FRESNO, CA — Name a country that lost at least two thirds of its male population fighting three countries at once, and nearly managed to beat all three before being ground down and damn near wiped out. Second clue: this happened during the second-bloodiest war ever fought in the Western Hemisphere.
Whatever country you nominated, I bet it wasn’t Paraguay during the War of the Triple Alliance, 1864-1870. To most war buffs the War of the Triple Alliance rates a big shrug, and Paraguay is more like a punchline than a country, a tiny landlocked South American sweatbox full of Nazi escapees creaking around cursing arthritis and the T-34. Paraguay is like a country by Mel Brooks.
But Paraguay is the correct answer, and I’m here to give the place its long overdue due. By the way, if you’re wondering what the first-bloodiest war in the Americas was, shame on you! Blue and Gray ring any bells? Gettysburg? America’s still got #1 all locked up, thanks to the Civil War, just possibly the greatest war ever. More than 600,000 dead, and most of them soldiers who died honorably, in open battle. Until you’ve been studying real war for a few years, you don’t realize how rare that kind of high, clean body count is. Like I’ve said before, most conflict is massacre and counter-massacre. Battles are rare.
And that reminds me, I have to quibble with these rankings, even though I feel dirty saying anything that could lower the ranking of our Civil War. What worries me is nobody seems to count the Spanish-vs-Aztec or Spanish-vs-Inca wars in the rankings. Nobody’s very sure how many people died in Mexico, but the simplest answer is “Most of ’em,” and since the Inca have been fighting the Spanish for 500 years at last count, they deserve an entry in the numbers game too.
But let’s say we rule out those conquistador wars, and stick to more standard nation-vs-nation fights; you still have to wonder why this amazing War of the Triple Alliance doesn’t get any publicity. Basically the answer is because the whole thing is a downer. The countries that fought it are downers: Who wants to think about Argentina if they don’t have to? And Uruguay, I had to do a report on Uruguay in fifth grade, picked it because nobody else was going to, started out rooting for it as El Underdog, but by the end I decided it deserved to be just Uruguay. I mean, being a suburb of Argentina, the East St. Louis to Buenos Aires—what could be more pathetic? If only I’d picked the other Guay! Then I’d have changed my whole take on the continent a lot sooner.
Then there’s the fact that it was a real stupid war. One of the best accounts of the whole thing is titled “El Guerro el Mas Stupido.” Which is why I’m not going to waste much time on how it got started. The official reason is that Brazil and Argentina were messing with Uruguayan politics and when the Uruguayan minority party, the Blancos, asked their Paraguay comrades upriver for help, and Paraguay was too macho to say no. The real reason it got started is a lot simpler: because 19th-century nations pumped more testosterone than all the steroid casualties at your gym put together, and when dudes like that spent money on cute Zouave uniforms and horses (cavalry was incredibly expensive) and flags, they wanted their money’s worth. 19th-century war junkies—and that was every man who could read in those better days—weren’t as lame as us 21st-century. taxpayers who don’t even demand that SAC vaporize Tehran just so we can see that those H-bombs we paid for actually work. Your average Victorian newspaper junkie wanted flowery detailed battle reports about their friends and relatives getting filled full of glorious grapeshot. And plenty of illustrations of hussars being shot out of the saddle. It’s the same answer as the old joke about why dogs lick their own balls: “Because they can.”
Then there’s the crummy timing. It’s hard for any American to focus on some foreign war that started in 1864. We have our own war, maybe the best ever, to study up on.
But credit where it’s due, boys: Paraguay, of all people, took on Brazil and Uruguay, then Argentina, and kicked all their asses until it lost a big naval battle—which you can forgive pretty easily when you consider that Paraguay has no coastline. That’s the one thing it has in common with my other favorite South American country, Bolivia. Losing its coast broke Bolivia’s big oxygen-rich high-altitude heart, but Paraguay had it worse: never had a coastline to begin with. Bolivia moans “Queremos nuestro mar”; Paraguay goes, “Cual mar?” It’s jammed like a fat tampon way up the estuary of the Rio de la Plata, and all it has to float around on is a big dirty jungle river, the Parana.
The one good thing about not having a coast is you can keep to yourself, get all weird, and from the start Paraguay rolled with the isolation, went with it big-time. To reach the place you had to cross disgusting malaria swamps or deserts or jungles with spiders the size of laptops, or all of the above. So it was a unique breed of Spaniard who came calling on the Guarani, the big Indian tribe in those parts. They were Jesuits, genuine religious fanatics, and right from the start they decided their little commune was going to be different from the get-rich-quick strip mines their conquistador pals had set up in the rest of Latin America.
For generations these Jesuits ran Paraguay like one of Oprah’s charity schools, only bigger and without the horny dyke teachers buying sex from the pupils. No whips, no mass burnings, none of what your average conquistador considered good healthy fun. The Jesuits in those days were a hardcore outfit, like commissars in the 1930s, and they tried like hell to turn the Guarani into a country of pious, obedient little nation-state builders: gave them universal education, everything owned in common (some kind of Catholic communism, an idea I don’t get at all) and all that “respect for local customs” business that got popular a couple hundred years later. By the time the Jesuits got booted out of Paraguay by the Spaniards around the time of the American Revolution, they’d done some weird transformation of the locals. Naturally, after the Spanish retook control, Paraguay got a lot more like your typical Spanish colony—you know, rape, forced labor, some nice looking-churches built out of Indian bones—but the Guarani were different.
There was a 19th-c. dictator of Paraguay who was so honest he wouldn’t even accept his salary, returned every penny to the treasury. You get a lot of dictators south of the border, but not the kind that hand back money. That was Paraguay: crazy, but in a pretty impressive way. Even the local Indians, the Guarnai, had been warped in a good way by their time in the Jesuits’ commune; they had pride and they mixed with the whites on something kind of close to equal terms. That made them natural recruits for an effective army, and more than a match for the average Latin conscript, the kind of cannon fodder Santa Ana spent at the Alamo. The Paraguayans believed in their country, fought by choice, and even had a bigger army than their three opponents’ armies put together: at the start of the war in1864, Paraguay had 50,000 men in uniform, whereas Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay combined only had about half that.
Paraguay was ruled by the Lopez family, and they ran the place like a small business, keeping the money but investing most of it back into growing the place. And the kind of growth that mostly interested the Lopezes was military. Like Japan, another 19th-century up-and-comer, Paraguay spent a lot of foreign exchange on hiring the best military technicians and advisers Europe had to sell. And they did it smart, too, putting money into basic infrastructure like telephone lines and rail track, not just chrome bayonets.
If you’re good with numbers, you may be wondering how a war fought between fairly small forces like these could come close to the US Civil War in total death toll. The answer’s simple: the war started out semi-clean, but it didn’t stay that way, and most of the dead were Paraguayan civvies.
Paraguay’s men fought like jaguars while they lasted, and when they were all dead, Paraguay’s women and children fought on. Until they were dead, too. Total war doesn’t always start out no-mercy, kill-em-all; but when you’re fighting a small, tough country that just won’t give up, sooner or later you’re either going to either give up or resort to massacre.
That’s what Sherman was saying with that “War is Hell” comment that’s always being misquoted. He meant it SHOULD be, and he proceeded to show Georgia and the Carolinas how it’s done. He figured it was the only way to slap a country as tough and crazy as the Confederacy into surrender. You may remember we had a similar problem with a little place called Imperial Japan, and had to slap them around a little rough, too. Of course the official story with Sherman is that he burned houses and crops but didn’t actually take it to mass rape and murder. Me, I’ve always had my doubts about that. You take a bunch of young male chimps, put ’em in uniform, and tell them it’s open season on the enemy, I can’t really see them settling for the livestock when the lady of the house is so durn cute with that s’uthin drawl an’ awl. And once they’re done with her, it’s standard practice to quiet her up, her and anybody else in the house, with bayonets.
But then that’s me and people are always telling me I’m “cynical,” whatever that means. (I mean, either you’re right or you’re wrong; and if you’re right, how is that “cynical”?) So let’s say for the moment that Sherman’s boys didn’t massacre. Well, they were the exception, because that’s how total war is done, and that’s sure as hell how it was done in the later stages of the war against Paraguay.
Before we get down to the details, I want a moment of respect, or maybe “cynical” chuckles, at how hard it must be to be a Paraguayan. All that suffering and heroic exploits and slaughtered ancestors and nobody except a few nationalist fanatics in Brazil and Argentina even know about it. Paraguay has to win as the Rodrigo Dangerfield of heroic countries: no respecto.
Well, I’m here to fix that. Paraguay struck first, declaring war on Brazil in December 1864—countries used to do that, you know, “declare war”—one of those quaint old customs like high collars—and to prove they meant it, Lopez himself led the Paraguayan Army north into the Mato Grosso. This was a nasty tract of Brazil even by Brazilian standards, a low-rent jungle northeast of Paraguay. You don’t have to be a genius on the Subotai or Belisarius level to figure that isolation is an advantage on defense but a huge liability on offense, so the Paraguayans were more brave than smart to start with an invasion. But that’s them all over: as brave and stupid as a pitbull on the freeway.
They were lucky to be invading Brazil, because Brazil had nothing whatsoever in the area. This was one of the most remote parts of the country, and it took months to get troops down from the populated parts of Brazil to face the Paraguayans. And when the Brazilians did drag their sorry asses into battle, they made fools of themselves. Brazil has always been one of those places that specialize in internal security rather than nation-vs-nation fighting. If you want some annoying shoeshine kid or street urchin shot and dumped in a swamp, hire a Brazilian cop. Job’s as good as done. But actual fighting, against people who are armed and expecting trouble? That ain’t the Brazilian way.
Unlike the Confederacy, the other biggest slave-based economy in the Americas, the Brazilian elite didn’t like to fight. And unlike the Confederates, they sent their black slaves to do it for them. Anybody who could afford it just sent a few black slaves. And funny thing, the slaves weren’t that great troops. Slaves fight pretty well sometimes, which is one of the depressing features of history most people don’t like to think about—the way so many slaves are eager to die for Massa—but these must’ve been your smarter slaves, because they weren’t into it at all. The Paraguayans rolled over them every time they met, and that was usually by accident if the Brazilian rank-and-file had anything to say about it.
The Brazilian Army was the real Mel Brooks character in this screenplay: they didn’t manage to march to the Paraguayan frontier until 1867, and by the time they got there, their grand expeditionary force had been hacked away by malaria and other bug-borne killers to about 1500 men. They fought one battle against the first Paraguayan force they met—I mean, a shame to come all that way and not come back with even one decent war story—despite the fact that the Paraguayans had gotten bored waiting in the jungle for their Brazilian opponents to show. When the grand Brazilian expedition finally met a small force of Paraguayan cavalry at Laguna, they instantly fled back to the plantation, to resume the wonderful life of being slaves in the sugarcane fields in dear old Brazil.
So far Paraguay was winning and looking good doing it. But the trouble with being one of these undersized super-countries is that early victories go to your head and you start thinking you can take on a whole army, like Uma Thurmann with her Ginzu knife in Tokyo. Paraguay was as high on victory as Germany in 1941, so tweaked on war that in March 1865 the Lopez family decided to take on another country: Argentina. And here again it was like a midget version of the European War of 1939-1945: at first the Paraguayans scored miraculous, against-the-odds victories, one after the other. They took the Argentine province of Corrientes. This wasn’t an outback like Mato Grosso, but important and basic Argentine land. Except now it was Paraguay’s land, and Lopez was determined to keep marching toward blue water, and win his homeland a piece of the coastal pie he’d call “Greater Paraguay.”
Man, there’s nothing more deadly than these “Greater Whatever” plans. If your country starts talking like that, you better start putting your assets into offshore havens, because church is about out. The Paraguayans were about to learn that modern war puts logistical strength and flexibility above sheer guts. The same lesson the Confederacy and the Reich and the Imperial Japanese learned, and in the same hard way.
