What I learned from HBO about the US Marines

My husband rented Generation Kill, an HBO production about the Iraq War based upon articles in Rolling Stones magazine.  I watched the first ten minutes and learned the following:  US Marines are exceptionally foul-mouthed (which I actually believe, ’cause they’re young and male).  They’re homophobes with subliminal homoerotic instincts.  They’re extremely racist, but in a friendly way.  They hate “Commies” although they don’t know what they are.  They are pedophiles who hate children.  And they want to kill, kill, kill — to hell with any moral underpinings regarding their actions.

The series is highly acclaimed, but I just got disgusted and quit watching.  If the Marines aren’t as they were presented in the show, it was a vile slander.  And if they are, frankly, I don’t want to know.  I need to be protected by Orwell’s “rough men” and I’d prefer to keep alive some illusions about my protectors.

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  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    Right after 9/11, I saw an article by some professor expressing concern that Americans would now begin to show excessive respect to people who embody traditional concepts of physical courage–soldiers, firefighters, etc.

    I think a lot of people in the entertainment industry and in academia are *extremely* concerned with status–far more even than is typical for human beings–and resent the existence or enhancement of any rival status hierarchies. There are probably a lot of writers, directors, producers, and actors who are very threatened, subconsciously or otherwise, by the idea that a 20-year-old Marine might achieve public recognition equalling or exceeding their own.

    This is probably particularly true for men, since courage in battle has been traditionally regarded as a male attribute and has been considered as something that is attractive to women.

  • Tiresias

    Bookworm, you didn’t learn a damn thing about the US Marinbes from HBO.

    You may well have learned something about HBO, however…

  • Danny Lemieux

    David Foster – “There are probably a lot of writers, directors, producers, and actors who are very threatened, subconsciously or otherwise, by the idea that a 20-year-old Marine might achieve public recognition equalling or exceeding their own.”

    You almost hit it, Dave – I would recommend that this be rewritten as “…that a 20-year-old Marine might represent what they themselves could never be”…i.e., real men, also known as sheep dogs, not sheep! Sad that such people as you describe feel a need to denigrate those those would protect them because they feel so inadequate. If there was ever a group of people that deserve an Atlas shrug, they would be it. Leave them to the wolves, I say.

    “Generation Kill” was based on a book about Iraq. I recommend the book…it is a hard-hitting representation of life as boots-on-the-ground grunt during the height of the Iraqi war. Reading it made me proud of our men and women in uniform. The book appears to have very little to do with the HBO program as you described it.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Danny, if I’d given the show more than 10 minutes, I might have found it an interesting and respectful presentation of the Marines. As it was, though, I found the first ten minutes so unpleasant, I couldn’t stick with the show. I admit to a certain bias, of course, not just in favor of the Marines, but against HBO. While HBO is good at pop culture entertainment (I love “Entourage”), I’ve always found way too liberal the politics it espouses in its “serious” entertainment. In other words, after the first 10 minutes of seeing Marines presented as fast-talking troglodytes, I didn’t feel like sticking around to see if it got better.

  • Deana

    Have you ever wondered, though, what Union or Confederate soldiers were like?

    I mean, does anyone honestly think that on the battleground or in the camps, where they came back to rest and eat and heal following an exhausting and horrific day in battle and where there were no or almost no women around, that they minded their manners, never swore, and gently placed napkins across their laps before they ate?

    What amazes me is how utterly polite and patient our military men and women are with us civilians. These are people who are steeped in a culture in which once the order is given, the order is fulfilled. There is little discussion, compromise, debate or complaint.

    We must seem very weak to them.

  • suek

    We really enjoyed watching “The Unit” for a couple of years…then it got weird. They started making the women demanding the right to take part in their husbands military lives, then actually managed to involve them in the operations. Also included themes of the same women having multiple affairs with other men in the unit, including the commanding officer.

    A real shame. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that wives of military men have no role in their husband’s work lives, and if they aren’t prepared for that, someone needs to get out – either out of the military or out of the marriage. The old saying was that “if the army thought you needed a wife, they would have issued you one”. Very anachronistic, I guess – the wife is supposed to be a man’s support and helpmate. In a sense, neither of them is “equal” because the man doesn’t really control his future. In fact, when it comes down to it, the military is a bit like a demanding mistress, and most military men are at the mercy of the mistress. Wife is #2. The military these days seems to be trying to be “supportive”, but the truth is that it’s nice when there isn’t a great demand, but when the rubber meets the road, the mission comes first. Individuals just don’t matter.

