NEAL CONAN, host:
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In "Generation Kill," HBO's new seven-part series, the Marines 1st Reconnaissance Battalion encounters a dozen civilians just a few hours after the invasion of Iraq. They're holding pamphlets dropped by American aircraft that promise safe passage, and they say they're being hunted by paramilitary death squads. The battalion commander interrupts with news.
(Soundbite of miniseries "Generation Kill")
Unidentified Marine #1: Alpha took three artillery hits. Somebody has an idea we're here. We've got four hours of daylight to make it to our next position. We're not going to deal with these surrenders from division. Send them all back the way they came.
(Soundbite of dog barking)
Unidentified Marine #2: Roger that, sir.
(Soundbite of Marines speaking)
Unidentified Marine #3: We have orders, Nate.
(Soundbite of dog barking)
(Soundbite of Arabic spoken)
Unidentified Marine #4: Are they (beep) serious? Send them back where? Back to the (beep) death squads?
Unidentified Marine # 2: Sir, under articles 13 and 20 of the Geneva Convention, we're obligated to take care of and protect any (beep) that surrenders to us.
Unidentified Marine #1: Division has ordered us to un-surrender these Iraqis.
CONAN: That was an excerpt from "Generation Kill," which runs seven Sundays on HBO starting on July 13th. The series tells the story of the men of an elite Marine battalion as they confront Iraqi forces, their own military bureaucracy and themselves, in the first 40 days of the war. If that set-up sounds familiar, maybe you've seen David Simon and Ed Burns' urban epic, "The Wire," which dealt with cops, civil servants, low-level drug dealers and the bureaucracy of the city of Baltimore amid gang warfare.
Simon and Burns adapted "Generation Kill" from Evan Wright's book of the same name. He was a reporter for Rolling Stone Magazine who was embedded with the 1st Recon Battalion at the start of the war. We'll talk with David Simon and Evan Wright in just a minute. Later in the program, we'll follow up on some of your emails about the floods in the Midwest. But first, "Generation Kill," and we want to hear from you.
If you were there in Iraq, what stories do you think ought to be told? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. With Ed Burns, David Simon is the screenwriter and executive producer of "Generation Kill." He joins us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for coming in.
Mr. DAVID SIMON (Writer and Executive Producer, "Generation Kill"): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And Evan Wright wrote the book, "Generation Kill," also worked as a writer and producer on the TV adaptation. He's also with us here in the studio. Nice to have you on the program today.
Mr. EVAN WRIGHT (Author, "Generation Kill;" Writer and Producer, "Generation Kill"): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And David Simon, let me ask you. What story did you want to tell in "Generation Kill?"
Mr. SIMON: I only wanted to tell the one that I was handed, which was Evan's book. I had not read the book, contemporaneously. Actually, I remember scanning it in a bookstore and neglected to pick it up.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SIMON: I guess I should apologize now. But Kerian Thalis (ph), an executive at HBO, who I'd worked with on "The Corner" in adapting my own narrative journalism, came to me with the book. They had already purchased it. And he said, take a look at this, see if there's anyone you know that would want to try to produce it. I read it in one night. By the time I - it was a plane flight out to L.A., actually. By the time I had breakfast with him in the morning, I knew I just wanted to make that book, as it was.
CONAN: And Evan, what story - obviously you're telling the story of these men, and what you experienced, but is there a bigger story, do you think, there?
Mr. WRIGHT: Well, actually it starts with a smaller story. When I first pitched it to HBO - what I said is, this is a road-trip movie. It's about these guys in this Humvee, and it's the ultimate road-trip through combat to Baghdad. So, that was the small story, which is how I - I worked from there outward. And to me, it's just the story of Americans at war.
And I don't think the story was actually told adequately through the type of media coverage that we had at the time, because there were a lot of television organizations that were using cameras, and the reporters with all that equipment. And I was simply embedded with this unit with no gear, just a notebook and some recorders. And I got to spend a lot of intimate time with them throughout the race to Baghdad.
CONAN: Without a lot of the accoutrements and...
Mr. WRIGHT: None.
CONAN: Crew that gets in the way.
