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Can HBO get the war right? Given the multitude of recent non-home box office failures on Iraq, the question is valid, and probably the first on the minds of those familiar with the real war and it's Hollywood history. Here at Mudville we'll do our own mini-series on the topic. This is episode one.
In an early passage from the book Generation Kill, author/embed Evan Wright describes deserting Iraqi soldiers crossing paths with U.S. Marines:
Through a Marine translator, the Iraqis say they've come from units in Basra and started fleeing two days ago as soon as the American bombardment began. They say that because they surrendered [Greyhawk notes: 'deserted' might be the better term], they are being hunted and executed by Fedayeen death squads east of here, and ask for protection. Many carry colorful slips of paper dropped by American planes promising them safety in return for surrendering.
Several of the men claim they worked in special units in charge of launching chemical-filled missiles. They say they were moving these missiles just a few days ago, getting ready to launch them. These men have atropine injectors, used to counteract nerve agents, which normally would be carried by those handling such chemicals. One of the more baffling aspects of the invasion is that the Marines will encounter numerous Iraqis, both soldiers and civilians, who claim to have first hand knowledge of chemical weapons. At times, Marines will speculate that Iraqis are fabricating these stories in an attempt to curry favor by telling the Americans what they want to hear. But further north, they will encounter village elders who seem quite sincere, pleading with the Marines to remove weapons stocks they believe Saddam's military buried near their farms, which they fear are poisoning their water. Given the fact that no such weapons have been found, you get the idea Saddam or someone in his government created the myth to keep the people and the military in awe of his power.
Chronologically that should occur in the first episode of the HBO miniseries based on the book - if those involved in the production felt it was worth including. The passage would be difficult to translate from book to film, of course. You can't have one of the Marines (who had been wearing chemical protection gear since before leaving Kuwait, by the way) point out that "further north we'll encounter village elders who seem quite sincere" etc. during that scene. But the detail - a stark reminder of why we were in Iraq - could remain intact (facts will hardly dent the "Bush lied" mantra so endearing to some), and the "up north" events could be portrayed in their due time. Or not.
You'll get some idea of the 'balance' in the HBO project if that description - and this one:
The surrendered soldiers are a wretched lot. ...quite a few don't have shoes and have swollen, bleeding feet. Doc Bryan, the corpsman, treats more than a dozen who have infected sores, dysentery, and fevers. <...> As a group they seem dazed and numb as they accept the water and humanitarian rations the Marines hand out....are MIA while the end of the anecdote remains intact:
Unfortunately for the Iraqis, First Recon's commander orders his Marines to tell these men who have just walked some seventy kilometers from Basra to go back the way they came. (From the American standpoint, a wise order, given the fact that these Iraqi soldiers had been heading to Nasiriyah, where in a few days the Marines will first confront urban war.) The prisoners are unhappy with this news. They have been saying all morning the Fedayeen death squads where they have come from have been capping their friends. And the Marines have dismantled and tossed all of their weapons into a nearby canal so they can't defend themselves. Several wave the slips of paper promising safe passage if they surrendered. But most are too exhausted to protest and start the trek back toward the Fedayeen death squads.Or perhaps they just waited a while out of sight and then continued on their way. The author could have provided and endless litany of possibilities, I'll credit his sense for good drama for declining to do so. That sense is apparent throughout the book, an undeniably excellent read.
"That's fucked," Person says. "Isn't it weird to look at those Iraqis and know that some of them are probably going to die in the next few hours?"
As for the television version, if the modern version survives the scripters and editors, then those familiar with the treatment of an incident involving a small group of POWs by another unit that was recently the subject of an HBO miniseries might be surprised at the contrast between then and now.
Wait a minute - did he say "That's fucked...?"
Find out in episode two, "Potty Mouths"