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Evan Wright on Generation Kill
Evan Wright was a journalist embedded in the lead Humvee of First Recon's Bravo Company's Second Platoon and based his book Generation Kill on the experience. HBO has turned the book into a miniseries that is a precise retelling of the early weeks of the military campaign from the point of view of the guys on the ground: the non-commissioned officers and platoon-level commanders who led the way to Baghdad.
His new book Hella Nation, was recently released in April of 2009. From his work as a reporter at Hustler magazine, to his National Magazine Award-winning writing for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, Evan Wright has always had an affinity for outsiders-what he calls "the lost tribes of America." The previously published pieces in this collection chart a deeply personal journey, beginning with his stark but sympathetic portrayals of sex workers in Porn Valley, through his raw portrait of a Hollywood überagent-turned-war documentarian and hero of America's far right. His subjects are people for whom the American dream is either just out of grasp, or something they've chosen to reject altogether.
Question: Who was your audience for Generation Kill?
Evan Wright: The book was originally written primarily in my mind for the guys that were portrayed in it. I had been with this Team One, Bravo Second Platoon. We went from Kuwait to Baghdad and I got very close to those guys as a journalist but I also later became close to them as a person, on a different level, and as I...That started to happen when I was writing the book. I was like what’s going to make these guys laugh? The fact that I can... I’m going to render all these things that they said that they probably even forgot that they talked about and all of their complaints and the humor... That... That’s going to be really cool. Of course, I had to put in things that made them very uncomfortable too but part of it was just to let them know that their story was out there.
Question: What is it like watching the book transition to the screen?
Evan Wright: The transition to the screen has taken five years. I went to HBO after I’d written my three-part Rolling Stone series. I think the last article ran in July 2003. The war was new. I wrote a book proposal and got a contract with Putnam to write a book. At the same time I went to HBO and I said, “Hey, we should do a mini series” and... or I said, “You should do a mini series. You can have the rights to my book and I will not write it. I don’t want to be involved. It’s yours.” And they took it and they gave me an option fee which is actually not a big deal in Hollywood and they spent a year with it and really did nothing. And after that time HBO came back to me and they said, “There is a guy in Baltimore named David Simon. He works with Ed Burns, his partner, and they do a show called The Wire.” I had never seen The Wire. I was in Afghanistan when The Wire came out and I kind of missed it and I...but I sat down and I watched the first two seasons one weekend and I thought what an amazing show, and so I flew out to Baltimore, I met with David, and he said, “I like your book. HBO has it. I work with HBO. I would like to adapt this into a mini series but the one catch is I don’t want to do it without you.” And so on the one hand Simon gave me a tremendous opportunity because he became a mentor as a screenwriter. I worked as a screenwriter with him and Ed, but on the other hand I never wanted to be involved so it was a huge pain in the ass so I always... What I like to do with Simon and Burns is acknowledge the great thing that they did by bringing me in and sort of making me into a screenwriter and then I like to complain bitterly about it, but that’s just how I am.
Question: What is it like seeing yourself on a television screen or in a theater?
Evan Wright: It is strange and as a journalist my journalism has always been about not having the journalist in the story, and so I actually didn’t want to have a character portraying me in the mini series. It was David Simon who pointed out, “If we’re actually adapting your book, you were in that Humvee and we’re not going to adapt the story and have an empty seat or put a fictitious marine in that seat. We have to put you there.” What I was happy with is that we wrote my character so that he’s there and you see how this story was acquired but he’s not the focus of the show.
Question: What do you hope people get out of the film?