Mr. SIMON: He also did something which a lot of reporters couldn't do or wouldn't do, which is he gave up his phone. He refuse - he said, well, I'm with a magazine. I'm not going to file for some duration. And that allows you a degree of intimacy, you know, that you get to know these guys before you ever wrote a word.
Mr. WRIGHT: They forgot I was a reporter.
CONAN: Long deadlines.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WRIGHT: Yes, long deadlines.
Mr. SIMON: Which I like, personally.
CONAN: I can't imagine why you would. There's a great scene, you're riding in the jeep at one point, and the driver goes off on one of his rants. He has many of them. And the camera looks at you, your character in the film, and we just look at your mouth, and you say, wow.
Mr. WRIGHT: Yes, and that was - by the way, that was great work by the actor Lee Tergesen playing that role. But yeah, that's the reporter. I mean, I was in - I met these guys, and I knew right away it was great material. I didn't know there was going to be a shooting war, but I knew this was a great unit, and this platoon was like a little family, and I was going to be there. As David's twist on it was - it a car trip and the sergeant was the dad, and his assistant was the mom, and the Marine next to me, Trombley, was the son, and I was the weird uncle.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WRIGHT: That was David's take on it.
Mr. SIMON: Dad, are we there yet?
CONAN: Are we there yet?
Mr. WRIGHT: I have to say that, that moment that you decided with the mouthed wow from the reporter who's getting great stuff. HBO, looking at the dailies later said, you need to put something in his mouth, I think you need to loop the word, wow, in there. I was like, no, he would never say it out loud. That would ruin it. I mean, these guys in the front seat don't know they're giving him gold, you know?
CONAN: It's a great moment. It's a real reporters' moment. There're others reporters' moments too, when, for example, at the beginning the, war obviously a lot of people worried about chemical weapons attacks, and you're trying to put on your MOP suit, the suit that protects you, and there's a warning, and the actor does - it's an Emmett Kelly routine. It's a clown routine.
Mr. WRIGHT: Yes, and I should say it's a great reporter's moment, because I feel, at least in my experience as a reporter, I'm always out-of-step with what's going on. And unlike the television guys who always look smooth, and they have the terrific backdrops, I'm always stumbling around trying to catch up and figure out what's happening. At that moment, we actually did have a gas-attack alert, and I was dipping tobacco at the time, like the troops do. And I just put in this big plug of tobacco in my mouth, then I had to put on my gas mask. I forgot to spit out the tobacco.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WRIGHT: And then I had to run across hundreds of meters of hot desert, and there was a strap that was stuck on my suit. The suit was too small for me, so, it was letting in air and it was kind of a disaster, and we re-did that scene in the script.
CONAN: It's quite a funny sequence. So basically, the reporter, David Simon, is a comic relief, at least at some points.
Mr. SIMON: Well, he's also the only opportunity for some limited amount of exposition, if you think about it. Because the Marines all know each other. They know all their backstories. They've said everything to each other a 100 times. So, the only chance to explain any terminology, any Marine ideology, any of their technocracy is through the reporter.
CONAN: Nevertheless, there's not a lot of it. You don't make it easy on the viewer.
Mr. SIMON: Well, you know, I've found on this project, and on "The Wire," as well, and on "The Corner," television generally is a passive medium, and it explains everything, and so people slump back in their chairs. And I think actually it's a better viewing experience when you get people leaning forward in their chairs, paying attention. And so, I've found that the less exposition, the more you presume upon your viewers' intelligence, the better an experience it is for people.
CONAN: We're talking with David Simon and Evan Wright about "Generation Kill," the new series that begins on HBO on July 13th and runs for seven weeks. If you were in Iraq, what stories do you think need to be told? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And that clip that we played, David, just a moment ago from the scene, the first encounter the Marines have with Iraqi civilians, and you can see - maybe with hindsight - but you can see foreshadowings of what's to come.
Mr. SIMON: That's the reason that I'm glad HBO did this project was - it would've been worth doing just as an intimate road trip, as Evan says, and as a portrait of these young men at war. But the other thing I found fascinating about those first weeks into Baghdad is all of what was to come, the insurgency, our oblivious, you know, the fact that we didn't have a sense of the sectarian issues, and the tribal issues in Iraq...