  • suek

    >>where there were no or almost no women around…>>

    Actually there _were_ women around. They were called “camp followers”. They did laundry and many provided “other” services. All armies had them…the idea of married military men moving as individuals with families is a fairly recent thing, I think. Maybe not for officers, but for the troops and their NCOs.

    One of the things I’ve learned during the Iraq conflict is that the Middle Eastern countries don’t have an NCO corp. It’s one of the reasons that it’s been so difficult to stand up the Iraq forces – we have to teach them a completely new concept. Their previous forces had Officers – who were educated upper class individuals – and enlisted men – who were uneducated and lower class. The officers used the enlisted personnel like cannon fodder and had no concern about their welfare. Officers were _never_ responsible for mistakes – the enlisted were, and had no court of defense. The idea of having a force of “inbetweens” who are educated to some extent, capable individuals who served to receive and comprehend the commands of the officers and then communicate those orders to the men who were supposed to put them into action, as well as see to the welfare of the men (which was a concern beneath the upper class officers) was a totally new concept and one of the reasons that they were so vulnerable. The troops had no loyalty to their officers. Fear – yes. Loyalty – no.

    I don’t even understand how a military can function without NCOs…

  • Deana

    suek –

    You are right. I should have clarified. I was thinking more along the lines of women who would have functioned as a civilizing force. I doubt laundry women or women who were there for “other” purposes spent much time being horrified at the behavior of these men!


  • Deana

    With regard to the obvious disapproval and lack of comfort that many have with the military: because many Americans have been so safe for so long, they view military culture as silly and unnecessary. They honestly expect ALL men to behave as if they were lobbyists on K street in D.C. or bankers in New York.

    But if your average American was at home at midnight and a large, armed man was trying to break in, how many Americans would honestly rather be protected by one of those effete bankers versus a man who is rough around the edges but is willing to do what is necessary to neutralize the threat?

    And that is EXACTLY why I felt more safe with Bush at the helm . . .


  • Buz

    First off, I don’t think, this is personal opinion, that anything we see on the little screen and especially the big screen is true. It is all filtered through the writer’s or director’s eyes. For that reason, I don’t think that the presentation of Marines in the HBO movie had anything to do with the individual foot soldier. It was only a device to show how bad Bush was, how utterly horrible the Marines were and how devoid of humanity they both were. Having spent my entire adult life (some 40 years or so) in and around the military, I know for a fact that the Army and Marine foot soldier does not act that way. Having spent much of the past four years in and among young soldiers, airmen and sailors about to deploy to both Afghanistan and Iraq, I can unqualifiedly state, Book, that you have no worry. The enlisted people I interacted with were uniformly dedicated, intelligent and motivated to serve their country in the best way they knew how. The officers above them knew how, and did, instill in them the best of the traditions of the US Military, the military that has for generations gone out and died so that other peoples could experience freedom. The military we have now is probably better than any I have been associated with in the past 40 years. OK enough said.

  • Deana

    Buz –

    “The military we have now is probably better than any I have been associated with in the past 40 years.”

    My uncle was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and he has said the exact same thing. All of which makes it bizarre that so many people in the country think that if you are in the military, you must not be smart.

  • 11B40


    1) “suek”: me same-same you on “The Unit” it started off real well but then I guess some actress or lady writer threatened to file a lawsuit and it has now gone to “Disney World.” It was probably the only military-themed show I’ve enjoyed since “Tour of Duty.”

    2) “Bad Words”: when I got out of the military, my father had to trim my sails about my word proclivities. He had a no vulgarity at no time home. Many people miss out on the rhythmic if not poetic uses in the military. An extra syllable or two can really make the verbosity flow. My personal favorite, dyna-friggin-mite.

    3) “Current Military”: hopefully every military we send to war is better than the previous, but there just aren’t enough of them at present. If it wasn’t for the “female soldiers”, we would be in even worse shape. We have a long term war with Islam on or hands and we need a draft.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    Legend of the Galactic Heroes did a great job of portraying military culture and some of the dynamics that go into the relationship of the military with their civilian masters. While Battlestar Galactic did address some serious command issues, the show really isn’t about command or military virtues. It isn’t about military vices, either.

    In a thousand years, they will have reproduced accurate documentation of this era’s Roman Legions, the US Marines. But right now, pop culture is interfering with an accurate rendition.