Evan Wright: My goal in covering the military has always been to demystify it in a sense and I always felt that prior to the war on terrorism as it’s called...or the war on terror...prior to that our country was going through this massive sort of reconnect with the greatest generation and you had all these movies and books where they were just celebrating the guys who fought World War II and.. which is fine. We should celebrate those guys but I think what that missed...It sort of...Because the people who were behind the celebration of the greatest generation were people who generally hadn’t fought in wars and had no experience with war, they came at it
from this sort of misty-eyed, like oh, my gosh, these giants fought World War II, they were fighting a good war, the country came together, what a wonderful, special time in American history, all true but I read greatest generation writers who actually fought in World War II such as Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, even Gore Vidal, and they... their writing on war was never about how glorious and wonderful...Their writing was about how it was dirty, morally ambiguous, and often just filled with horrors. So when I got to Iraq it was interesting. I just wanted to... I didn’t want to write about these guys as heroes or as villains and the upshot is after episode one of Generation Kill aired there were a lot of bloggers and reviewers who said, “A lot of people got it but there are a lot of people who said, ‘Oh, my God. These guys...They... Their talk sounds racist. It sounds homophobic. They talk about killing like they want to kill.’ And they were horrified.” And I think people were shocked that people in the marine corps today don’t talk like Tom Hanks in a World War II movie, and the truth is marines who are 22 years old actually are steeped in the same culture as 22-year-olds who are not in the marines. And if you look at...I was just watching a director or a writer that I really like, Judd Apatow, and his Superbad. The rants that those kids go on in Superbad were to talk... It’s very misogynistic. It’s all about sex and in a very graphic way and marines talk the same way but when it’s marines wearing the uniform people are horrified. And I also hope that as the series unfolds viewers will begin to recognize that in marine culture they have a great liberty to say things that are horribly offensive to one another because they have so much trust in each other. And as they move forward I think viewers will notice that even the guy who’s been described as a racist cracker that his best friend is a Mexican American and that they all depend on each other. So my intent in the show is to try to connect people to- in an honest way to the troops that are fighting, not to glorify them and not to demean them, just show them as they are and hopefully some viewers will get it.
Question: What was the initial response of the men and women in the military to your book?
Evan Wright: There were some marines who read my book and they were like, “This is great,” but there was another smaller group I like to think that hated my book, they thought it aired dirty laundry of the marine corps, that it was too harsh on the officers ‘cause I portrayed... There are a lot of incompetent boobs in the little company that I wrote about. I didn’t choose that company but it... I just happened to be in an area of the battalion that had some really dopey officers and I wrote the book that way. Anyway, that offended some marines and it is true that I went to Camp Pendleton once to greet a marine friend of mine who was returning from a deployment. I was with his wife and some senior NCOs spotted me. They came over. They said, “We don’t like your book.” They handcuffed me. They threw me in to a car and they said, “We’re going to drive you in to the desert.” Then they kind of realized oh, my God, we just handcuffed a reporter. We can’t... Unfortunately, we can’t actually throw reporters out in to the desert in California. And so they had an MP- an MP came and he drove me off the base, and it’s a huge base. It was a 20-minute drive. I am handcuffed in the back of a car and there’s- we’re driving in silence and the MP says, “Hey, I kind of liked your book,” and I was like “Oh, that’s nice,” and then he says- we’re driving and he says, “Hey, do you have a copy that you could maybe autograph for me?” And I was like “Sure, Dude, if you take my handcuffs off.” So I did give him one so that was one response to the book. We screened Generation Kill... We screened the first two episodes at the Pendleton Theater and it was an amazing experience. We’re at the home of the First Marine Division and two to three, four hundred marines. I don’t know how many were in the theater. We started running the show and they were laughing their asses off. They were nodding their heads. It was the best audience we’ve screened it for yet because they totally got it and it was really gratifying to me.
Recorded on: 7/17/08
Writer Evan Wright discusses his turning his book, Generation Kill, into the HBO Series. To see more of Wright's interview, check out what he has to say about Iraq and Afghanistan today and where he thinks the media, military and US citizens have missed the point. Also, make sure to check out what Staff Sergeant Eric Kocher, portrayed in the film, has to say on these same issues.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.
Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.
Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.
- Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
- Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
- The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
These new status behaviours are what one expert calls 'inconspicuous consumption'.