CONAN: There's a lot of ignorance in this.
Mr. SIMON: And all of this stuff starts showing up, so that by the time we finish the assault on Baghdad, and we end up in a cigarette factory in Saddam City, it's effectively the Green Zone. It really was remarkable how much Evan captured in this book, which is the very early weeks of the war, everything that was to come. And I think that makes the series relevant, even though it is depicting the first weeks of the war.
Mr. WRIGHT: And I should point out that this isn't something that David or Ed or I added to the scripts, like, let's make it relevant to what happened today. We'll throw in these scenes that foreshadow. This is exactly - it follows the reporting in the book. This is what the Marines encountered.
Mr. SIMON: Right.
Mr. WRIGHT: And I always thought it was remarkable that to the average 19-, 20-year-old Marine that I was with, it was obvious to them what the problems were going to be in Iraq, and at the time, this wasn't really being reported.
CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Again, 800-989-8255, and Victor's on the line. Victor's calling us from Hollywood.
VICTOR (Caller): Hi, how you doing?
CONAN: Very well, Victor.
VICTOR: I was over with the 1st Battalion 27th Infantry, midway between Kirkuk and Tikrit, and we went over in, I guess, about nine months into the campaign. So, you know, we went over to kind of weed out some of the remaining insurgents, and also build out the local government, and the infrastructure, and you know, before we went, as we were preparing, we fully expected to find all sorts of NGOs and the UN on the ground to help with the infrastructure part while we were there - going to be there in a security role. But what we really found was - there was little to no NGO support, and it fell on, you know, our officers and our soldiers to actually establish the government institutions in the local provinces.
CONAN: Not what you expected or, I guess, were prepared for. NGOs, of course, nongovernmental organizations, and would that speak to some degree about the political underpinnings of the war, where the UN and the NGOs didn't feel comfortable going in?
VICTOR: Exactly, exactly, and you know, as soldiers, we were trained and fully prepared to function in a combat role, and even in a peacekeeping role, to a certain extent. But what we were completely unprepared to do was to put into place local governors, and mayors, and city councils, and you know, guide them through the, you know, municipal governance process. You know, fortunately, we had some, you know, some well-educated, college-graduate officers with our group. But this was the role we found ourselves in, and which we performed in. But you know, never had any specific training in, you know, how to most effectively go about doing that.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call, Victor. Yes, David?
Mr. SIMON: You know, the series - one of the things that becomes really evident relatively quickly in the series is that while the American military plan to conquer that regime was extremely effective, and the maneuver warfare practiced notably by this unit was extremely effective. I mean, brought down the country in a matter of weeks. There was no plan for occupation, and that...
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: We'll talk more about that when we come back. Stay with us. This is the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking about David Simon and Ed Burns', of "Wire" fame, latest project. It's a seven-part miniseries airing on HBO, starting in a couple of weeks on Sunday July 13th. It's based on Evan Wright's book, "Generation Kill," about the first 40 days of the war in Iraq. David Simon and Evan Wright are with us today.
We want to hear from you. If you were there in Iraq, what stories do you think ought to be told? 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us, email@example.com and you can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And Evan, even a seven-part miniseries can't get all of the information that it's in a book. A lot of stuff has to be cut out.
Mr. WRIGHT: That's true, but the miniseries actually does follow the arc of the book and the arcs of the main characters that I followed in the reporting. So I was very happy with what we were able to do with those seven hours.
CONAN: And I have to wonder, you call them characters, obviously they are real people, too.
Mr. WRIGHT: They're...
CONAN: And I wonder, how did they feel about how they were portrayed in the book, and have you shown any of them the finished film?
Mr. WRIGHT: Yeah, certainly, and the use of the word "character," there's a character playing me in the miniseries. In the scripts, I couldn't write my own name, I had - we had to use a nickname, Scribe. Once you turn real reporting into a drama, they become characters, but they remain real people.
I circulated some of the scripts with some of the principle guys early on, when we'd first completed them, a couple of years ago. And since then David and Ed brought in Eric Kocher, who was a sergeant in the Marine Corps, as a technical advisor, who had a very important role during the shooting in Africa. He had been a character, a person written about - that I wrote about in my book, and we've also brought in some of the Marines from the unit during some of the post-production sessions, where they provided radio dialogue, and also they got to see the show.