    David Weber’s Honor Harrington is a great primer on naval command responsibilities. That’s in book format, not movie format.

    The tendency of modern culture is to project basic civilian strife and drama (think soap opera) unto the military. Since the Iraq War has brought about more and more talk about military virtues, the networks are cashing in on the public’s interest in such fields.

    Some of the material is good or at least refreshing to those of us with a more than common background on the subject. The rest of the material tends to be somewhat melodramatic with an emphasis on the military as “victims”.

    If you are looking for inspiration or education, better check out the quality material. If you are looking for a sort of pseudo military themed soap opera and drama, well there are plenty of options.

    Blackfive posted about “Taking Chance’, I believe was the name. I checked out the director’s background, what there was of it, and he doesn’t seem to have an ideological or political axe to grind. Also the military officer that volunteered to escort Chance back emailed Blackfive that the movie is a justified rendition of the true story.

  • gpc31

    I couldn’t agree more with all of the above comments.

    My quick take, based on early memories of growing up in an air force family and as someone whose best friend and roommate was an Ivy League Marine (a rarity, not an oxymoron! well, ok, he is a moron, but a great one). Seriously, it took great character and extra effort for him to go against the grain and go cross-town to join ROTC (not allowed on our campus). He did two tours and fulfilled his reserve requirements.

    Foul-mouthed? #$@! yeah, especially the Marines. 11B40 was exactly right, it is poetic. Like the character from “A Christmas Story” said: “my father was an artist; profanity was his medium”. BTW, my own dad could swear up a blue streak but not like a Marine.

    Homophobes / subliminal homoeroticism? Yup, but so what: comes with being on a team of young men. Football players slap each other on the butt. The team aspect is a great and bonding experience.

    Racist? You’ve got to be kidding me. Don’t confuse the verbal hazing with actual performance. (Everybody on the team has a job to do and they do it — see bonding, above). The military is the great American integration success story, not just with race but also along class lines. As an officer, my friend was incredibly proud and protective of all his men.

    Pedophiles? David Foster and Tiresias are spot-on. It says much more about our lurid entertainment industry, which has steadily sexualized society down to the pre-teen level, than it does about the Marines. Projection and calumny from HBO.

    Commies / not knowing what they are? After a tour of duty, the average Marine is far more experienced and intellectually mature than his civilian counterparts. Victor Hanson has made this point several ways to Sunday.

    I believe that Buz and Deana and the other contributers who noted that the military is far more capable now than 40 years ago are correct.

    Kill, kill, kill? I guess in a post-modern world, soldiers aren’t allowed to kill. I guess that’s why we rely on the Europeans to protect us. I will make the elementary point that killing has to over-emphasized in training (and war) because you have to overcome the normal, decent human instincts of a 20th century American. Life is not so nasty, brutish and short any more; we no longer habitually settle our quarrels by violence or duels; death seems to be a bit removed; some aspects of life are sanitized; and we are not restricted to eating only what we kill. So yes, killing has to be emphasized. In reality, marines are warriors who do what they have to do. Fighting, killing, rebuilding societies, engineering, providing tsunami relief, etc.

    I’m not idealizing the Marines. Hang out with a bunch of ’em on a night out and you will thank your hangover the next morning for not remembering everything that happened. I will trot out a cliche: the Marines are no better friends, no worse enemies. They’re no angels but they do sacrifice for us and live by a soldier’s code of honor.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    Homophobes / subliminal homoeroticism? Yup, but so what: comes with being on a team of young men. Football players slap each other on the butt. The team aspect is a great and bonding experience.

    The subject matter changes but the trick of the matter is social intimidation. Everybody tests the new guy to see what is up cause they’d like to have a feel for this kind of thing before a fire fight goes on. It is also tradition, like the tradition in the Navy to keep sending the new guy on a truffle hunting expedition around the ship looking for things that don’t exist.

    There is no weakness tolerated on the front lines. The Marines have their own particular culture on this point in ironing out the character weaknesses of people.

    And given Hollywood’s movies like Brokeback Mountain and “Milk”, I tend to think HBO is far more homoerotic than the Marines. The Marines are no Theban Sacred Band, after all.

  • gpc31

    On second thought, I will quibble with something that I asserted above, namely, that the military has successfully integrated along class lines. Race yes; class, regrettably not so much anymore, because the upper-middle class has opted out. This has the makings of a societal tragedy, as many have observed, for reasons both too obvious and subtle to go into right now.

