Fertile Crescent. Their mission would be to seize the most treacherous route to Baghdad-the roughly 185-kilometer-long, canal-laced urban and agricultural corridor from Nasiriyah to Al Kut.

Saddam had viewed this route, with its almost impenetrable terrain of canals, villages, rickety bridges, hidden tar swamps and dense groves of palm trees, as his not-so-secret weapon in bogging down the Americans. Thousands of Saddam loyalists, both Iraqi regulars and foreign jihadi warriors from Syria, Egypt and Palestinian refugee camps, would hunker down in towns and ambush points along the route. They had excavated thousands of bunkers along the main roads, sown mines and propositioned tens of thousands of weapons. When Saddam famously promised to sink the American invaders into a "quagmire," he was probably thinking of the road from Nasiriyah to Al Kut. It was the worst place in Iraq to send an invading army.

Mattis planned to subvert the quagmire strategy Saddam had planned there by throwing out a basic element of military doctrine: His Marines would assault through the planned route and continue moving without pausing to establish rear security. According to conventional wisdom, invading armies take great pains to secure supply lines to their rear, or they perish. In Mattis's plan, the Marines would never stop charging.

The men in First Recon would be his "shock troops." During key phases of the assault, First Recon would race ahead of the already swift-moving Marine battle forces to throw the Iraqis further off balance. Not only would the Marines in First Recon spearhead the invasion on the ground, they would be at the forefront of a grand American experiment in maneuver warfare. Abstract theories of transforming U.S. military doctrine would come down on their shoulders in the form of sleepless nights and driving into bullets and bombs day after day, often with no idea what their objective was. This experiment would succeed in producing an astonishingly fast invasion. It would also result, in the view of some Marines who witnessed the descent of liberated Baghdad into chaos, in a Pyrrhic victory for a conquering force ill-trained and unequipped to impose order on the country it occupied.

Mattis did not reveal his radical plans for First Recon to its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Ferrando, until November 2002, a couple of months before the battalion deployed to the Middle East. Ferrando would later tell me, "Major General Mattis's plan went against all our training and doctrine, but I can't tell a general I don't do windows."

At the time of Ferrando's initial planning meetings with Mattis, the battalion possessed neither Humvees nor the heavy weapons that go with them. To the men in First Recon, trained to swim or parachute into enemy territory in small teams, the concept of fighting in columns of up to seventy vehicles, as they would in Iraq, was entirely new. Many didn't even have military operators' licenses for Humvees. The vehicles had to be scrounged from Marine Corps recycling depots and arrived in poor condition. The Marines were given only a few weeks to practice combat maneuvers in the Humvees, and just a few days to practice firing the heavy weapons mounted on them before the invasion.

What made Mattis's selection of First Recon for this daring role in the campaign even more surprising is that he had other units available to him-specifically, Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) battalions-which are trained and equipped to fight through enemy ambushes in specialized armored vehicles. When I later ask Mattis why he put First Recon into this unorthodox role, he falls back on what sounds like romantic palaver: "What I look for in the people I want on the battlefield," he says, "are not specific job titles but courage and initiative."

Mattis apparently had such faith in their skills that the Marines in First Recon were kept in the dark as to the nature of their mission in Iraq. Their commanders never told them they would be leading the way through much of the invasion, serving more or less as guinea pigs in the military's experiment with maneuver warfare. Most of the men in First Recon entered the war under the impression that they had been given Humvees to be used as transport vehicles to get them into position to execute conventional, stealthy recon missions on foot. Few imagined the ambush-hunting role they would play in the war. As one of the Marines in First Recon would later put it, "Bunch of psycho officers sent us into shit we never should have gone into. But we came out okay, dog, even though all we was packing was some sac."