But the scariest moment for me in this whole process, almost scariest since the war, is when we had a small screening for several of the men in the unit, where they got to see a completed show. And you know, their reactions - it's a complicated thing for them, because this is - I was present for many of the, you know, intimate things in their live - their working lives, when they were in a war, shooting people and taking fire. But I think the reaction was pretty favorable. At least no one took a swing at me during that screening, so, to me, that was a win.
CONAN: Nobody threw anything, that's what we call a triumph on this show.
Mr. WRIGHT: And David kept pointing to me, saying if anybody wants to take a swing...
Mr. SIMON: If you don't like it, over there...
Mr. WRIGHT: Here he is.
Mr. SIMON: If you want, Evan is seated in the third row.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Daniel, Daniel with us from Louisville in Kentucky.
DANIEL (Caller): How you doing, sir?
CONAN: Hi, go ahead, please.
DANIEL: I was - you asked people to go on and report about what was going on over there that the media wasn't publishing on, and you know, the troops really do know how to enjoy themselves over there. As far as - I was in Afghanistan, I don't know anything about Iraq, but while in Afghanistan, I was in a parachute rigger, and we - what we did to kind of relax after we'd go out and do everything we had to do was we would hook a bunch of tack tables together with ratchet straps.
We got a motor - we talked to the motor company and we got a water pump, we put that on there. We had a Jacuzzi over there. I mean, (unintelligible). You know what? Yeah, it sucked over there. There's 24-year-old kids with their legs blowing off, but you know, there still has to be some issue of morale over there, due to the fact that it sucks over there!
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WRIGHT: I should point out that I think you'll probably enjoy the series, because one of the things I encountered in Iraq was a lot of humor, and that is maintained in the series, and I think the Marines really responded to that. A lot of it's dark, gallows humor. I'm not always certain a civilian audience will get it. And actually one of the most comical, real characters in the show was Gunny Swar (ph), who was a parachute rigger. So maybe there's something to that profession, I don't know.
DANIEL: We're a crazy bunch.
CONAN: Daniel, thanks very much for the call.
DANIEL: Absolutely man, thanks a lot.
CONAN: All right, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go now to Daniel - Sam, excuse me, with us from Gainesville in Minnesota. Sam?
SAM (Caller): Yes.
CONAN: Hi, go ahead, please.
SAM: Yeah, I had a question. My brother's actually - he was a recon Marine. He was only a corporal, and he's mentioned in the book. He's the one that actually lent me - I read the book, and he was down in California. I know he did some radio thing for the movie that was being produced down there. I had a question. I heard some Marines were disciplined because of the book being published, and you know, I have two brothers in recon and force recon Marines. I just want to know if you guys heard anything from that.
CONAN: Evan Wright, is that accurate?
Mr. WRIGHT: Yeah. In fact, in 2003, when the first articles came out in Rolling Stone, I went to the - I returned a couple weeks before the unit did. They had a gathering at Gunny Wynn's house, the platoon sergeant's house, and the first Rolling Stone articles, on which the book and miniseries were based, were then coming out, and some of the Marines were being threatened with disciplinary actions.
There was nothing that the Marine Corps could actually do officially. They threatened some guys, but there was an atmosphere created for some that was not a good working atmosphere. One of them was Sergeant Kocher, who now became a technical adviser on the show, and he's talked about that when it first happened. I mean, some of this was ridiculous. There was a photo in Rolling Stone of a Marine with a finger puppet that - I shot a picture of him in Iraq and he had a finger puppet.
And the caption read "Marines pass their time making fun of an officer with finger puppets." That guy in that photo was - he was supposed to be promoted to sergeant, he was a corporal, and they threatened to hold up his promotion. But in fact, he did get it in the end. But I should correct you when you say that your brother is only a corporal. The Marine Corps talks about the strategic corporal, and their importance in America's...
SAM: Well, he's actually a sergeant right now (unintelligible) Marines.
CONAN: OK. And certainly not a mere sergeant.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Thanks very much.