    What I should have said, and meant to say, was that my buddy led a diverse group of young guys, from all over country and from all different backgrounds, and was inspired by the fact that the Marines made them all Americans first. That’s the military way; obviously not for everyone or for the rest of society. E pluribus unum.

  • suek

    >>Race yes;>>

    One of the questions I’d like to see researched is just what influence the military has had on race relations over the years. Only in the military can you require that people treat other races equitably or suffer consequences. Only in the military can you have confidence that black or white, the measuring bar is the same. (The same is not necessarily true for male/female, but that’s a different issue.) It’s my opinion that requiring blacks to measure up meant that those who served successfully and then entered other occupations when they got out probably were more capable that those of their former peers who did not serve.

    I don’t know how someone could research this, but I wish someone would. I’d be willing to bet that military service has had a real and enduring role in the societal progress of blacks into the middle class in this nation.

  • gpc31

    Suek –
    Charles Moskos, a sociologist, specialized in this field. He was highly acclaimed but I’ve only read short excerpts from his work so I’m not qualified to judge:


  • Danny Lemieux

    Suek…shhhhhhhhhhhh! Helen might be listening.

  • Oldflyer

    Suek, you would win the bet–if there were a valid measuring stick. But, this is nothing new. For generations the military has been a vehicle for upward mobility. It probably reached its peak with the GI Bill after WWII. But, the military has used education as an inducement to enter and stay ever since. I obtained my BA and MS courtesy of the USN.

    GPC31 you are exactly right. The military service used to be a means for integrating the “classes”. I have commented before, and I don’t remember if it was on this forum, that when I was in flight training the population of students and instructors was drawn from a cross section of the best universities in the country; as well as from other schools that ranged from junior colleges to state universities. There were some very intelligent ex-enlisted who were admitted directily without any college. I know several of those who became fine officers, and went on to get their degrees and advanced degrees later on. My first Instructor, a Marine, was a Yale graduate; while I was a University of Florida drop-out (by design because I couldn’t wait to start flying). Because of compulsory service the enlisted ranks were similarly diverse. This was a beneficial situation.

    If anyone has occasion to see a Marine in uniform I challenge you to go up and start a conversation. I assure you that you will not meet a more courteous young man or woman. You will also not meet anyone who is prouder of their organization; or more secure in their position.

    Since I was raised in the south of the 40s and 50s I never used profanity in front of a lady. I am still not comfortable with the modern practice. But, ready room language was a different story. Just the way it is. Hypocritical?

    Homo-erotic. I don’t know how to respond. Homophobic; that is an extreme label used pejoratively, and loosely, for political purposes . In my exerience, many if not most men are not comfortable with the concept of homosexuality and would prefer not to associate with openly homosexual men. I do not consider that to be homophobic. Most are sort of live and let live, so long as they mind their own business. I don’t mean to paint with too broad of a brush, but I did know more than one or two boys who were targets of predators; in the case of one of my nephews with tragic consequences. It affects your attitude.

    Killing when necessary is the reason you have Marines and their counterparts. They do it so we don’t have to. Ground combat is a brutal business. I don’t doubt that the people who have to particpate in it become very hardened and calloused. They could not survive psychologically if they did not.

    I don’t watch HBO and have no desire to do so. I would rather read Bookworm Room, Urgent Agenda, Neo-neocon, American Thinker, et al.

  • suek


    thanks for the link…a whole new category of books to look into! Like there aren’t enough already! It seems like every doggone day there’s a new book written by somebody worthwhile on stuff that’s interesting…

    Goldberg has a new one on the media slavering about Obama…

    Every day, I tell you!

    Need more time! 24 hours per day just isn’t enough!

  • kali

    Well, I’m late to the comment game here, but [sarc] I am just so glad my son joined the army rather than those violent perverts in the marines [/sarc]

    Really. Does no one in the media know what young men are actually like? I almost had to stuff cotton in my ears when there were “youths” congregated around our gaming systems. Every possible incorrect cultural view was on display. At full voice.

    They were all nice boys, but verbal aggression is a way of life when they get together. It’s not meaningless, but it certainly doesn’t mean what HBO thinks it means.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    Need more time! 24 hours per day just isn’t enough!

    It is not even 24 hours. You still need to sleep.

    Now if it “was” 24 hours, then you would get much more done.