See, Brazil’s army might be useless but they had a navy, and a pretty decent one. In that part of South America 140 years ago, there were no roads to speak of; you got around by river. The Brazilian navy was twice the size of Paraguay’s and unlike the army was considered a respectably place to work if you were part of the white Brazilian elite. So it had decent training, funding, and morale, unlike the army.
In 1865, the same year Grant finally ground down Lee, the Brazilian navy beat the Paraguayan navy in the river battle of Riachuelo. The Paraguayan navy fought as well as you’d expect, but it was outgunned twice over, and numbers do tell when both sides have decent morale.
That battle was a lot like the Union victory at Vicksburg (but a lot faster); it meant that the enemy heartland was opened up to grinding, a war of attrition, where money, industrial base and coast control can be sure of beating sheer courage over time. In that way, this war was a lot like our Civil War: key river naval battle leads to Phase Two, Total War to destroy enemy civilian morale.
Like the Army of Northern Virginia, the Paraguayans held the invaders at bay longer than any sane military man could have predicted. For two years, from 1866-1868, the Paraguayan forts at the junction of the Paraguay and Parana, the two big rivers, kept the foreigners out. But like Lee or, say, Phyrrus, the Paraguayans, with a total population of maybe 1.5 million, couldn’t afford this kind of bravery. It was national suicide: at the battle of Tuyuti in 1866, they not only lost control of the field but lost more men in a few hours than they’ve been able to replace in a century.
There was plenty of room for Paraguay to show how heroic it was, in brave last stands nobody has ever heard of, like—let’s see if I can even spell this right—Curupaity, where a small garrison held off a force of 25,000 Argentines and Brazilians, killing an incredible 5000 attackers in one day.
But like the Union, the Brazilians were slowly learning to dump their incompetent commanders and develop a decent health service and supply corps. Over time, that made sure they’d win, especially with naval control of the rivers. The Paraguayans still fought smart, but sometimes the new breed of Brazilian commanders fought smart now too. Like the way the new Brazilian general Caxias, who’d been ordered to attack 18,000 Paraguayans who’d fortified Piquissiri, bypassed the strong point, mopped up the territory it was meant to block off from the enemy, then took it from the rear.
By 1869 it was as hard to find an able-bodied Paraguayan male as it was to find a white Virginian who could walk without crutches. The Brazilian/Argentine/Uruguayan army occupied the Paraguayan capital, Asuncion, and in a real smart, 20th-c. style move, set up a puppet local government. Lopez, the Paraguayan leader, fled to the hills. He still had the support of the people, and tried to start a guerrilla war…but the Brazilians showed they understood Maoist theory before Mao was even born. Mao said the people are the water, and the guerrillas are the fish who swim in it. The Brazilians just drained the pond the old-fashioned way: by killing every Paraguayan they came across. This is the phase of war where even lousy troops can look good: bayoneting kids and burning houses. And this is when Paraguay’s children proved themselves in a useless cause, like those Hitlerjugend junior high kids who actually held off the Red Army outside Berlin for a few weeks. At the battle—if you can call it that—of Acosta Nu, a force of 3500 Paraguayan children and a few women fought against 20,000– yes, twenty thousand!—invaders… until they were overwhelmed.
But here again, war doesn’t necessarily reward bravery, especially bravery in a lost cause. Paraguay ended the war a total ruin, destroyed more thoroughly than the Confederacy, post-Hitler Germany, or Japan. If you try to give an estimate of the death toll among Paraguayans, you just wind up starting another war—an online war. But the estimates start at about half the population. Half. Paraguay went from a contender, a little crazy brave Spanish-speaking Prussia, to a punchline. Worse yet, the country that benefited the most was… Argentina. I mean, damn.
This article first appeared in The eXile on December 26, 2007
Would you like to know more? Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. You can read his newest dispatches and articles at the NSFWCorp (www.nsfwcorp.com).
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This article was first published in The eXile on November 5, 2007
FRESNO, CA — By the time you finish this column you will be able to destroy huge buildings, kill hundreds of people in a few minutes, and strike terror into your enemies. And all you need is stuff that I guarantee you already have around the house.
Sound too good to be true? Well, hold on to your hard-ons, because there’s more! This weapon is so impossible to trace that well-trained terrorists all over the world use it to clean up evidence after an operation.
When you realize its potential, you’ll wonder why more irregular armies aren’t using it already. If you’re me, you’ll wonder why you haven’t done it yourself.
You’ve probably figured out what I’m talking about by now. It’s our oldest weapon: fire.
Beavis’ dream come true
I got the idea watching Malibu burn. Oh, man, that was the best day off I’ve had in years. Regular porn doesn’t do much for me, but those clips of “heartbroken house owners” sobbing—man, I was just about creaming in my expand-o-waist black slacks. And talk about guilt-free porn! There’s no downside to watching movie producers’ mansions turn into toxic smoke. Don’t tell me I’m the only Inland Californian who laughed his head off at those follow-up pictures of the Prez hugging teary-eyed billionaires. They all looked like my bank manager. I can’t think of anybody whose houses I’d like to see burned up more, and I wouldn’t mind if their precious purse dogs happened to get forgotten in the big BMW bug-out once the flames made it past those “This Property Protected by….oooh owww hot!” signs. Those properties were protected by zip, nada, a whole lotta nuthin’. You can’t scare a fire, you can’t shoot it. The Mongols and Wehrmacht combined would have to run from a good ol’ SoCal brushfire. That’s a weapon, baby.
And there’s Bush streaking cross-continent on Air Force One to hug the “victims,” with his aides hissing into the ear unit: “Psst! Do ‘compassion’! Squirt some tears, dammit!”
Some websites are already saying what went through my head the second I saw those flames: somebody got smart and stopped playing with bombs and went back to basics, back to what works. Mighta been al Quaeda, but might just as well have been some nut who got fired for not showering because God told him not to. Lotta what they call “agendas” out there. Lotta Bic lighters too. Which means about half the population of this nuthouse qualifies as a suspect.
That’s the beauty of fire: anybody can do it. Actually that’s just one of about a dozen advantages that arson has over bombs. Let’s run ‘em down, info-mercial style, Bomb vs. Arson:
Bomb: very tricky to make; easy to score an “own goal” (blow yourself up learning the trade); requires a detonator, very tightly controlled—”not sold at any store” as they say on those sad Oldies Compilation ads; requires electrical expertise, the one thing even most handyman types can’t handle; leaves traces on bomber’s hands, clothes and car; often fails to work; takes a truckload of fertilizer to bring down big buildings; can’t spread beyond immediate target area.
In an infomercial, this is where Christie Brinkley pops up to say, “Gosh Chuck, that sounds way too complicated for me! Isn’t there an easier way for me to lay waste to an enemy city with no risk or obligation?”
And the MC, some unemployed alkie who used to be on Days of Our Lives, says, “There sure is, Christie! Just look at all the advantages you get with our Arson package:
Fire: so easy a caveman, or Douglas Feith, can start one
*So easy to make a little kid can do it. In fact, they do, all the time. Mommy’s Bic plus Daddy’s La-Z-boy equals no more house and BBQ baby. Oldest story in the world. Ever see a toddler make an effective pipe bomb? (Pipe bombs are the worst weapons in the world anyway. The only thing they’re good for is quick amputation of the pipe bomber’s hands and eyes—Nature’s way of saying, “thy genes ye shall not pass on!”)
*Unless you’re one of those toddlers, you won’t get killed by your own arson. Not that hard to walk away from a brushfire—when it’s just getting started. Later, not so easy. But that’s the whole point. In other words, very safe for the arsonist.
*No detonator needed. In fact, no tricky electronics whatsoever. So easy a caveman could do it, and did.
*No traceable chemicals. What are they gonna say if they ever get lucky enough to identify you, “Hey, the suspect has handled gasoline! And a lighter!” Until they start taking smokers off jury lists, and they might in this fucked-up state, no jury on the planet’s going to convict you for handling a 98 cent Bic lighter. And as for gasoline, imagine the interrogation: “We found gas all over your hands, firebug!” “Uh, I used the self-serve and it spilled.” Long awkward silence, ending with you walking out into the daylight, smiling in quiet pride at that big black smoke column over Malibu.
*Unlike bombs, a fire can’t fail to go off. It doesn’t take an Edison to make sure your fire is working. You could send the dumbest guy on the planet to carry out the mission—and according to Tommy Franks, the dumbest guy on the planet is ex-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith—and he’d get it right.
“Mr. Undersecretary, do you have ignition?”
“Mr. Undersecretary, is the brush now burning?”
Feith: “Oh yeah, hee hee… Pretty fire!”
“Excellent, Mr. Undersecretary, now please vacate the area.”
“Get in the car and go, ya moron!”
It would in fact be Feith’s first successful mission. That’s fire for ya: a real morale-builder, a real resume-packer.*And I’ve saved the best for last: fire is what the pros call a “force multiplier.” Meaning it goes on and on an on, long after that Energizer bunny is fricasee’d in the ashes, a gourmet treat for any coyote willing to get its paws burnt.
Unlike bombs, the size of the fire you set has no relation to its effect. You take a Bic and apply it to some dry weeds upwind of Malibu at the end of the dry season, and that two-inch flame ends up forcing some producer to reschedule his next pool party and restock his cocaine stash. (I bet that “toxic smoke” they warned about in LA was more than toxic, bet it was a real freebase reek.)
A fire that takes one second to start can burn a city five miles away, down to the ground. That makes fire way more effective than most nukes. And a lot easier to make.
Irregular warfare’s Agent Orange
The real question is why it isn’t used more often. Of course we have fire weapons like napalm, flamethrowers, and incendiary bombs, but all of them require hi-tech conventional weapons. And for the foreseeable future, conventional warfare ain’t shit. Until otherwise notified, we’re talking irregular warfare, the only kind that matters.
The Japanese tried sending fire balloons over the Western US in WW II, but that was sheer stupidity. The vector for fire is humans. You use people to start fires. And people, like I keep telling you over and over, are the only essential weapon for an irregular force. In this case, that means one clean-cut Al Qaeda sympathizer who’s learned to smile all the time, keep a job, avoid talking about politics and drive a neutral-looking car (my pick would be a Honda, nothing more boring or invisible than an Accord). There he is standing on a hill inland of Malibu. He’s been mowing his lawn, watching the NBA, blending in like a fanatic, and now that the Santa Ana’s blowing toward the prime real estate on the ocean, he’s ready. He takes a casual glance up and down the road, tosses a little sterno stove into the brush, drives on. Three days later Tori Spelling collects ten million for her beachfront mansion.
Now, in the interests of disclosure and transparency and all that good shit, I should mention that I’m sort of an accused arsonist myself. You may remember that my old friend Victor “-y” Davis Hanson took a few minutes off from his usual dayjob—sucking Cheney’s dick—in order to accuse me of trying to burn down his vineyards. As if. As if I’d work up a sweat lugging gascans into some dusty farm. I’m more the morale-building, inspirational type. I encourage people to find the inner arsonist trapped inside themselves; I don’t go out and wobble my flab doing torch jobs personally.
But Vic must be in love with me or something, because he won’t drop the grape-torching business. He’s written about it at least twice since he first dropped that dime on me in the pages of National Review. And there’s a lesson in that. What it shows is how the neocon mind works. First, they never ever admit they’re wrong–but we all knew that already. The more interesting lesson is how, even though they talk big, they think so small. So lame.
Because if I was going to do a burn on my pal Vic—which I’m not planning to, but if I was—it wouldn’t be some ridiculous, pointless try at burning his grape vines, especially when the poor fool wrote a whole book proving vines don’t burn too well.
No, Vic, I don’t think like that. I think like a real irregular. If I wanted to introduce you to the possibilities of fire as a weapon I’d just attend one of those lectures you give to tell nervous old GOPers that Iraq is going swell, just swell. (Can’t believe the bastard gets paid to do that. Most of the people I know spend their lives lying for nothing.)