SAM: There's a difference between force recon and recon Marines, for sure, overall between the infantry and the Marine Corps. And I really enjoyed your book. It was very good. My brother enjoyed the book. It was a very well done book, so...
Mr. WRIGHT: All right. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Sam.
SAM: Although they (unintelligible).
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: All right. Catch you next time, Sam.
SAM: Yep, thanks.
CONAN: I do have to ask you, there's a scene - I've just seen the first two episodes - but a captain of the other company, Alpha Company, takes an AK-47 and fires on an unarmed Iraqi, seemingly, you can only describe it as murder.
Mr. WRIGHT: Certainly. Well, no. That's not quite correct. First of all, he's a captain in Bravo 3 Platoon.
CONAN: I see, the other platoon.
Mr. WRIGHT: The commander of Alpha Company was an outstanding officer. But as that scene makes clear, it's little bit ambiguous what he's actually doing. We don't know why he has the AK-47. Marines are permitted to pick up enemy weapons and use them. It's not against regulation. But what that scene establishes, which is what my reporting contained, is his men did question why he fired his weapon at that time, at that Iraqi. But it was in a hostile space. So the show, I think, very legitimately, raises that issue, and will follow the exploits of that captain, who is nicknamed Captain America, as he was in Iraq by his men through the...
Mr. SIMON: To be unequivocal about it, we're using the real events as they actually occurred. That shooting was the source of some discussion within the unit. It happened in an area where they were taking fire at other places in the convoy. The intentions of the men shot were open to debate.
And the ROE, the rules of engagement, allow for a certain amount of debate in that it's what you think in your mind is necessarily a threat. That's the way they're interpreted. So we were very careful and very - since we're using specific events involving real people and we're not hiding the fact that these are real people and real events, we were very, very careful to follow only what happened to the best of our abilities.
CONAN: There's another scene, Evan, in which something awkward - it's an awkward moment, and you start to leave. The reporter starts to leave. And the lieutenant turns to him and says, no, wait a minute, write all this down, keep track of this.
Mr. WRIGHT: Write this as you see it. That was Lieutenant Fick who said that to me, actually at a slightly different point in time. But that is - I was never censored by anyone. And Lieutenant Fick and the other officers and men, no one tried to censor me or any of my - they didn't know what I was going to write, of course, since I wrote it when I got home, but they didn't try to limit what I saw or what I was exposed to or witnessed, you know, in what they were doing.
CONAN: Let's get Joel on the line. Joel's with us from Charlotte.
JOEL (Caller): Hey, how're you guys doing?
JOEL: I didn't even know this series was coming out, to be honest with you. And I was in - I was actually in Sadr City living in cigarette factory in 2003 with the 2nd Calvary out of Fort Polk.
Mr. WRIGHT: OK.
JOEL: Was it - and I wanted to make sure - they - you said you wanted some ideas of things that they should focus on. A lot of the friendships that people develop out there, something that a lot of people don't really get to see or, you know, get to know because they don't really report that on the news or anything like that.
CONAN: And friendship, you think, is the story that doesn't get told often enough?
JOEL: I do, because without friends or your buddies, you really could possibly go crazy out there. Because with, you know, people dying every day and not knowing what's going to happen tomorrow and wives leaving husbands while you're out there and everything going on, without, you know, actually friendships that you develop kind of like brothers, you don't really get to - it would be a lot harder to make it by yourself than actually being alone. And so I was wondering if they, you know, hit on anything like that, showing, like, the bonds that people make or...
Mr. WRIGHT: This is - "Generation Kill" is, you know, it's a war movie but it's really about, as I said, like, this family unit. It's about these relationships. In a sense, it's a chick film.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WRIGHT: I'm saying that not quite seriously. I should say something here, that when I met David Simon, I said, what do you want to do with the book? And he said, we want to make your book. And I was stunned by that, because I'd spoken to other people in Hollywood who had other ideas for it. And what was so great about David and Ed is they brought to it this complete irreverence which the Marines had, and they were able to work with that humor, and at the same time, they had absolute respect for who these guys were.
And I am enormously happy with the show and what they did with it and what we, in our efforts together, what we did with it. But they brought so much to the story, and the people in the military that responded favorably to the book, I think, will really like the series. I don't think they'll be disappointed by it.
