“A Burning Dog”
August 10th, 2008
As we begin our march into the final parts of Generation Kill, it is becoming clear that nothing is going to change. The crew of Bravo Company will not have competent leadership, the overall objectives of the military will continue to lack practicality or logic in terms of the situation on the ground, and the path of least resistance is not something that command is interested in, even if some of their soldiers might be.
More than any other segment, though, I felt that this one really kind of fell on the human side of things, people who are beginning to view this less as just military bureaucracy inaction and more as an actual personal failing. These are men who are dead tired, struggling to stay awake let alone alert, and in those moments the tasks set before them are more challenging. When so much of the war is out of their control, from the opening bombing of a small community which likely housed no “enemies” to the illogical attempt at passing a bridge compared to an easier route, there are two likely responses: either writing off your own actions as part of the broader mistakes, or a heightened sense of responsibility for what part you play in the grand scheme of things.
Written by Evan Wright, whose book is the basis for the series, this is the story of how people fall on that binary of sorts, and the continuing impact of the series’ broader themes on these individuals.
While this comparison is going to seem quite egregious at first, stick with me here: The Amazing Race never gets close to anything even close to war, but it has something called killer fatigue. Suffering from equal parts jetlag and sleep deprivation, normal Americans find themselves weighted down, ill, and generally in a different frame of mind than how they began the Race with every bit of energy they had in them.
If that happens to people in a relatively safe environment traveling the world, I cannot possibly fathom the kinds of fatigue that affect Cpl. Walt Hasser when you factor in the terrors of warfare. While we haven’t spent much time with Hitman 2-1’s heavy gunner, here we see small signs: he passes off sleep to Brad to focus on his gun, and then we see Brad telling him that he needs to grab some rest sooner rather than later. It’s all of those signs: Brad knew he was tired, and did what he could to encourage him, but in a war environment you can’t just let someone take a nap at the side of the road.
And, in the end, a man died because of it – Hasser was in no state of mind to be on point during that roadblock when he fired those shots, even if the situation was ambiguous (and the previous roadblock tense enough) to understand his reaction. I felt like Wright was writing a lot from personal experience here; while there are some parts of the war that he had to source from third parties, his own observations of the fatigue facing marines both mentally and physically.
While none of the other examples are as laid out as Hasser’s, there were other signs: there continues to be growing discontent regarding the leadership, and about the mistakes that are costing lives. There are a few moments where Nate and others see a lack of drive in their men, and can you blame them for questioning whether what they’re doing is right? As Marines they’re taught to love an opportunity like the one given them, to be the “hunters,” but they’re too busy pointing out their inadequate night vision equipment and the fact that a Recon unit apparently doesn’t have time to do reconnaissance.
Yet, by the end, they mostly fall into the camp that feels their own actions are part of the broader mission; that one kill is part of the war, that Hasser’s kill was “cool” as opposed to an innocent civilian being shot after a weary soldier reacts too quickly to a driver’s delay. It’s all about survival, really – they need to be able to stay alive, weathering the storm, and it is ultimately easier to do this when you aren’t questioning every action you take as a personal, rather than political action.
On the side of the Command, the episode spends most of its time on Nate and Encino Man, the latter of whom has a particularly negative portrayal this week. The scene between the two of them, as Nate chews out Encino’s right hand man for spreading negative comments about our favourite Lieutenant, still demonstrates that Encino Man has no idea how to handle anything. This is only further made clear when, at the bridge, it takes a commanding officer taking the radio out of his hand and giving him a sports analogy before he thinks of actually trying to get the truck unstuck through brute force.
That moment devolves into pure comedy: beginning with Captain Awesome’s panicked cries that the bridge is blown up and that he is trapped (As opposed to his lead Humvee that is, you know, actually trapped), and ending with the most ridiculous touchdown dance you can imagine as Encino Man takes the football analogy way too far, you really have to wonder just how true to life these portrayals are. Some of Encino Man’s incompetence, like his view of the young Syrian student who turned Jihadist as proof of President Bush’s war on terror as opposed to proof of the flaws of invading Iraq, is just naïve politics, but some of it is pure common sense and human interaction that is just completely missing.
He does, though, represent a more human side of the incompetence; Godfather isn’t really a person to the same degree that Encino Man is, and as a result it’s the latter who we are able to latch onto a bit more. He’s not responsible for every mistake, but he’s a sign of the system’s failure that it’s good to have around. He’s the kind of person who, as he struggles with this whole war thing as much as anyone else, who just chooses to ignore his own opinions (Like he said to Nate, he doesn’t have them) and do what he observes other people doing with reckless uncertainty. So while most can’t live with themselves, or learn to live with murder, Encino Man is clueless as can be; and maybe that makes him the most tragic figure of all.
- We didn’t get much from Humvee One this week, but we did get a couple of good moments for Evan Wright himself – I loved him having to wake Tremblay up and acting like such a badass doing it. I wonder if Wright was really that stern in his wording, or if Wright is making up for what he wishes he had done in certain situations (If he is, I think he earned it with a great episode).
- The shootout on the bridge was, as usual for the series, really well shot and captured well the frenetic and dangerous nature of such warfare. I am still always shocked when I see people get out of their Humvees to talk to others, and immediately tense up: it just seems really reckless, but considering the ratty Humvees that allow Pappy to get shot I guess it’s no more dangerous.