I wouldn’t even need a ticket in. Just a 55-gallon drum, a dolly to wheel it up to the entrance, an air conditioner repair guy’s overalls (size XXL, but then most air conditioner repair guys are XXL) and a couple of bike locks, with chains. I’d wait till all those gullible hicks had filed in to the hall, and I’d wait for the applause when VD took the podium. Then I’d tilt up the dolly and get to work, singing something in character—maybe “Ring of Fire”—you can’t go wrong with the Man in Black. First I’d padlock all the emergency exits, then I’d pour all 55 gallons into the lecture hall. The drum would be labeled “cleaning solution” and it’d be truth in advertising, because nothing cleans out a crowded lecture hall faster than burning gasoline. No sprinkler system in the world can handle that volume, and if the gas don’t kill ‘em, the stampede when they see the first flames will.
What I like to imagine is Victor up there passing the optimistic word to the very end. As the flames try to get his attention, he’ll be using all that mental discipline he used since the invasion to deny there’s even a problem, “…aside from some lingering embers in a few provinces of the lecture hall, this fire is completely contained.” By this time the hall will be totally black with smoke, but Vic is a gamer and he’ll drop his favorite history bomb on anybody still alive: “Things looked black in 1864, too, you know! And what about the Battle of the—cough, ack!—Bulge? Iwo Jima? The Pusan…the Pusan…” Just about that time Vic’s mighty voice would be silenced for good because his larynx would be even blacker than 1864 and Pusan put together, blacker than a forgotten In-N-Out burger that’s sat all day on the flame broiler while the rookie cooks got high in the employee toilet…
And please don’t tell me this kind of atrocity would “backfire” on the firebug. Hiroshima, Dresden, Tokyo—some pretty big BBQs, and they didn’t backfire on anyone. We’re just talking about the lo-tech irregular-warfare versions of that, and to a serious guerrilla, there are no illegitimate targets. Everything is up for burning. And don’t tell me this kind of “brutality” doesn’t work, either. Let me tell you about the Cinema Rex. Ever see a movie there? I bet you didn’t, because for one thing it was in Abadan, the big oil-refining island off Iran. And for another thing, some of Khomeini’s holy warriors burned down the Cinema Rex just before the Old Man himself came back to Iran and booted the Shah.
See, the Rex had a special feature for kiddies: every Friday after school was out, all the foreign oil-workers’ children would pile into the Rex to watch cartoons. Even a Muslim couldn’t object to that, right?
Wrong. There is very little that a real Khomeini-ite can’t object to, and for them the idea of kids watching movies on a Friday was so horrible that it just naturally called for one of the Faithful to walk around the Rex that Friday afternoon padlocking all the doors, then pouring a couple five-gallon cans of gasoline under the doors and in the windows, and then setting it on fire. Hundreds of children dead.
I’ve never forgotten that story. Made me so sick, as if Carter’s disgusting puss-out wasn’t already nearly killing me, young as I was.
But nobody else remembers it. Did you? Betcha didn’t. Betcha never heard of it. And the Iranians weren’t bothered at all. A few weeks later, hordes of the stupid fucks swarmed over Tehran to welcome the glorious Imam Khomeini. And a few years after that, hordes of kids not much older than the ones that got crisped in Abadan ran through machine gun fire or volunteered to be human mine detonators for Iranian human-wave attacks across the Shatt al-Arab a few miles from Abadan.
Don’t tell me terror doesn’t work. Only amateurs think that. And if the Cinema Rex didn’t hurt Khomeini’s popularity, if Dresden didn’t stop London putting up a statue to Bomber Harris, you honestly expect me to even pretend I’m not giggling, damn near jerking off, watching producers’ houses burn?
Wake up and smell the ashes.
This article was first published in The eXile on November 5, 2007
From today’s edition of NSFW Corp
FRESNO—Today’s the Big Anniversary, so what better day to size up Obama’s war record than the day that also launched my career as a professional War Nerd.
When you look back at Obama’s wars, you get a pretty clear idea what went wrong over the last four years. It wasn’t the way Obama’s team handled the wars. Truth is, they did damn well at that, better than I ever thought they would.
The real problem is that they don’t know what world they’re living in. These are people who’ve spent their lives getting straight A’s, collecting gold stars, avoiding mistakes. And they think war is just like all those other little hurdles you face in life.
That’s why they’ll never get credit for any of it. They have this delusion that sanity matters, and they’ve run their wars as sanely and boringly as an exterminator going after termites.
It’s sensible, it’s semi-effective, and it irritates the life out of the 99%. I don’t mean the Occupy 99%, all those “goodhearted ordinary Americans”; that’s a totally made-up imaginary species invented by people just as naive as Obama’s crew. I mean the real 99% of us living our rotten lives out there, mean and dumb and miserable, just waiting for some gore we can really get behind.
Obama just doesn’t understand his job as war chief of this big crazy tribe…(Continued)
To read the rest of this War Nerd article surveying the Obama wars, click here.
This article was published at Not Safe For Work Corp, where Gary Brecher has just signed on as a new regular columnist. To read The War Nerd columns and more NSFWCORP wretched wisdom (with jokes), subscribe for the monthly price of a bottle of Diet Coke: http://www.nsfwcorp.com/subscribe
Would you like to know more? Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to gary dot brecher at gmail dot com. Read Gary Brecher’s first ever War Nerd column by clicking here.
Click the cover, buy the book!
In the wake of this week’s white supremacist massacre of unarmed Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin, The eXiled proudly reposts a War Nerd classic first published in The eXile in July 2007:
FRESNO, CA — I think I’ve finally found a religion I can convert to. I’m thinking of turning Sikh. And we’ll just slide right by all the puns popping into your little heads, if you don’t mind. The Sikhs are just the coolest warrior tribe around. Take their scripture. (more…)
This article is a War Nerd Classic
Christians are stone killers. You put a Christian and a lion in an arena and I’ll bet Toyotas to Subarus the Christian’ll have the lion for lunch. Just look around you: lions are just about extinct, but the whole world is full of Christians singin’ about God’s love, ready to disembowel anybody who won’t join the chorus. (See my guide to Christian Missionary Martyrs as the front-line in Christian Jihads at the end of this article.) (more…)
This article was first published in The eXile on May 4, 2007. We are reprinting it to commemorate today’s alleged “last day of the Iraq war.”
FRESNO, CA — A funny thing happened on the floor of the Senate last week. Somebody asked a serious question: “If the war in Iraq is lost, then who won?”
Of course Sen. Lindsay Graham, the guy who asked the question, didn’t mean it to be serious. He was just scoring points off Harry Reid, the world’s only Democratic Mormon. Reid had made a “gaffe” by saying in public what everybody already knows: “The war in Iraq is lost.” When you say something obviously true in politics, it’s called a “gaffe.” (more…)
There are actual American heroes. Not a lot, and you don’t hear much about them, but there are a few.
I don’t mean working moms who spend their Saturdays spooning soup into winos. I mean classic citizen-soldiers who get it right every time, in battle and in everything else. My favorite at the moment is Benjamin Grierson, because he not only led the finest cavalry raid of the Civil War (according to James MacPherson hisself) but managed to be right about everything, all his life—one of the few who look as good now as they did then. (more…)
Posted: October 16th, 2011
Some of the weirdest, longest wars around have been on the other side of the Big River, but for some reason most American war nerds would rather read about Eurasian battles. Not sure why, except I remember when I was growing up, Mexico just seemed like a depressing place. That was because us gringos don’t go much past the border towns, which are as scummy as border towns anywhere. Once you get past the zebra-striped burro zone, it gets a lot more interesting—still depressing, but a lot more interesting. (more…)
Posted: October 10th, 2011
When we lived in Long Beach, my dad used to say the same thing every time we saw the sign to the yacht club: “You know what a boat is?”
He’d ask the car that, then wait for somebody to answer him—he was a master of timing, except nobody ever answered him no matter how long he waited, because my mom and sisters were always mad at him about something and I was too busy remembering that the Yacht Club was on some subdivision street that had the balls to call itself “Appian Way,” and I’d be furious in the back seat thinking no goddamn Roman legion ever marched down that stupid street, just those selfish Hot Wheels Merc sports models with seats for two people, selfish rich bastards. “Appian Way”! The nerve of those developers. (more…)
Posted: September 18th, 2011
Well, it’s ten years and a couple of days since 9/11. The reason I’m two days late doing a look back is that 9/11 is boring. I’m sick of it. And the ten years since are just depressing, at least if you’re an American.
So I spent the 9/11 anniversary reading Jack Weatherford’s book on the Mongol Queens because I didn’t want to see New Yorkers hamming it up the way they’ve been doing for ten long years. (more…)
Green March on Golan
While everybody was distracted with Libya, something interesting happened on the Golan Heights. The Palestinians, with a lot of pushing from the Assad people, staged their own version of the Green March. And it failed.
I’ve written about the Green March before,but if you want the short version, The Green March (green for Islam, not recycling) was an unarmed invasion of what used to be the Spanish Sahara on Morocco’s southern border. It was a classic lebensraum push, but without weapons. The Moroccan government, facing the pretty obvious fact that it couldn’t take a coffee break by force of arms, thought up a brilliant new strategy: They sent a huge crowd of unarmed citizens across the border and dared the few demoralized Spanish soldiers in their way to open fire. The Spaniards held their fire, no doubt causing Cortez and Pizarro to revolve in their graves at lathe speed, but these aren’t those Spaniards, these are sad Euros with no birthrate. Whereas the Moroccans had a healthy birthrate and wanted everyone to know it: They sent exactly the number of people over the border as there were born in Morocco the year of the march. That’s the way to elbow yourself some lebensraum.
I called it the most important battle of the late 20thcentury, and I still think it’s the model for most future conquests. But not all. What happened on the Golan Heights this May and June was a demonstration of the limits of Green-March strategy. To put it bluntly, if the occupier has enough morale and international backing to open fire, you’re screwed–at least in the short run. But that’s not as simple as it sounds. What a lot of war buffs have been real slow to figure out is how hard it is to pull the trigger now, unless you’re in Papua New Guinea where the parasites and mosquitoes keep the reporters at bay. In a place like the Golan Heights, where reporters outnumber bunkers, it’s not easy to open fire on unarmed crowds.
This is a very strange thing in military history, but it’s time we faced up to it. Firearms have been developing nonstop, but so has video, and they run counter to each other most of the time. You need decades of morale-building, alliance-mending and effective propaganda to make soldiers who’ll open fire in front of the video cameras. That’s where the effort has to go, not all this gun-love crap you see in the cheapo magazines on the rack. “HK vs. M4 Showdown”—my ass. HK or M4, either one works fine. That’s not the problem. Any fool can pull a trigger—that’s an old saying—but what we have to deal with now is something more complicated, like, “Yeah, any fool can pull a trigger but what about any city kid who’s been raised nice, never even been hit by his folks, popped out of some social-democratic kindergarten?” That dude is going to have a problem opening fire on unarmed crowds.
And even if you’re more than ready to shoot into that crowd, and most Americans are, your officers might not let you. It’s not as easy as that. A whole lot of successful rebellions have started out with suicide missions, either unarmed or armed so crummily that they had no hope of winning on the field. They won by the whole martyr strategy, and no matter what Patton said (“No son of a bitch ever won a war by dying for his country…”) martyr stuff can work. Not overnight, but over ten, 20, 50 years. When you consider if the Israelis won this one, you have to think of what Chou en-Lai said about whether the 1789 revolution in France was a success: “It’s too early to tell.”
Take Qaddafi. He didn’t go down because he was squeamish about firing at unarmed demonstrators. In fact, a reader sent a great link to an interview with one of the Tuareg mercs who were fighting for Qaddafi, who explained the traditional method of dealing with “peaceful demonstrators”: “We would kill three or four in the front of the crowd and the rest would run away. It was very easy.”