CONAN: OK, David...
Mr. SIMON: There is that old saw that about you don't fight for your country, you fight for the guy standing next to you. It becomes real apparent when you look at the dynamics of this unit, and how close they are, how every little flaw, how everything from race to class to girlfriends to - everything they can use to tease each other, there's nothing off limits. These guys live together for, you know, months at a time on ship.
Mr. WRIGHT: And we do have the moment when - I don't want to give everything away, but when a guy finally gets mail in the unit, and he learns that his wife, who really missed him, writes that she's going to join the military so she can be closer to him, which really does not make him that happy. So there's - the focus is really on what these guys go through as individuals and as buddies.
JOEL: Yeah, I can understand. We - I actually started my career out there. I'm a standup comic now in Charlotte, and that's what I did to pass the time or to help everybody stay happy.
CONAN: Tell jokes?
JOEL: Yeah, I started doing standup comedy.
CONAN: I bet you're the only standup comic who had to clean up his act.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WRIGHT: You should have joined the Marines, because every Marine I know is a standup comic, in one form or another.
JOEL: Well, I actually get paid for it now, so it's a lot better than...
Mr. WRIGHT: Yeah.
CONAN: Paid a little more, I bet.
JOEL: Yeah, a little bit more, yeah, so...
JOEL: All right, guys. Well, thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.
Mr. WRIGHT: Thank you.
JOEL: Have a nice day.
CONAN: We're talking with Evan Wright, the Rolling Stone reporter who wrote the book "Generation Kill," and with David Simon, who helped him adapt it into a miniseries. It starts on HBO on July 13th and runs for seven Sunday nights. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And this is Raymond, Raymond with us from Waterford in Michigan.
RAYMOND (Caller): Hey, how's it going?
CONAN: All right.
RAYMOND: Yeah, with regards to what he was talking about, I was part - I was an MP in the 101st Airborne Division in the Army, but I was attached to the 1st Marine Division, 1st MEF, in the first part of the war. Great guys, all of them, but what I was going to point out was that it became real evident that Joe Buck Private - that something was really wrong by about the second or third week, when you start - when we started hearing rumors of these homemade bombs starting in the north and working their way south. I remember probably our third week there we started finding graffiti. One of them said, Americans leave Iraq now, or Americans leave now or Iraq will become the next Vietnam. There was something just really disconcerting about being told, hey, Vietnam, again, here? Oh, boy.
Mr. WRIGHT: I think that you'll be very happy with David and Ed's adaptation of the book. They - we really go into that, because this is on the ground. When we got into Baghdad on April 10th is when we actually came into the center of the city. It was very evident that there was - not only was there no plan, but things were not going well in the occupation. The Iraqis told us this, and it was obvious to the Marines, to the average private and corporal.
CONAN: Hm. Raymond, thanks very much for the call.
RAYMOND: Thank you.
CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can go now to William, and William's with us from Selma, Alabama.
WILLIAM (Caller): Hey, how are you doing?
CONAN: Very well, thank you.
WILLIAM: Hey, one comment I've got to make. A lot of people talk about the infantry guys and the MPs and all these assault things and guys like that, but nobody's talking about the transportation. You know, we go out there with the fuel truck and we haul fuel all over Iraq. We encounter just as many IEDs as anything else, but nobody talks about it that.
CONAN: And you encountered those things while hauling a big truck full of gasoline behind you or ammunition?
WILLIAM: That's right, gasoline, food, fuel, you know, just supplies that's needed for the military to stay functional. Without those supplies, you know, you wouldn't have these teams out here making assaults and you know, (unintelligible) and cleaning up it just wouldn't happen, which nobody talks about the things that the guys going through hauling the supplies.
CONAN: When were you there?
WILLIAM: I was there in 04.
CONAN: That was a tough time in 04.
WILLIAM: Yeah, (unintelligible), it was pretty bad. It got worse, but it was pretty bad for me and a lot of guys I was there with.
CONAN: Well, William, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
WILLIAM: Thank you.
