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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. Part one is here, part two is here. This is episode three.
We’re told much of the dialogue, and action, came straight from Wright’s notebook. But a good dramatist understands the need for balance. Instead, the miniseries spends too much time focusing on every military misstep, the camera lingering on dead Iraqi bodies as long as possible.Is that a fair complaint, an accurate critique of the series? It's hard to believe they might have gotten it wrong - because if the production team wanted to deliver balance, they needed only the book for source.
The Marines have drilled for weeks, studying the Rules of Engagement (ROE). The ROE lay out all the conditions regarding when a Marine may or may not fire on Iraqis. The problem is, some Iraqi soldiers will presumably change out of their uniforms and fight in civilian clothes. Others will remain in uniform but surrender. There might be some in uniform surrendering, and others in uniform fighting. On top of this, large segments of the civilian population are expected to be armed with AKs, so these armed but not hostile civilians will be mixed up with enemy fighters dressed in civilian clothes. Therefore, the usual battlefield rules - shoot guys wearing enemy uniforms; shoot guys with weapons - don't apply. What the ROE boil down to is that if the Marines come across a bunch of armed Iraqis they can't shoot them unless the Iraqis shoot at them first.Days later, in Iraq:
...Gunny Wynn addresses the men... He is 35, making him the oldest man in the platoon. He's also among the more experienced men in the platoon. In Somalia he headed a sniper team and scored numerous confirmed kills...
"I spent five months in Somalia, and we got a lot of good kills out there," he says. He gazes at the men, not blinking, letting his credibility as a sniper-killer sink in. "But we let a lot more bad guys get away than we killed, and that's okay. Don't fucking waste a mother or some kid. Don't fire into a crowd. Those people north of here have been oppressed for years, they're just like us. Don't hurt them, even if you can justify it later under our ROE."
"In approximately one hour, we are going to bust north to the bridge at the Euphrates," he says. "Change in the ROE: Anyone with a weapon is declared hostile. If it's a woman walking away from you with a weapon on her back, shoot her. If there is an armed Iraqi out there, shoot him. I don't care if you hit him with a forty-millimeter grenade in the chest."But...
When he finishes, Espera says, "Sir, we're going to go home to a mess after we start wasting these villages. People aren't going to like that."
"I know," Fick says. "We now risk the PR war. Fighting in urban terrain is exactly what Saddam wanted us to do."
The men in Alpha and Charlie companies spot muzzle flashes coming from windows of apartments 250 meters across the river. But in their first twenty minutes at the riverfront, the Marines fire very few shots. There are civilians moving about the streets of the city. Even during this low-intensity gun battle, some even stand still, trying to observe the Marines aiming among them.
The strangest, most unsettling spectacle Marines see, however, is that of armed men who dart across alleys, moving from building to building, clutching women in front of them for cover. The first time it happens, Marines shout, "Man with a weapon!"
Despite the newly aggressive ROEs, Marines down the line shout, "I'm not shooting! There's women."
Now, directly across the river, every Iraqi with an AK or machine gun seems to open upon Recon's position. Apparently the Javelin strike alerted everyone in the city with a gun to the Marine's presence here. Taking concentrated enemy fire, the men in Alpha and Charlie lose their inhibitions about possibly shooting women in the city. Up and down the line, just about every rifle, machine gun and grenade launcher roars to life.
Next - Episode Four: Showtime!