But that’s Libya, where what you might call the background level of violence is pretty low. In other places, especially after a few generations of facing troops, shooting a few won’t do it. You can see that in this BBC video of the Palestinians’ try at a Green March on the Golan Heights– the second try the Pals made at crossing the border. This time the IDF fired early and steadily. The official count was 20 demonstrators dead, 300 hurt. Even allowing for inflation, which you have to do with any casualty claim, you can hear the BBC reporter talking about people falling after “live fire, aimed fire” and being carried off on stretchers.
The interesting thing here is that it wasn’t the bullets that drove them off. It was the tear gas, which according to the BBC, the IDF only started using once reporters asked why they used live fire instead of tear gas. My guess is that the IDF was pissed off at the way they let the same crowd push over the border in the first Golan Heights Green March, three weeks earlier, on the anniversary of the “Nabka” (Big Disaster) of 1948.
Here’s a home video of that one. You can see that in this first march, the Pals broke through the double fences along the valley floor. That’s the border. The guy filming is standing on what looks like a construction site on the Israeli side (I think). There’s a pretty big crowd up there, too many by far to shoot in front of cameras—and like I said, in the Golan you can pretty much assume there’s going to be cameras.
I want to say again: It’s not just a matter of getting troops who’re willing to shoot into a crowd, though that’s part of it. Even if the troops were willing up there in the Golan, and I’d bet that most of them were, it just wouldn’t be a good move. Israel survives because of a US support base—used to be Jews but now it’s more the Evangelicals—who need to believe that Israel is the besieged good guy, a modern Constantinople circa 1453. It’s not a good move shooting unarmed idiots too openly, in big numbers. I’d bet nine out of 10 of the Israeli troops you see in this second video—the line of guys in olive drab along the valley floor—would have been more than ready to fire. For every squeamish Euro descendant of socialist kibbutzim in those ranks, I’d bet there are ten Sephardim or Falasha with lots of juicy family stories about what it was like living in Muslim countries who’d be willing to empty their magazines into the crowd coming down the hill. But then, I’d bet there are plenty of Pals in that crowd more than willing to get shot and martyred. If enough people want you to martyr them, it’s not that easy, not as easy as Patton makes it out to be, to decide to oblige’em. Especially not with the cameras rolling.
Who's Ducking and Who's Dead?
I’m sure a lot of gun buffs are going to say this isn’t a real battle, because only one side is armed and it’s slow, with lots of posing and rock-chucking. I’m not sure about that. Not only is this the wave’o’the fuchuh, but it was the wave of the past too. I’ve seen pictures of primitive warfare in the New Guinea highlands before the missionaries made those people as boring as Ohioans, and their battles involve something a whole lot like this one: one tribe on one side of a valley, yelling stuff about the other tribe’s momma and throwing spears that fall way short of the opposition. There’s a lot of flat-out boy stuff, seeing who’s willing to get the furthest into spear range to show how well he can dodge. And if he doesn’t dodge that good, gets one in the leg, it’s probably all the better; he’s a hero in the village, and that limp reminds all the girls how he strutted when it counted.
Casualties in a battle like that are kind of incidental; the point is to show yourself, walk onto the other tribe’s property, remind them you’re there, and that you’re not scared of them. In a way what the Pals did here was the ultimate strutting: Not only are we gonna walk onto your side of the valley, we’re gonna do it UNARMED. And they had to know the IDF isn’t those poor Spanish dregs who let the Moroccan crowds through. The IDF is gonna fire; they know that on both sides.
But they’re not going to empty their magazines into the crowd, and they’re not going to use the .50 cals on the armored cars you see in the video. This is a new ritual we’re seeing here, except it’s probably the oldest one in the world. There was just this weird interval for a couple of centuries with uniformed armies facing off against each other and supposedly not killing unarmed civilians. It never really came down to that, and it was just a blip in a long line of tribe vs. tribe, one side of the valley vs. another. The only new touch is the camera. When they talk about a global village, it only makes sense we’re going back to village wars. The cameras put you right there on the hill with Tribe A.
In fact, this second video, shot by a Pal demonstrator, is so raw you can almost feel the sweat in the crowd on the Israeli construction site. Those are the best strutters, the men who can do the most boasting when they get home. They’re on enemy turf, and legitimate targets by the laws of war if not the laws of TV news. I’d love to know what they’re talking about on the video; maybe some Arabic-speaking reader can tell me.
Some of it’s clear enough that even I can figure it out. They do a chant-along to something like “Filistiniya Arabiya, [some word for the Golan] Syriya” which I gather means “Palestine is Arab, the Golan is Syrian.” You can see the work of their sponsors in the Assad junta in that little slogan; Palestinian refugees don’t usually have a lot of reason to be sentimental Syrian nationalists, but in this case, since they couldn’t get near the border without the green light from Syrian security, a little “thank you” is in order, and that slogan is it. In fact, one thing about these two Green March tries is that for Bashar & Friends, they were a pretty obvious attempt to distract the hotheads’ attention from the fight against the regime. Nothing distracts Sunni like the ones throwing rocks at Syrian cops in the hinterland cities like seeing Palestinians get shot at the Israeli border. It didn’t seem to work, though, that part of the plan. The pressure is still on Assad. And it doesn’t explain why these Pals were willing to walk into live fire. Nobody would ever do that for the Assads, as the Syrian Army has proven every time it went into what it calls “combat.” Hell, the Syrian Army actually TOOK the Golan in the Yom Kippur War, but got so spooked at not seeing any IDF in the vicinity they decided it was some sly Jewish plot to lure them to the slaughter, and bugged out without a fight. These unarmed Pals are a million times braver than the Assads’ soldiers ever were. For them it’s almost like a field trip, one with the chance you’ll get maimed or killed. I think that’s how most battles have been, those New Guinea style battles: laughs and strutting and showing how many of you there are, how un-scared you are. There’s time to laugh between volleys; these Pals laugh like crazy when the IDF makes a dumb mistake, firing tear gas too short and driving an advance of their own men running up the valley (that’s around the 1:05 point). I’m guessing that they’re saying something like, “Nyah nyah, stupid IDF gassed itself!” on that one.
The comedy goes right on with some dead-scary moves, just like it does in New Guinea. One guy stands right in the way when an IDF squad comes marching up to the construction site—and they march around him. That’s a victory, in village terms.
So in the short term (tactically) this was a failure; they didn’t take the disputed territory like the Moroccans did in the Green March. But they never meant to. Nobody thought the IDF would skulk away like the Spaniards did down there. This was meant to show that the Pals are still around, in big numbers, and willing to die. And no matter what Patton said, that can work. When I was researching that last article on the IRA vs. Al Qaeda, what works and what doesn’t, I found out the first move in the Irish independence war was a suicidal occupation of downtown Dublin in 1916 by a bunch of artsy amateurs, poets and painters who barely knew how to aim a rifle. They were wiped out and the survivors shot at dawn; total failure. But in a culture that’s got the martyr thing going strong, that first defeat can kindle a big war, a winning war. Second wave was Michael Collins, going for the kill, and it worked.
So martyr-type defeat is tricky. If it works at all, it’s going to work slow. But with birthrate and morale, it can work over time.
But you better depend on those cameras sticking around. If the world got really seriously distracted, say by a big war…well, you wouldn’t want to try this shit in Golan right then.
Dude on the right look local?
A sharp-eyed reader named Pete S. sent me a picture off an Al Jazeera blog on Libya with what Pete thinks might be an SAS operator taking in the parade. This is the guy on the right in this photo, the one holding the rifle with the scope. The one with the badass fingerless leather gloves.
He does look a little pale for a Libyan, but then a whole lot of people have wandered along the North African coast at one time or another and passed some time with the local ladies, so I’d imagine there’s quite a lively gene pool in those parts. (more…)
Posted: August 31st, 2011
The mask is cuz he’s gonna be a banker soon
The most obvious question about Libya is: Why?
The reason you have to ask that is a little secret you won’t hear much about: Libya under Qaddafi wasn’t that bad for most people. And that’s according to the CIA. Take a look at the CIA factbook on Libya under Qaddafi and you’re in for a shock. (more…)
Younes: Not So Cheery Now
One of the talking-head questions on Libya is whether there’ll be a big bloodbath when the rebels take over. I doubt it. They’ve never been the most warlike people on earth. The last few really ferocious tribes like the Pashtun fight because they don’t know much else or want much else, least of all the malls’n’jobs life. But the Libyans, as far as I can do, do want more malls, more Sinatra hats and ipods, and the sooner the better. (more…)
Ackshoo-ul Berbers in Ackshoo-ul Village
Well, that was a quick takedown. One of the strange things about Libya was the pacing. It needed a good editor, because it started fast, then bogged down, and then just when everybody’d given up and gone to get some caramel corn, the credits started rolling.
They’re still rolling, though, and there might be one of those after-credit scenes they put in when they don’t know what else to do with them. Last thing I heard, Qaddafi’s still in Tripoli and his friends’n’relations, along with whatever Sahel mercs are still around, are skulking around the downtown sniping and otherwise expressing their disagreement with the new state of affairs. (more…)
A funny thing happened while a GOP congressional staff weasel was doing his job last week. He actually tried to use European military history to justify one of his little twists. And when I say “funny,” I mean hilarious. This guy was counting on Americans’ total, absolute ignorance of everything that happened in Europe before 1945 beyond the fact that the Nazis were bad people. That’s not a bad bet, most of the time, but this time, this particular weasel just went a lie or two too far. (more…)
I’m back, thanks to the don’t-call-it-a-depression. Thanks to this brief correction in the US economy, then. My new job lasted three months. I did all the right things, too, even smiled. Didn’t matter. I was the last hired, and you know how that one finishes up. They were sorry to see me go, and could you go right now, please? We need the monitor.
I missed a lot of great stuff in the war world these last few months. I’ll try to catch up, item by item, as often as I can. In between those application letters that make you feel even worse than usual, and getting the 12 or so hours of sleep that you need when being awake means remembering you’re totally useless, nobody wants you, just like you always figured.
Posted: August 17th, 2011
For your reading pleasure, The eXiled is reposting one of the War Nerd’s most famous–and hilarious–episodes: The epic battle pitting Gary Brecher against neocon historian Victor Davis Hanson, guru to Dick Cheney and “Scooter” Libby. Like Bull Run, this battle came in two parts: the first part begins with the War Nerd’s devastating opening salvo attack on July 28, 2005, in an article headlined “Victor Davis Hanson: Portrait of an American Traitor”:
Victor Hanson: Portrait of an American Traitor
by Gary Brecher
I‘ve survived some terrible summers, but this is the worst. Somebody kill me. Fresno’s been putting on a show, crunching a whole lifetime of stupid misery into a few hot months. And I mean hot. We’ve been setting records down here. Today it hit 107 degrees. Tomorrow we’re due to reach 109. Luckily, Thursday should be a cool, breezy 103.
I had figured this summer would be a little easier to handle now that I’ve shucked off a layer of blubber (I slimmed down a bit to try to ease my kidney situation). But no, God just made it a few degrees hotter to make sure I stay as sweaty and miserable as ever, cooking in my own fat.
People here have been going crazy since it started heating up. The Fresno PD managed to get our fine city some international press with a new approach to fighting crime: cracking down on 11-year-olds. In case you didn’t read about it, what happened was this 11-year-old girl threw a rock at some kids who were splattering her with water balloons, so the Fresno cops swooped down with three squad cars and a chopper. They wrestled her down, cuffed her and charged her with felony assault. She did a week in juvie isolation, with no access to even her parents, before they let her go.
Jailbait: Fresno’s Most Wanted!