Mr. WRIGHT: I should I should point out to William that among the infantry, there's often a sort of snobbery about the non-infantry people. And they used to make fun of the transport guys in recon, and the guys I was with would do this. And on March 26th we were ambushed in a city, and as we escaped the ambush, our Humvee became trapped in a sabka (ph) field, sort of like quicksand. We were still taking sporadic fire. It was actually the Motor T, the transport guys, that brought a truck into this and pulled our Humvee out, and that really changed the attitude of the Marines in my vehicle towards the transport guys.
CONAN: Yeah, there's a strict hierarchy of - everyone else is looked down upon, in a certain pecking order.
Mr. WRIGHT: And there's women in those transport units, and they're put into harm's way in combat, and people don't realize that. Legally, women aren't in combat units, but the transport units are in combat zones, and there's armed women on heavy weapons on a lot of those trucks going into harm's way.
CONAN: Told some of their stories last week in a - about a film called "Team " - about lioness - a group called Team Lioness that was in Iraq. Anyway, some listeners may remember that. Anyway, stay with us. We're going to take a couple of more calls with David Simon and Evan Wright. When we come back we will also be going to your letters and finding out a little bit more from some of our emailers about what happened to them in the floods of 08. So stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: Today, we're talking with David Simon and Evan Wright about a new seven-part miniseries airing on HBO starting Sunday, July 13th, called "Generation Kill," about an elite Marine unit in the first days of the Iraq War. We want to hear from you. If you were in Iraq, what stories do you think ought to be told? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You could also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Richard, Richard with us from Denver in Colorado.
RICHARD (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, Richard. Go ahead, please.
RICHARD: I'd like to first of all say, Evan, thank you for the book. I just picked it up yesterday. I'm halfway through it. Great story. Fascinating.
Mr. WRIGHT: Thanks for reading it.
RICHARD: And the reason I'm calling is because I served over there. We followed you all about four weeks later, went into the Anbar Province with 3rd Armored Cav. And I was tasked with setting up the interrogation team for 3rd Armored Cav in the Anbar Province. One of the stories that I think needs to be told is about the process of transitioning as an interrogator from the training that we had previously had into what we actually were dealing with there in Iraq. I'm presently writing a book on the subject, with the working title "Good Guys, Bad Guys." It's a story that does need to be told.
CONAN: Hm. A story that obviously we've been hearing a lot, about Guantanamo and about secret prisons and about what has happened to some of the men who were taken by the United States in various places, and also, obviously, a lot about what ran up to Abu Ghraib.
RICHARD: Yes. And once one understands the dynamics, I think one can see how that came about.
CONAN: And not a simple story either, I suspect, Richard.
RICHARD: No, it's not. You know, interrogators are not necessarily the beasts that they're often portrayed to be. They're folks like the Marines you described, folks who are out there in a very difficult situation, trying to do what it takes to save the lives of their buddies. And sometimes that can get pretty rough, even when one is playing by the rules.
CONAN: And sometimes it does result in information, though, that can save the lives of their buddies.
RICHARD: That is correct.
CONAN: Well, Richard, good luck with the book.
RICHARD: Well, thank you. And Evan, thanks again for you book. I'm looking forward to seeing the series.
Mr. WRIGHT: Thanks for your call.
CONAN: Evan, I wanted to ask you, one of the things - we just see sort of cursory interrogations, trying to find out information, even that little scene that we played at the beginning of the program, with those first Iraqi civilians the recon battalion runs into. There's just one interpreter, of course, and later, we find out he's not telling the entire truth. But nevertheless, interrogation, trying to find out stuff along the way, this is a really hard part of it.
Mr. WRIGHT: Well, it was especially hard during the invasion, because our translator that the Marine battalion depended on - the Marine battalion that was at the vanguard of the invasion, they had this one interpreter who was a 19-year-old Kuwaiti who we didn't - we never really understood what his qualifications were. He was an interesting character, and the actor portraying him in the series portrays him accurately. He was kind of sketchy.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WRIGHT: So it was very difficult to find out what was happening and what he was telling us. First of all, every time Lieutenant Fick - when Meesh, the translator, would speak to some Iraqis, he would preface his translations by saying, they are - they are grateful to being liberated and look forward to working with you.