—from Generation Kill by Evan Wright, Copyright © 2004 G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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"One of the best books to come out of the Iraq war.... An adrenaline rush of intelligent prose." —-Financial Times

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Generation Kill 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 176 reviews.
Raven_Nevermore2004 More than 1 year ago
Generation Kill is a daunting and eye opening account of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I as well as most people in America I'm sure, thought of the invasion to be an easy sweep across the desert country. It was compared to other military invasions, but when you get down to the nitty gritty of it and experience what the individual soldiers experienced you see just how special these men and women are. This book details the atrocities a group of special marines had to go through on their way to Baghdad. The buildup of the characters in important in portraying the events as real. You don't want to see them get hurt. You want to relate to them or put yourselves in their shoes. I have never seen the HBO series, but I don't need to. This book does enough to illustrate the strong will of these men and what it took to take over Iraq and occupy it. A good read would be an understatement.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found it very hard to put this book down once I started reading it. Actually I have not yet finished with it, I'm stretching it out to last as long as possible. If you want a realistic and accurate impression of the start of the current war in Iraq, this tome is for you. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad and tragic, many times funny. The dialogue is very catchy, for instance you don't say fire when you want to engage the enemy, you say 'light em up'. Also included are many good photos of the cast of characters. It gives you the feeling you almost know these Marines, most just out of their teens. So if you like reading about the Military and Military conflict as I do, I recommend that you buy, beg, borrow or steal this book.
Isaac Tran More than 1 year ago
Very entertaining and well written. I throughly enjoyed reading every single page in this book. It offers an interesting perspective on the war in Iraq.
sluf More than 1 year ago
As a former Marine NCO, this book reveals alot about the basic day to day facts of life that Marines endure when deployed over seas. This is one of the few books that actually protrays life in a line unit. Both the good and the bad.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a revelation!! Young combat Marines being emotional and speaking their minds to a willing Walter Mitty. Just kidding about the revelation thing. I was in the 1st Marine Division during this time period and believe me all these men are interchangeable with every other least in thought processes if not qualifications. The only exception was that the other Marines were well led. Too bad the author got stuck with the moronic leadership of that company and in that battalion at that time. Although his agenda was clear, and would have been for any other unit he embedded with, the book leads one to believe that malcontents stumbled their way to victory. Obviously not the case. This leads me to believe his goal was to appeal to the 'wanna-be' commando types like some of the reviewers below who believe everything written to be fact. Add this book to your soldier of fortune hero collection.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been trying to read first hand accounts of the Iraq War, as many of you have, to experience (through reading only) what the enlisted man went through as a soldier in this war. Politics has totally corrupted the current events genre, and the politics of this war are particulary disrupting. This author, Evan Wright, has NO BONES TO PICK. (the most important thing right now). The reviewer before who gave this book one star is completely incorrect, the platoon never does anything more than complain about the grooming standard, or the commander of first Recon who administors it. The author states they respect him (Ferrando) although they think is going to get them killed through his aggresiveness. However, they do rebel against their company commander (Captain America). I suggest the previous reviewer did not find the book supportive enough of his/her opinions of the war and he/she should stick to accounts of the war by partisans who parade as military historians/reporters such as Ollie North, and not a real non-fiction novel. A real telling of the war would have to include plenty of ammunition against the war, because after all, we do not live in a black and white world, and war is one hell of a policy. The best thing about this book is it's depiction of the soldiers who fight in it. You will not find more vivid and real characters. With those characters, tells the story of a new generation who bring new dimensions to the battlefield such as 'gameboys', rap music, and digital video cameras. MUST READ. I PROMISE.