Naturally her lawyers yelled racism, because she’s Mexican. I don’t buy that. It’s not racism, it’s plain cowardice. That’s the key to understanding what’s happening in the world today: plain old cowardice. Somewhere along the line we lost all the brave people. Now we’ve just got a lot of phony blowhards. The cops who wrestled that little girl around were just like the cops you see on Reno 911, playing tough once they were sure the suspect couldn’t fight back. I drive past gang corners every damn day, and I never see the Fresno PD giving those bastards any trouble-they’re too scary. So they wait till it’s a little girl who defended herself against a bunch of bullies, then they swarm her like a SWAT team.
We’ve got this Fresno intellectual who likes to strut the same way in the local paper. He’s one of these snotty assholes with three names: Victor Davis Hanson. Oh, sorry: Doctor Victor David Hanson. He’s got a Ph.D. and he teaches at Fresno State.
This fool passes himself off as a military historian, writing columns about Iraq and Afghanistan and everything else he feels like babbling about, but he doesn’t have a clue about contemporary warfare. Every war nerd on the net knows more about what’s happening in Iraq than he does. But that doesn’t stop him. He teaches Classics, he’s written a half dozen books on ancient warfare, and he never lets you forget that he’s a professor and you’re not.
In his last column for the Fresno Bee, he sneered at people who don’t have Ph.D.’s for daring to have opinions about the war in Iraq: “What do a talented Richard Gere, Robert Redford and Madonna all have in common besides loudly blasting the current administration? They either dropped out of, or never started, college. Cher may think George Bush is ‘stupid,’ but she-not he-didn’t finish high school.”
Since I never even finished my AA degree, I took that kind of personally. I guess it’s my fault for not getting into Yale on pure merit like Bush did. That column got me so furious I daydreamed about driving down Highway 99 to Hanson’s farm and setting all his orchards and vineyards on fire. I kept thinking of what the Spartans said when one of their neighbors threatened them: “Your cicadas will chirp from the ground,” meaning, “We’ll burn your fucking olive orchards if you mouth off again.”
Professor Hanson is one of these “back to the land” assholes who can afford to live on a farm because he’s got tenure for life at Fresno State-they can’t fire him for anything less than a major felony. It’s classic welfare state socialism that funds his estate, but that doesn’t stop him from moralizing about the benefits of free market solutions. So he writes these columns from his farm in Selma, a few miles down the road from Fresno, about the sanctity of private land and private enterprise and the life lessons of farming.
He doesn’t even suspect what a total hypocrite he is. According to his official online bio, Hanson graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1975. I don’t know if you non-Californians understand what that means. UC Santa Cruz is the official sex-and-drugs campus of the whole UC system. It’s so hippie-cool and mellow it doesn’t even give grades, which are just too bourgeois. You just get little notes from your teachers. The kids who go there are rich brats who don’t have to worry about getting a job-because graduating from there is like telling your future employers you were stoned for four straight years.
And Hanson graduated from there in 1975. I can only dream about what it must’ve been like to be a student at Santa Cruz back then, at the climax of the hippie days. I seriously doubt if anybody on that campus was un-stoned from enrollment to graduation, or un-laid for more than a week.
So here’s a question for you, Professor Hanson, Mister Morality: how many coeds did you screw when you were at UC Santa Cruz? And how many drugs did you take?
But you know, I could take all Hanson’s hypocritical pompous bullshit if he only knew something about contemporary warfare. He doesn’t. All he knows is that he’s in favor of Gulf War II, and to defend that mess he’s willing to slander Bush Sr’s magnificent victory in Gulf War I. This is insane, really insane-taking America’s only outright strategic victory since 1945, our most glorious campaign since Inchon, and turning it into a defeat just so you can make Bush Jr’s fiasco look a little better. Here’s Hanson’s treasonous account of Gulf War I:
“War I (January 17 to March 3, 1991)
“The First Iraqi War : started over Saddam Hussein’s August 2, 1990, invasion of Kuwait. His occupation precipitated the American-led coalition’s efforts to reclaim Kuwait through land and air attacks. Saddam’s complete capitulation was seen as satisfying the war’s professed claim of restoring the sovereignty of Kuwait.
“But despite retreating from Kuwait and suffering terrible damage to his armed forces, Saddam, like the Germans in 1918, claimed that his armies had been repelled while on the offensive. So he passed off a setback as a draw against the world’s superpower – and thus a win by virtue of his own survival against overwhelming odds.
“In any case, we called off our forces before the destruction of the Republican Guard. We also refused to go to Baghdad; we let rebellious Shiites and Kurds be tragically butchered; and we failed to enforce all the surrender agreements. Apparently the U.S. wished to bow to the U.N. mandates only to expel Saddam from Kuwait, or was worried about our Sunni partners who wanted a lid on Kurdish tribalism and Shiite fervor inside Iraq.”
There are so many evil lies here, I don’t know where to start. First there’s the phony comparison to Germany after WW I. There’s no comparison at all. Saddam’s Kuwait invasion wasn’t a nationalist war like WW I, and no matter what Saddam said, every dog in the street in Baghdad knew perfectly well that the Iraqi army had been outclassed and savaged. Moreover, the Germans fought for four years and nearly won, whereas Saddam got his ass completely whipped in a three-day land war. Fact is, we did it right in Gulf War I. We neutered Saddam, destroyed his ability to threaten anybody, and left him in charge of his hellhole country. It was American diplomacy combined with military power at its finest. And this pig tries to say it was a defeat!
Hanson goes on to say that we “refused to go to Baghdad” because we wanted to please the UN. Bullshit. We used the UN to build a huge alliance (something Bush’s idiotic son didn’t think was necessary), and we stayed out of Baghdad because Powell and Bush Sr. knew what would happen if we tried to occupy Iraqi cities. We’re going through the consequences of that mistake right now; how can anybody pretend not to understand, by now, why it was a bad idea, and why Bush Sr. was right the first time?
What’s amazing is that Hanson is actually trying to blame Bush Sr. for not jumping off the cliff first, before his idiotic son did. Like I said, it’s insane-until you realize it’s being done just to make Junior’s disaster look good, which Hanson needs to do because he’s been shilling for Bush Jr.’s war from day one. Hanson isn’t just insane. He’s one sleazy dude.
He proves his sleaze when he moves on to Gulf War II:
“War IV. (April 2003 to present)
“The Fourth Iraqi War (“The Insurrection,” “The Occupation”) began immediately after the end of the conventional fighting and continues today. It was framed by the fact that the United States would not simply leave after toppling Saddam yet had never really gone into the Sunni Triangle in force during the three-week victory. War IV was waged by a loose alliance of Wahhabi fundamentalists, foreign jihadists, and former Baathists against the American efforts to fashion an indigenous Iraqi democratic government.”
Here again, there’s so many lies it’s hard to know where to start. Like, what the hell does Hanson mean by saying we never attacked the Sunni Triangle? As military history, that’s pure nonsense. The only reason he says it is because he has to explain to himself how come the insurgency was able to come on so strong after we kicked ass in the conventional war. And see, Hanson can’t admit to himself that there was a difference in the kind of war being waged, a transition from conventional to urban-guerrilla warfare. If he once admitted that we’re dealing with an urban guerrilla war now, he’d have to face the historical fact that modern armies still don’t have an effective counter for that mode of warfare.
And all that ancient Greek stuff won’t help Hanson deal with urban guerrilla war, because there was nothing like it in the ancient world. In those days conquerors wiped out cities the second they showed any sign of uppity behavior. Urban guerrilla wars were pretty quick and pretty unsuccessful: rise up against the occupier, and literally every man, woman and child gets slaughtered, and the offending city covered in salt. End of story.
One of my favorite examples of Roman “pacification” policy was what happened to the Helvetii, a Celtic tribe that used to live where Switzerland is now. Europe was a feisty, tricky place in those days, like Africa is now. Tribes were always on the move.
The Helvetii decided they’d make a move on Northeastern Gaul, grabbing the land and wiping out the Roman-vassal tribes occupying the land. The entire Helvetii tribe numbered about 370,000, and from that they could field about 110,000 fighting men-every male who could hold a spear. They smashed into the settled Gaul tribes easily, grabbed a swathe of territory and prepared to keep advancing until they had enough good land to support the whole tribe.
What the Helvetii hadn’t factored into their big move was the Romans. Julius Caesar got a message from his Gaul vassals pleading for help against the Helvetii. At this point he had six legions under him in Gaul, almost 300,000 men. But he wanted more, because he had something a little more drastic in mind than just defeating the Helvetii. He was out to exterminate them. So he called up another two legions, which meant he had 400,000 trained soldiers against 110,000 part-time tribal warriors.
It was no contest. The Romans surrounded the Helvetii and started stabbing their way through the mass of warriors, then the civilians. As they advanced, the legions would herd a few saleable-looking women and children away from the killing. They were sent to holding pens in the rear to be sold as slaves. The main body of Roman soldiers kept working through the mass of Helvetii, stabbing and stabbing. Roman soldiers were taught to use the short sword-”gladius,” which is where “gladiator” comes from-to stab, not slash. Stabbing made a deeper wound, more likely to tear up a guy’s guts and give him a fatal infection. The stab was also quicker than the big dramatic downward smash those hammy heavy-metal barbarians were addicted to.
At the end of the battle, they had slaughtered 220,000 men, women and children-60% of the whole tribe. Must have been exhausting too. Imagine the sheer hard work it took to kill that many screaming, scrambling people with the Roman short sword, not much bigger than a Bowie knife.
We could do it, way more easily than the Romans. We’d burn only as many calories as it takes to press a button. If we had the will, we could wipe out the whole population of the Sunni Triangle in a few days. If we used neutron bombs, we could do it without even messing up the area too badly. It would sure stop the insurgency.
Trouble is, that kind of genocide just isn’t popular these days, and nobody, not even Professor Hanson, is ready to argue for it. It’s hard to argue you want to bring democracy to the Sunnis by making them extinct. And what Hanson and morons like him won’t admit is that short of genocide, there is no military solution to urban guerrilla warfare.
So Hanson cheats like a ninth grader, trying to avoid facing the urban-guerrilla problem. He makes fake lists like this one: “From the various insurgencies of the Peloponnesian War to the British victory over Communist guerrillas in Malaya, there remain constants across 2,500 years of time and space that presage victory or defeat.”
Oh, like we’re supposed to believe he chose that Malaya example just by chance, huh? It so happens that the Malayan insurgency of the 1950s is the ONLY guerrilla war that was won by the occupying army, in this case the Brits, and that’s why Bush’s spinners like to cite It. You know why the Brits “succeeded”? It’s real simple: the insurgents were all ethnic Chinese, and the Malays hated their guts. They were a small, easily identified ethnic minority. The Malays never needed much of an excuse to start chopping up Chinese people, and when the Brits gave them license to kill they went at it full time. Then the Brits up and left.
It was a relatively small affair: over 12 years, some 7,000 MRLA guerrillas were killed. Just to give you a real comparison, one American general recently said that in the last year alone, we’ve killed or captured 50,000 Iraqi insurgents, yet, this same general admitted that the insurgency is only gaining strength.
If Hanson thinks we can chop up millions of heavily armed, aggressive Sunni Iraqis the way the Brits mopped up a few thousand Red Chinese in Malaysia, he’s insane. And maybe he is-all those years of the state subsidizing his phony “farm” and students sucking up to him for a good grade have driven him into a psychotic delusional state.
But I don’t really think he’s insane-just a traitor, a liar willing to keep shoving American troops and money into a meatgrinder just so he doesn’t have to admit he was wrong. Sooner or later we’re going to have to face it: these NeoCons don’t care about America any more than Stalin cared about Russia. They’re not just wrong. They’re traitors.
* * *
After a month of recovering from Brecher’s surprise attack, Victor Davis Hanson counter-attacked in miserable comic failure, even going so far as to accuse Gary Brecher of setting fire to his beloved vineyards. The eXile captured the hilarious sequel in a two-part special “Victor Davis Hanson Declares War” pull-out section: the first article, headlined “Hanson Snitches, War Nerd Suspended!”, sums up Victor Davis Hanson’s literary hijinx and email exchanges with editor Mark Ames; the second article, “An eXile phone call to the Fresno branch of the International Dyslexic Association” transcribes a phone call we made out of concern for the great historian’s mental health. These articles were published in The eXile on September 9, 2005.