Now, this sounded good initially, but this - he continued to say this, you know, even after there were bleeding civilians nearby, their families had been decimated by, you know, a bad airstrike or whatever. And so, we began - doubts began to grow about him. And then in Baghdad in the meetings with the imams there to set up some sort of American control of the neighborhoods, we had no clue what was going on with him. A nice guy, he also seemed to always find - if there was beer or liquor in an Iraqi town, it always wound up in his hands and...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WRIGHT: He and the story was...
Mr. SIMON: True frat brother...
Mr. WRIGHT: Yeah. He would be a great guy if you wanted to like have a buddy in college or something. He was - we were late leaving for the invasion because the translator, as he told me later on, had misplaced, like, several grams of prime hash that he brought along with him from Kuwait, and he couldn't find it the day we set off for the invasion. So that's who we had. That's who the Americans were relying on in the invasion.
Mr. SIMON: I have to say, you hear stuff like that. God is not a second-rate novelist.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SIMON: When he puts it down, all you have to do is pick it up, and that's - that was for the joy of doing this book is there is nothing that I could have conceived of, in terms of my own imagination, that would improve upon Ray Person, the driver of the first Humvee, and his patois.
CONAN: Did you ever - during the filming, though, did Evan come out, no, no, no, he's not like that, you have to portray it this way?
Mr. SIMON: Oh, there was a lot of notes given. Evan not only stayed involved throughout the script work, but he was involved with casting. He gave - he went out there for the prep work with the actors and for the beginning of filming, so that he was there while he - actors began to inhabit those roles. And there was a lot of notes given. We tried to get people into the pocket of who these guys were in relation to each other. That said, it is artifice. I mean, you know, to have them be exactly those people you would have to...
CONAN: You'd have to - yeah.
Mr. SIMON: It's called a documentary and you have the camera there at the time. But we tried to cast people who were at least within the framework of who these roles were and who they were supposed to be within the context of that unit.
CONAN: One last call. Let's go to Raphael. Raphael's with us from Wyoming.
RAPHAEL (Caller): Hey, how's it going?
CONAN: All right.
RAPHAEL: Well, I just wanted to comment on what else you want to see...
RAPHAEL: And actually, I want to see nothing else. I think we've seen enough. I was with the 203rd FSB 3rd Brigade 3rd ID from Ft. Benning and Ft. Stewart. And every day is a reminder of things that we've seen over there. And I'm sorry that my voice is a little bit sketchy, you know, but it's just listening to you guys there talk about the humor and stuff that happened, it brings a lot of memories. But I know the media needs to know. People needs to know what happened, but when are we going to forget this, you know? And who's going to help us? That's the only thing I need to say.
CONAN: Yeah. Evan?
Mr. WRIGHT: Well, thanks for your service over there. I should point out that, you know, war is a very private matter for every person who served, and Ed Burns served in Vietnam as a grunt, and I think, for him, this process of working on this was an ability - gave him the ability to sort of connect with that experience through his work on "Generation Kill."
And I think both David and Ed were very sensitive to the fact that we're dramatizing a story of real people in a time of real war when one-third of the guys in the platoon that I wrote about in the book, that are portrayed in the miniseries, are still serving in the Marine Corps, and many of them are over in Iraq now. So, it's a very sensitive issue, and we hope that this show will connect the American public in a new and different way to the experiences of these troops that are still over there fighting for them.
CONAN: Give the show a chance if you get the opportunity, Raphael. You might like it.
RAPHAEL: That is true. You know, as people that have stayed in, I think, the more times you spend over there, the less sensitive you get. I think that's why people just keep staying in. You know, people that just got out or got out after the war - after they got back, you know, that same year...
CONAN: That's the stuff they remember.
RAPHAEL: People have problems.
CONAN: Raphael, hang in there, OK?
RAPHAEL: All right.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. And Evan Wright and David Simon, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Mr. WRIGHT: Thanks again for having us.
Mr. SIMON: Sure.
CONAN: David Simon is the co-writer and co-executive producer of HBO's new film, the - "Generation Kill," which is adapted from the book by Evan Wright. They both joined us here in Studio 3A, and when we come back, your letters.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.