fyrefly98 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: Generation Kill is the book that came out of Rolling Stone writer Evan Wright being part one of the journalists embedded with U.S. troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was embedded with the First Recon Marines, a unit of soldiers that are among the best of the best - highly trained special ops forces. But what they're not trained to do is to drive unarmored Humvees in a slow, evenly spaced line through hostile territory, where it's frequently impossible to tell civilians from enemy soldiers. On top of this, the soldiers that Wright rode with also had to deal with a lack of proper supplies (most notably insufficient batteries for their night vision goggles and a lack of lubricant to keep their guns firing despite Iraqi dust and sandstorms), unreliable communications, and a command structure that seemed to be more intent on maintaining the grooming standard or scoring machismo points than on keeping their troops both safe and effective. Review: This is going to be one of those book reviews that shades into a movie review, despite my best efforts to keep them separate. In part, that's because the book and the film version are very, very similar, primarily due to the fact that the miniseries stays remarkably true to the book not only in story but also in terms of characterization, message, and general tone. In a lot of ways, they compliment each other, since the book can provide background details that can't be readily explained on film, and the film can provide visuals for those of us who don't have the military knowledge to be able to picture various types of weapons from their written description. But they're also both complete and perfectly understandable on their own.Together or apart, they paint a really compelling picture of the current state of warfare, and of the people and personalities involved. I'm not a current-events junkie by any stretch of the imagination, but I know well enough that Generation Kill gives a (literal) on-the-ground look at some of the reality of the Iraq war that gets lost in the translation to a 30-second news clip. It's easy to sit at home and bemoan the number of civilian casualties or the cost of the war, but this book makes you take a hard look at what it's like in the moment, in situations most of us could never imagine. I do wish Wright had given us a little bit more of his first-person outsider's POV, though. There were certainly touches of it, and I found them particularly fascinating (and often quite funny, for example the story of him running in a zig-zag pattern to avoid sniper fire, to the consternation and amusement of the soldiers he was with).What I appreciated most about Generation Kill was that it gives a very clear picture of the soldiers of the First Recon Marines as real people. They're obnoxious and crude and thoroughly un-PC, but there's a very clear sense that they are pretty much just regular guys, dealing with the situation and the constant danger and the lack of sleep and the surges of adrenaline and the randomness of war however they can. Wright doesn't do a whole lot of political analysis or authorial pontificating, for the most point preferring to let the story speak for itself, but his respect for the men he rode with (if not for their commanders) comes across loud and clear... and I think will be unavoidably contagious to his readers. 4.5 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: Hard to say, since I don't usually care for politics/current events/war books (Emergency Sex excepted), but I quite enjoyed this. Really, I'd recommend it for just about everyone who has an opinion of any kind about the war and/or wants an inside look into what the war was like for the men who actually fought it.
peleluna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I so wanted to give this book four stars, but one slight typo (which I'm hoping has been fixed in later editions versus the library copy I read) marred it for me...Camp Lejeune (the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast) is located in North Carolina not South Carolina. While it may be a minor point, this error made me question the credibility of the writer and editor(s) because it made me wonder what other points may not have been checked. Of course, it happened early in the books so it nagged me for awhile...and for that, it lost a star. That being said, I realized halfway through why I was so engaged in this book that told the story from the perspective of those who often don't have the voice in writing their version of history...the enlisted personnel.... It's an anthropological work. At it's heart, cultural anthropology is the study of human beings in groups -- and the conflict resolution, social structure, behaviors, etc captured by Wright (the observer who had to gain the trust of the First Recon Marines to gain this invaluable perspective) does a tremendous job in capturing the unique culture of Recon Marines and the cross cut of individuals who compromise today's "volunteer" armed forces. In the era of CNN and "real time" images of air strikes it's easy to forget that the "job of war" still falls on those on the ground...and while the equipment has evolved, it's easy to forget how much the grunts on the ground handling the mortar rounds, rules of engagement, and mine fields operate in a unique sphere that is quite alien to the average civilian's perception of modern warfare. Wright earns my kudos for capturing the voices and the reality of these Marines. This is not an anti-war or a pro-war book. It is a snapshot. One person's account of the beginning of the war...when weapons of mass destruction were still thought to be a real possibility...when Iraq was thought to be a quick campaign.... And, for this reader, my eyes were opened a little wider than they already were to: the incompetencies at the top of the chain that hindered those carrying out orders at the bottom; the realities of what rules of engagement mean and what those who must carry out those rules must grapple with; the civilian toll that is often glossed over; and how much of modern warfare is still fought with mortar rounds versus air strikes. A final general observation -- I don't know what waivers and liabilities were involved with the publication of this book. I'm not sure who received pseudonyms under what agreements, but I find it a sad reflection that all of the enlisted men had their names used, in essence, standing by their actions while those junior officers whose actions were disconcerting at best, despicable at worse were given the virtue of anonymity. This gut-wrenching account of war and all its realities is a required read for those of us who observe war in the comfort of our living rooms -- it puts a face on modern warfare and a voice to the grunts who deserve their stories to be told, too.