Hanson Snitches, War Nerd Suspended!
It was a long, hot August, folks. After War Nerd Gary Brecher’s takedown of neo-con mandarin and fellow Fresno-ite Victor Davis Hanson, the ol’ professor counter-attacked from his fortified perch in the National Review, America’s leading right-wing intullekshual rag. As counter-attacks go, Dr. Hanson’s was about as effective as Manuel Noriega’s brilliant defense of Panama City in 1989. Dr.Hanson’s article attacking Brecher was so sloppy and careless, not to mention patently insane (he even accused Brecher of having set fire to his grapevines), that we felt compelled to write a letter to his editor at the National Review. The NR editor forwarded our letter to Dr. Hanson, probably as a passive-aggressive way of alerting his star neocon professor about his terminally shoddy writing. Incredibly enough, Hanson responded to our criticism of his spelling errors– by misspelling the name of the editor whom he was responding to as “Mark Aimes” [sic]. The next week, Dr. Hanson, ever the honorable academic, attached and enddnote to his National Review column to clear up the outcry over his many spelling and grammar errors. Fittingly, he misspelled this endnote, titling it, “Authorr’s note” [sic]...
First, Dr. Hanson, in his own words:
August 26, 2005, 9:09 a.m.
The Paranoid Style
The National Review
Iraq: Where socialists and anarchists join in with racialists and paleocons.
II. THE ANARCHIST HOWL
But if Meyerson’s skewers facts and twists progress into abject failure, take the example of someone using the name Gary Brecher of Encore magazine. In an article called “Victor Hanson: Portrait of an American Traitor,” Brecher became incensed about a suggestion that neither the formal education nor the autodidacticism of the Hollywood elite granted them any privileged wisdom about American foreign policy:
“That column got me so furious I daydreamed about driving down Highway 99 to Hanson’s farm and setting all his orchards and vineyards on fire. I kept thinking of what the Spartans said when one of their neighbors threatened them: “Your cicadas will chirp from the ground,” meaning, “We’ll burn your f…ing olive orchards if you mouth off again.”(*
To understand the mindset of the anarchist, consider his similar fury right after 9/11.
“The best war is when you can hate both sides, and that’s how it was with the WTC. I cheered those jets…Until those planes hit the WTC nobody dreamed you could knock down an American corporation building. Nobody ever thought one would come down. And when they did, damn! It was like the noche triste, when Aztecs made the Conquistadors bleed for the first time and said, “Hey these aren’t magic six-legged metal monsters, they’re just a bunch of victims like us.”
“Hate both sides” in fact, is not quite accurate, since in reality more often the invective is reserved only for the United States — as when he cheers for the terrorists on 9/11, not for us. But then compare the recent antiwar hysteria that equates Abu Ghraib with Saddam’s death jails, Guantanamo with the Gulag and Nazi death camps, and the terrorist killers in Iraq with Minutemen.
** How strange that about the time that Mr. Brecher’s article appeared, someone in fact did try to torch our vineyard, but managed only to scorch about 20 vines near the road before the nearby Mid-Valley Fire Department arrived to put out the fire.
“Burn, Fresno, Burn!” War Nerd prepares response to being suspended without pay.
Now here is Dr. Hanson’s correction to his mistakes in the above column. Note that he even misspells the column title, which should be “Dog Days”…
September 02, 2005, 7:18 a.m.
Our Dogs Days
AUTHORR’S NOTE: Correction: In last week’s essay, I referred to the wrong title of the website/newspaper that published Gary Brecher’s article, “Victor Hanson. Portrait of an American Traitor.” The online newspaper is called eXile , and the article can be found in the table of contents, under the subtitle “The War Nerd puts local Fresno academic Victor Hanson (Doctor Victor Hanson) on trial and recommends the firing squad.”
And now here is the email exchange between Ames and VDH:
From: Mark Ames [mailto: email@example.com]
Subject: letter from Moscow, Russia on Victor Hanson
Victor Hanson’s attack on one of my newspaper’s writers, Gary Brecher (“The Paranoid Style,” August 26), reveals an appalling level of intellectual laziness. Rather than engage the substance of Brecher’s argument — that Hanson should know, as an expert on Ancient Greek warfare, that the reason why insurgencies cannot be defeated in our post-WW2 world is that genocide is no longer tolerated, since genocide has been a key strategy in defeating insurgencies from the Ancient Greeks up through the imperial Europeans — instead, Hanson merely calls Brecher cheap playground names like “anarchist,” “fascist,” or whatever else helps him avoid serious debate (just as he labels Cindy Sheehan an “anti-Semite,” the biggest debate-squelcher of them all). Furthermore, Hanson suggests that Brecher set fire to his vineyard in his footnote at the bottom, as proof that Brecher is a terrorist. This is a highly irresponsible accusation to make, although it is also highly comical.
Dr. Hanson’s laziness is the most shocking feature of his writing. Consider the transitional sentence in which he mistakenly introduces our newspaper: “But if Myerson’s skewers facts and twists progress into abject failure, take the example of someone using the name Gary Brecher of Encore magazine.” Not only does he get the name of our newspaper, “The eXile,” wrong (this in spite of the fact that Dr. Hanson freely admits to having pored through our archives, suggesting that he spent a lot of time familiarizing himself with Brecher’s works), but the sentence makes no sense whatsoever. It simply stops dead halfway through the comparison to Meyerson, or rather, to “Meyerson’s” – Meyerson’s what? Shouldn’t he remind the reader? Basically, he’s saying, “But if Meyerson’s [sic]…take the example of Encore [sic]…” There is no link whatsoever between the two clauses. One wonders what the ancient Greek rhetoricians would have thought of such lazy logic. Probably they would have assessed Dr. Hanson’s rhetorical skills just as Brecher grades his military logic on the Iraq occupation: an unmitigated disaster.
From: victor hanson
Subject: Re: FW: letter from Moscow, Russia on Victor Hanson
Dear Mark Aimes,
I was sent your letter. Two typos occurred and were corrected in later versions on my website; a note of correction about your website title with a link is planned for the Friday column, along with the full title of the article and its listing in your table of contents.
That someone set a fire is on the record and can be verified with the Mid Valley Fire Dept. who stopped it from doing much more damage. When one writes about burning someone’s property, and thousands read it, it is completely reckless and constitutes a threat, as are other references such as “firing squad.” After your magazine printed that essay, I had numerous calls and emails about threats from your magazine, which prompted me to examine them. What “Brecher” wrote about me, as what he wrote about 9-11 was beyond normal journalism. I should say a number of readers also wrote that you, using a pseudonym, were in fact the real author of that attack, which I don’t put any credence in. In any case, the arson complaint, with pertinent information, is on file with the authorities and hope nothing more ensues.
From: Mark Ames [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: ‘victor hanson’
Subject: RE: FW: letter from Moscow, Russia on Victor Hanson
Dear Dr. Hanson,
My first response to this letter clearing up your typos and errors is that you misspelled my name. It’s “Ames,” not “Aimes.”
From: Mark Ames [mailto:email@example.com]
To: ‘victor hanson’
Subject: RE: FW: letter from Moscow, Russia on Victor Hanson
Dear Dr. Hanson,
I am trying to follow up on the arson attack you reported. Could you please tell me the date of the alleged arson report? I cannot get confirmation from the Mid Valley FD without a date (or address, but I understand you might be wary of giving that to me). In the meantime, I am suspending Gary Brecher this issue without pay.
An eXile phone call to the Fresno branch of the International Dyslexic Association
We were so worried about Dr. Hanson’s sloppy writing that we decided it was time for an intervention. Posing as his beleaguered editor at the National Review, we called the Fresno branch of the International Dyslexic Association…
eXile: Hi, is the International Dyslexic Association?
Front desk: Just one moment, I’ll get you that division.
eXile: Thank you.
Dr. N.: This is Dr. N——, may I help you?
eXile: Yes hi, I’m calling basically about a colleague whom I suspect might have dyslexia. I just had a few questions. First of all, I wanted to see if I should confront him with this, and how to do it tactfully.
Dr. N.: Sure.
eXile: This is a person who is quite an accomplished writer and academic, yet seems to make a lot of glaring spelling errors. He’s a professor at Fresno State, he writes for the Bee sometimes and writes regularly for the National Review Online. And even in columns he’s publishing at the National Review, and I work at the National Review, his columns are replete with big spelling mistakes that go online or else there’s a word that should be there and he uses a different word that sort of seems like it could fit. I guess the first question is, Is this a sign of dyslexia?
Dr. N.: Well, he could just be a crummy speller [laughs]. I guess I can’t answer that exactly. This person is educated and I’m assuming has many academic credentials. Dyslexia is a language processing disorder. Spelling is sort of like, like an artistic talent, either you have it or you don’t. You can improve it, if you’re a really horrible speller …
eXile: Well he’s already in his 50s and we have to deal with delicate ego situations and so on. I’m not saying that Dr. Hanson is… well, for example, one of the problems is that even in corrections that he makes online about two mistakes in a previous issue had mistakes. And we’re worried there are issues about editing him. I just got assigned to this and I’m getting sort of chewed out by a higher up. I’m having a problem approaching Dr. Hanson about this. It’s very glaring — I haven’t ever seen something as glaring as this in my professional career. It’s not like every third word, but particularly when two letters in a row that were addressing the issue of spelling errors and words that were wrong, twice in a row he made glaring spelling mistakes.
Dr. N.: You might just ask the gentleman, you might flat out ask him, “This is what I’ve seen, you’re making these errors, is this something new to you?” I mean, what if he had some neurological thing going on that just came on last year or so? He might say, no I’ve never had any problems until last year. Or he might say yes, all my life I’ve had difficulty spelling.
eXile: That’s interesting because just about exactly four years ago, from what another colleague said, some of the things he started writing were different and then there’s the spelling mistakes…
Dr. N.: Have you asked a family member or someone who worked with him five, ten years ago if there’s a difference? If you’re in your 50s — well, I’m older than that — it could be a mini-stroke.
eXile: I was wondering, do you think maybe marijuana use in his youth, does that have something to do with this?
Dr. N.: [laughs] Not that I know of, but they say it’s not good for cognition. If he was a heavy user in the past, who knows how many neurons are gone.
eXile: Well he was a UC Santa Cruz student in the ’70s…
Dr. N.: [laughs] Can you give me an example of a misuse of a word?
eXile : Yes, he was attacking a critic who attacked him at this magazine called the eXile, and he wrote it as Encore, even though he was making a detailed critique of the magazine. He actually attacked mistakes. Then he had an exchange with the editor of that magazine and misspelled the name of the editor. It was A-M-E-S, and he put A-I-M-E-S. And this is in the National Review Online, a big, influential Republican magazine out of Washington. And then in the next issue, when he made an author’s note about his mistakes, he wrote an “authorr’s” note in which he wanted to correct the spelling mistakes he made in the last issue.
Dr. N.: Now this isn’t just a poor keyboarding kind of thing? What about the intellectual content?
eXile: It’s been making less and less sense. He was quite a renowned Greek classicist through the mid 90s, and then something happened. Even for us, and we’re a pretty renowned Republican magazine, he’s been vigorously arguing a position in favor of continuing the Iraq war that even we find — and we’re supporters of it and of President Bush — even we find increasingly loopy and not very coherent. The arguments are not intellectually rigorous anymore. Maybe we are talking about a neurological event. Is that possible?
Dr. N.: From your position, when you’re getting manuscripts from a person who normally had good thinking skills and they seem to be off a little, I’d worry. The spelling things are mechanical and easily handled. As far as the content, if it’s starting to not make sense, you should send it back.
eXile: Well this guy’s a Prima Dona. Let’s get back to the mental deterioration. This is a man who used to write very complex, nuanced arguments tying Greek history to current events. In his last piece, he attacked Cindy Sheehan for being an anti-Semite, he was calling people socialists, anarchists, fascists. He accused somebody of setting fire to his vineyards. And it was full of spelling errors. It was…. I don’t know what to think.
Dr. N.: Well it doesn’t sound like dyslexia. Are we talking about Victor Davis Hanson?
Dr. N.: I read one of his books recently. The one about the valley.
eXile: That was then. In terms of the battery of tests, if I were to suggest it to him…
Dr. N.: He lives in this area, and I could send you a referral list. The fact that this man has been an accomplished writer he obviously had no difficulty with reading and writing in his past. If there is a change going on, I would be worried about other things. A mini-stroke or, well, you don’t want to say dementia, but something awry in the neurology. But you’re way out of my area of expertise.
eXile: One last thing I wanted to ask. Is there much of an ego issue?
Dr. N.: Well, I don’t know. I’d start with the spelling errors, and well, if the content is bizarre, well I don’t know how you’d address that. Other than you just don’t accept it as appropriate for publication. You can’t be calling people anti-Semites and fascists if they’re…
eXile: Yeah, this is a woman whose son died.
Dr. N.: You know, people’s political views sometimes get a little strange. The fact that this man has a doctorate, is renowned and, regardless of his political views, whether I agree with them or not, some kind of expertise in that area would make me think that whatever is going on is not dyslexia. This is an interesting conversation, I’ve never quite had one like it.
eXile: Thank you so much for your help.
Dr. N.: Thank you.
The second I had to quit daily blogging they got Osama. That was just one of the joys of starting a new job: Seeing all that great material wasted on mainstream journalists who have got to be the dumbest, most gullible cage-raised pullets ever born.
I couldn’t do a thing about it. This new job is much tougher than the last one. All the new jobs are much nastier than the old jobs, from what I can see. They know we’re all scared to death, so they can push us all harder. And you better smile too, unless you want to join the Guatemalans standing by the offramp for yard work.
So I’m giving the job most of what little energy I’ve got. But it was hard focusing on civilian paper while all this Osama stuff was happening. I’d groan out of bed, stuff my gut into a starched office shirt and choke myself with the brightest most optimistic tie in the closet—I actually pick the ugliest ones because I figure they say “Cheerful employee!” more than decent ones–and head off to work. The commute was the worst, because I can’t drive without the radio talking to me and that meant I had to hear them talking about the Osama raid. Haven’t heard that much absolute sportstalk stupidity since 2003.
Oh, I planned lots of columns, believe me. I’d have a great idea and plan to write it down when they weren’t watching at the office like I used to. But then I’d catch a sight of my fat neck in the rear-view mirror and think, “God, I have to button that top button!” And I’d try, and realize that even though I buy these 18 neck shirts the damn thing won’t button, so I have to try to hunch the knot of the tie up to hide the gap and watch for sudden brake lights so I don’t rear-end some asshole’s giant truck. I’m the last man in town to drive a sedan, apparently if your car can fit under an overpass you’re a wimp, so I can’t see anything but brake lights at eye level.
And I can’t hear anything on the radio but “Osama Dies Yellow.” You ever hear that line, “Rocky Dies Yellow”? It’s from an old gangster movie, Angels with Dirty Faces—my grandma liked those Cagney things and I sat through them for her sake. Cagney plays this gangster who’s going to the electric chair, still tough as whitleather, and this minister who preaches to a bunch of slum kids (those Hollywood brat actors, they’re the “angels” in the title) goes to see Cagney in the Death House and says, “Rocky, could you please die yellow? For the kids, see.” Meaning: Could you act all chickenshit when they drag you to the chair so the sweet little bad seeds I’m pastoring, who all think you’re the toughest guy in the world and idolize you, will have this sudden Paul-to-Saul moment and go, “Jeez, foddah, I getcha now, dis whole gangstuh rumpus ain’t on da up-n-up”—I can’t do the dialogue but something like that.
Cagney doing “scared”
The preacher’s idea is if Rocky dies yellow, they’ll all be so disgusted they’ll change their ways, stop with the switchblades and go be lawyers and bankers like the guys who got us where we are—and what could be better than that.
So Rocky the gangster puts on a big show of being “yellow” when they fry him, all “No, please, help, Ma, Oh, I’m such a scaredy-cat!” They didn’t go in for underacting in those days. And so Rocky goes to Heaven, because he did it For The Kids. Or to put it another way, lying is fine when it’s for The Kids.
The only difference with Osama is that they shot him first, then yellowed him up. It was as corny, as obvious, as plain ridiculous as that Cagney movie.
The first thing you heard was that Osama used his wife for a “human shield.”
Any time somebody does that in a movie you know they might as well put up a subtitle, “deserves to die horribly” or “bad man.” Remember Heat, that fucked-up movie with de Niro and Pacino supposedly LA cops though they acted more like Hollywood producers with badges? Tom Sizemore was one of the hoods in that movie, and at first you like his character, seems like a good criminal–right up to the scene where Sizemore grabs a schoolgirl and uses her as a “human shield.”
That’s supposed to tell you: “Attention please, Mr. Sizemore’s character is now officially a bad man, so please cheer when Mr. Pacino’s character takes him out.”
One little problem: It wasn’t true. Here’s the headline from the same paper one day later: “Osama Was Not Armed and Did Not Use Wife as Shield.”
They put the little mistake down to “confusion.” But this kind of wartime “confusion” is a cheap out, like Keegan’s stupid cliché, the “fog of war.” While we’re at it, lemme tell you Keegan’s why Keegan uses that catchphrase all the time. His angle is simple: The Brits are always right. That’s hard to argue when you’re doing military history, because most European officers laughed out loud when you said, “British officers.” British troops, yeah—tough bastards, great fighters, but British officers? Waterheads.
So Keegan has a whole lot of idiocy to explain when he takes you through his favorite Empire’s various fiascos—and that’s how “The Fog of War” was born. Churchill wasn’t the dumbest military strategist of the 20th century—oh no, it was just “The Fog of War.” Gallipoli? Not noticing that machinegun bullets are faster than infantry? “Fog o’ War.” Total collapse of Singapore, Hong Kong…sending Repulse and Prince of Wales out with no air cover? F.O.W., F.O.W., F.O.Frickin’ W. Might as well call it “Fog of Sandhurst.”
It’s not fog, it’s smoke, as in “blowing smoke.” That’s what they were doing with the nonsense about Osama going out like Tom Sizemore, guns blazing, poor wifey held in front of him: Put the picture in the suckers’ heads first. Then, by the time you have to give the correction, everybody’s stuck with this Naked Gun scene of Osama shooting it out with the SEALs.
The only time you can blame the “fog” or “confusion” is when it goes the other way—first reports say Osama was shot unarmed, and didn’t use his wife as a shield, and then it comes out he did both. But don’t worry, that’ll never happen.
Next story was the reappearance of Goofy the Bounty Hunter, aka Gary Faulkner.
Faulkner negotiating: “How ’bout TWO million then?”
You might remember Faulkner if you follow news of the stupid. He was a one-hit character straight out of South Park, an unemployed Colorado mental patient who announced he was going to stalk Osama and kill him and claim the $25 million reward:
“Faulkner was found last year in the woods of northern Pakistan armed with a pistol, sword and night-vision goggles. The Greeley, Colorado, man says he believes he had a hand in forcing bin Laden out of the mountains where he supposedly was hiding.”
Faulkner is poster boy, an extreme case, of what’s wrong with the way American war nerds think. When they find him, he’s loaded down with gadgets, armed to the teeth right down to the Samurai sword from some Tarantino movie. But I will bet you anything you want that Gary Faulkner didn’t bother to learn a single one of the local languages before he loaded up for bear and started sneaking around Pakistan. That means the only way he’d ever find Osama is if he hitched a ride and Osama was driving. That’d be a good movie, like an update of that old movie Melvin and Howard where some hick picks up Howard Hughes in the desert and wants a chunk of the old nut’s billions: Osama and Gary, they could call it, and the big climax would be when Gary thanks Osama for the ride and saws his head off with the Samurai sword, which would be kind of awkward actually in a truck cab, not enough space for a real Samurai home-run swing (which is why people use knives, not swords, Faulkner, ya dummy!).
But in the grownup world, you couldn’t find the Fresno Chamber of Commerce by sneaking around with that gear.
Imagine a Pashtun tribesman who gets offered $25 million to go to Bakersfield and find some landmark, say the Barnes Cabin. This cabin is a big thing in Bakersfield, at least it was when the place was Okie. Barnes was an ex-Confederate who invalided out to Kern County—two sure proofs he was an idiot, he fought for the Planters and he moved to Kern County—but we went on a field trip, stood around looking at this Clampitt cabin going, “So?”
Mister Pashtun could try finding the old shed with night-vision goggles, an AK and a Samurai sword. But even if he didn’t get arrested, which he would—even if we just make a rule, “OK, this guy is also invisible to the police”—even then, he would never, ever find that cabin. He might bust into some houses in my old neighborhood where the people had gotten old and crazy because some of them looked a lot like a log cabin after about 40 years of senility and stray cats, but he wouldn’t find the official Barnes Holy Shack in a million years.
He’d wander around Bakersfield for eternity. Maybe that’s what Hell is, actually: billions of Pashtun ghosts wandering around Bakersfield. It’d be my idea of Hell anyway, especially in August. And when us Bakersfielders die, we have to wander around Waziristan like Faulkner. Nasty idea. Good thing Brother Archie never threatened us with that or I’d still be in the pews.
So how could Mister Pashtun actually find the cabin? Duh: He has to ask somebody. He has to schmooze. He has to bury that AK,sell the Samurai sword to the sodomite pawnbroker in Pulp Fiction so Willis can use it on him later in the movie, ditch the night-vision goggles and learn the local language, which in Bakersfield is English more or less—not Spanish, because Mexicans don’t get all weepy about old Anglo shacks. This Pashtun dude would have to shave, and smile like Mohammed Atta at the boarding gate, and come up with a good back story to explain why he’s there. My suggestion: He should tell them he’s a Christian Iraqi who was liberated by our troops. Do that, and the suckers would literally drive Mr. Pashtun to that cabin with tears in their eyes.
So this Faulkner—let’s pretend he was sane and intelligent for a second—would have to do the same stuff in reverse. Learn Pashto, schmooze–Above all,find some excuse for being there in the first place.
There are only two things that’d bring an American to that messed-up backwater; one’s CIA and the other’s opium. (Not that there’s a total split between the two—in fact, I wonder if they found Osama thanks to a drug connection: “Hey Hamid, we’ll let you send 150 keys straight to Manhattan if you give up the big guy!”)
So logically, the way to settle in to Waziristan would be marry a couple of the local girls, put a few hundred thousand into the opium business and sit in the tea houses bullshitting with your in-laws hoping to hear something. If Faulkner had a huge run of idiot’s luck, he might last long enough in the opium-smuggling business to maybe, maybe, hear somebody who couldn’t handle his high babbling about Osama. And if the idiot’s luck held, that one blurt might be the one out of a thousand that’s not bullshit. And that might get him somewhere.
Opium dealers talking product
So there’s another angle on irregular warfare nobody likes (or admits they like anyway): dealing drugs. A huge, huge part of most insurgencies. Pimping, dealing, joining the police or army—somehow or other, you’re going to have to do something totally sleazy. You say you’re ready to kill and die for whatever crap it is you believe in? Killing and dying, those are the easy parts. The clean parts. Not anywhere near the most important parts.
Irregular warfare is a social thing. That’s the last thing most of us want to face because most of you are like me, you don’t like people that much and want a nice clean war to cut down on them a little. I know, I know, me too, but if you want that you need a conventional army, which couldn’t find Osama either. If you want to do a job like that, it’s like my last boss loved to lecture me, “Gary, you can’t be afraid to talk to people.”