kellanelizabeth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a well-crafted, interesting and rare first-hand account of the war from a non-military perspective. Wright captures the spirit of First Recon's Marines without a political agenda, and he glorifies the men's hard work and brotherhood above all else.
brcloyd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was popular in my book club, and I can't argue that it was well written. However, the daily activities of our culture's warriors can be grim. While the MSM told the quick story of victory, the devastation on the human and ecological population was severe. War is an ugly brute experience and should be avoided at all costs.
mattbuis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
profane and vulgar, but very well written.
chicamimi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am the first to admit that I was biased as I loved the show. This also gave me a basic understanding of what I was going to be reading. However, I found the book was great on its own and provided even more information on the things these men dealt with on emotional and physical levels. I think if you want a look at the early days of the war in Iraq, this isn't such a bad basis - someone who was with the marines, but yet not bound/sharing their traditions.
Unkletom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having been a Navy corpsman serving with Marines during desert warfare exercises I can vouch for the accuracy of Wright's description of the men in First Recon even without having met them. Almost every Marine I ever met was described to a tee in this book, including Captain America, Encino Man and Casey Kasems. I never would have believed that people could be such `retards' had I not already met officers just like them. For the most part, though, they were men doing an extremely tough job to whom I would entrust my life.
bluejulie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book had a strong impact on me in so many varied ways. It reads like a quick-paced thriller, a horror story, comedy, character drama and more, and all this while staying true to the facts of the first few weeks of the American invasion in Iraq in 2003.My first contact with Generation Kill was the TV series I came across while researching war for a piece I was writing. The series and book differ slightly, although the difference is more in the manner of presenting things than in the core story. The two different representations actually complement each other as the book offers more backstory and the benefit of hindsight, while the series more accurately depicts the chaos and how the marines were left in the dark about their missions almost to the very end. While this chaotic storytelling was brilliantly incorporated into the series, it certainly wouldn't work in the book so the narration being supported by maps and additional information was a good choice for it.What this book does so well is that Wright doesn't take sides (as much as that is humanly possible), he merely reports the goings-on around him as he travels with team one of 1st Recon second platoon. He's equally frank about the marines' having doubts when the ROE say that every human being is an enemy, as he is frank relating the darker, more disturbing traits of some of the men.Perhaps the only 'fault' of this book is that it's so well written, has such compelling characters and fast paced plot that sometimes, as readers, we forget that it's not fiction. Reading it as fiction would certainly take away form its value and importance.Worth re-reading.
jwalther on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The only book I've read that truly depicts the Military Machine, in all its personalities, screw ups, scenarios, and mentality. Wright did an amazing job reporting, even if he is from a extreme-leftist magazine.
ursula on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Though this one was published first, I read it after reading One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick. Wright was embedded with his platoon during the Iraq War, so it was interesting to get a different perspective on the same events (though Wright spent most of his time with a different team). It's definitely the outsider's perspective, and also somewhat sensationalistic. I got the sense that he needed an angle for the story overall and chose to focus on inept leadership and the crazy events the enlisted men were put into as a result. Very readable and interesting, but it wouldn't have inspired me to go read more on the topic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the best written war novels I've read. The author wrote episodes from numerous different Marines . He pulled no punches and presented factually the terrible truth that many innocent civilians always get killed by well meaning soldiers.
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