This leads me to maybe the most depressing thing I ever thought. You know who’d be good at guerrilla war? Ugh, I can’t say it. No, it has to be said. You know who’d be good at guerrilla war? Cheerleaders. What with the social skills and the pillow talk thing and…it’s too depressing and I’m not going to go on about it, but it had to be said. Jesus, what a world.
Maybe actually it’d be better to hire a high-price hooker, instead of a cheerleader. Yeah, that’s not so depressing somehow. Parachute someone like that into Waziristan and she’d get them talking…no, wait, they like boys—well, the male equivalent.
Or one of these expensive lesbian whores that specialize in women producers in LA. “Portia, America needs you to go to Waziristan! Ellen will wait for you and besides you might learn some stuff she’ll like from them Muzzie girls!” I bet there’s a lot of dykey angry multiple wives in Waziristan and I bet they know a lot more than their idiot husbands think. Slip one of them into the local chief’s harem and see what you get. I The Turkish lobby rented one to screw-and-blackmail Jan Schakowsky, a bleeding-heart Illinois crony of Obama. If it’s good enough for the US congress, it’s probably good enough for illiterate Pashtun wife-stock.
Jeez, I’m going to stop talking about this. War is one thing, drug dealing, OK…but pimping, that’s where I draw the line. I can do that, because I’m just an armchair irregular. But a real guerrilla can’t afford to draw that line or any line. A guerrilla NEEDS to be a pimp—among a lot of other things. A people person, in all the worst ways.
Gary Faulkner was not a people person, unless you count talking the voices in his head. And even if he had been, he was something like 40 years old when he hit Pakistan. He’s going to learn Pashtun at that age, when he’s probably never learned another language in his life, even menu Spanish? Ni modo.
He’s going to do what he ended up doing: Wandering around the hills—the only reason they didn’t shoot him must be they were laughing too hard—seeing if Osama shows up better when he put on his night-vision goggles. It’s the ultimate in gadget-fan stupid: “I got these cool goggles so if Osama is around he’ll light up like ultraviolet rocks!”
Sorry, Faulkner. All credit to you for having the titanium gonads to claim $7 million in reward money for not finding Osama, though. That’s real laser-bright logic: He says he “had a hand in forcing bin Laden out of the mountains.” Yes sir, you forced him to hunker down in a giant mansion in a vacation resort. That’s some forcin’ Faulkner.
Ever hear the joke about the elephant repellent? It ought to be the official joke of the whole counter-terrorism profession, engraved on the CIA’s HQ at Langley. But it fits Faulkner even better than the rest of the phonies. Goes like this: A guest asks asks, “What’s that weird ornament hanging there?”
The host say, “It’s elephant repellent.”
“Elephant repellent? There’s not an elephant in 10,000 miles of here!
“See? It works!”
Once Faulkner did his comic relief bit, the news people got back to the supposedly serious business. Which turned out to be nothing but more gadget-worship. For a day or so, all you heard about was the helicopters they used to get in and out of Abbottabad.
And there were lots of pictures of them, mostly from Pakistanis’ cell cameras. Because, uh…one of these top-secret hi-tech wonders of engineering, uh, kinda…crashed. Whoops!
Wizbang Chopper in Osama’s Yard (with privacy fence)
Now, I’m not making fun of the choppers or pilots or even claiming anybody messed up; choppers are inherently air-worthless under anything but perfect conditions, and the official explanation that it was high temperatures and altitude that sucked the air from under the crashed helicopter makes perfect sense.
Still, it was weird how everybody was looking at the pictures of the crashed helicopter like relics of a higher alien technology. They landed three and lost one; no reason to treat these machines like miracles.
The miracle, if there was any miracle in finding a guy who’s 6’5” (can’t exactly melt into a crowd at that height) after ten years of trying, belongs to whoever told the US where he was. It’s a people thing, in other words. But all we heard was gadgets, the magic choppers.
Jeez, It’s a machine, it’s just a muffled Blackhawk, “stealthed” up to be a little quieter and smaller on a radar screen than the production model, that’s all. And if you have to worship any chopper, why not the standard-issue Blackhawk? That is a truly fine craft, a real success, and nobody worships it. I’d bet any three Blackhawks off the assembly line could have done as well as the fancy souped-up models they sent.
But the hard part wasn’t killing Osama—Gary frickin’ Faulkner could’ve killed him. He looks pretty much dead already on the home video they released. I could’ve walked up and killed him, and I breathe hard going up three steps.
The hard part was finding him. And no chopper, no buffed SEAL, no cool NSA traffic analysis found Osama. A snitch did. Some sleaze of an informer fingered him, that’s how he was got.
It was like somebody finally half-figured out that this was about people, not gadgets, because the next phase of news nonsense was definitely people-focused. But in an embarrassing, totally off-base way, naturally. This was when the Navy SEAL cult that’s been perking along for a while finally percolated down to the great mass of dummies out there.
And what they want is Rambo all over again: muscles. Ripped. For a while it was like the whole world was doing gay porn. Just check out this bit from the Washington Post (I’m noticing that it’s always the Post that runs the most embarrassing, fake stuff. I thought they were respectable, but not from what I see). This is a Post writer quoting the idiot who wrote something called Rogue Warrior on what a Navy SEAL would look like. The guy seems to be just making up something from his own lousy book:
“He’ll be ripped,” says the author of the best-selling autobiography “ Rogue Warrior .” “He’s got a lot of upper-body strength. Long arms. Thin waist. Flat tummy.”
This gets me down even more than squeezing into work clothes. It’s bullshit anyway; Subotai was fat, damn it. Audie Murphy was 5’7.” The average VC had less muscle tissue than a Safeway chicken. They just won’t face the fact that the real hero here was a snitch, a snitch whose name we’ll probably never know. (He better hope we don’t, because if we know, both Talibans know too.)
It’s worth imagining that the snitch was the ugliest, fattest, wheeziest, lyingest, most treacherous Waziri you can imagine. Which he probably was, because snitching isn’t an aerobic exercise. He made it happen, this fat unwashed money-hungry, probably opium-dealing, sleaze. Keep that in mind. It cures you of all this gym-bred muscle-worship.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect the Hell out of the Seals. They’re very good, and unlike those three-letter agencies, they really do stuff, all the time. A lot in the middle east that you only vaguely hear about a long time later. Guy I know in one of those three-letter agencies wrote me years ago, “Frankly, if one of our guys says, ‘We’re doing a lot you don’ t hear about,’ you shouldn’t believe it. But when the Seals say that, you can believe it.”
The news creeps sniffed around for more dirt on Osama’s “compound” for days. As far as I know, they didn’t come up with much. Some of the funniest bits were the “vanity” thing, and the porn.
The vanity charge came from a home video clip released by the CIA showing Osama looking at old TV pictures of himself after 9/11. Whoever shot the video thought he was a great director because it starts out with just the TV screen and then pans back to Osama on the couch. The camera—I think whoever made the video, Mrs. Osama or one of the bodyguards, thought this was a funny joke or something, “Look! First here is Osama on television, now we follow the tv wire and look, ha ha, at the other end of the wire there is Osama himself, live and in person! Ha ha, what a funny joke on the Americans!”
As part of the whole smear-the-dead-guy routine, this video was supposed to show you what a conceited jerk Osama is. That was the official talking point, and it got around so fast that in a few days it was a talking point that you could use for anything else you wanted to talk about. Like here’s a column about, I don’t even know, reality shows or some girly crap like that, and this “humorous” lady writing it drags in Osama watching tv:
“Even Osama, lurking in his bunker, had his eyes glued to the television, huddled in the seasick glow of his own image. It was the one indelible moment of the last week.
Forget Norma Desmond. He looked like Gollum.”
Man, that’s writing, lady. That’s some kick-ass writing you did there, like “lurking in his bunker…” Except, uh, not to quibble, Ma’am, but that “bunker” was a goddamn mansion next door to an official Pakistani military academy, with a lot more than lurkin’ room. (We’re not going to have to rehash the “Did Pakistan know?” question here, are we? Of course they knew, Jesus).
She just goes on with the capital-R riting: “…had his eyes glued…huddled in the seasick glow of his own image.” Whoo, “seasick glow”! I bet you were an English major. Cuz we all know TV looks different when it reflects on terrorists, they’re like vampires that way.
And finally, “Forget Norma Desmond.” OK, fine. Easy, because I don’t know who she is and I’m not even going to google any name brought up by an idiot like this. So instead of our pal Norma, “He looked like Gollum.” Well, at least I know who Gollum is, but here’s a little witty repartee, Ma’am: no he fucking didn’t look like Gollum! He didn’t look like Gollum at all! He hardly even looked like Osama. Gollum looked pretty cool in a starved dangerous way; Osama just looked old and sad, like any Pakistani grandpa. If they say that was Osama, OK, it’s possible, maybe likely, but not on visual ID. On visual ID, that could be about a hundred million sick old Paki or Indian men. Maybe it’s the Nehru hat, I don’t know, or maybe because I used to go over to this half-Pak guy’s house as a kid and he had a grandpa who sat just like that in front of the tv. Same blanket over his shoulders even though it was Bakersfield, same drool, same whole thing, you’d say “Hello Mister Bhullar!” and he’d go, “Eennh” and sort of half wave his good hand and then it was back to Wheel of Fortune.
That’s what Osama really looked like: A sick old man. And he didn’t look vain, he looked depressed as Hell, for obvious reasons: There’s a younger and healthier Osama on TV climbing around Tora Bora in the video (although he didn’t look too spry even back in that video) and here I am now, a trembly old grandpa wearing a blanket in the heat. If this is great movie-making here, it’s the classic “poor old dude remembering his days of greatness” deal.
By this time, a chimp could have programmed the next step in the Osama Dies Yellow story: Some kind of sexual dirt. And right on time, out it came: “Porn Found in Osama Hideout.” And not just porn, either, but “Hardcore Porn.”
Of course Osama had several bodyguards who were young guys, stuck in a compound where all the women belonged to the big fella, so it’s not totally surprising one of them brought some videos to do one-handed curls with. But that’s not the way the story played. It was “…could fuel accusastions of hypocrisy,” which is chickenshit press-talk for “Osama was a perv phony.”
It was hard watching all this when I couldn’t talk back. Doing that blog was getting very comfortable to me, made me feel like I could laugh off all the lies because I got to talk back to them. But with work, no time. So I had to sit there in traffic with a tie choking me and just take it. Suddenly it was angry-world all over again. I’d just sit there waiting for the turn light to go green so I could legitimately honk at the idiots who take three seconds to move, like they need official verification that green means go, and grind my teeth wondering, When did everybody get so stupid?
For some reason I notice it most when I’m driving. I thought when I got to be over 40 I’d notice me slowing down and everybody else getting faster but people half my age drive like grandma. And they think worse than they drive. The same way, but worse: like old ladies. Safe and ultra-cautious and happy to be slow-witted. Safe It’s like if you’re not dumb and super-cautious and scared of being called “inappropriate” now, you feel weird.
What got lost in all the gibberish was what Osama’s death means, what Al Qaeda amounted to—the real questions. I want to talk about them next. If I make it through the week.
You’re gonna have to give me the weekend off. I moved yesterday. To a new town, new job. Trusted Google Maps to get me there. Don’t ever do that. That’s what I think must have happened to that famous lost army: They used an early version of Google Maps.
I got there all right, but 45 minutes late. Great way to be introduced to your new co-workers. I had to change in the car, a great way to remind yourself of your waistline. I made the horn go off at the worst possible moment, reaching for the shiny new pair of shoes with the pants not as up as I thought. Parking Lot M hasn’t seen that much fun in a long time.
Then they took me around the office. Helpful. Seems my coat collar was up in back. Fixed that.
I couldn’t stop sweating. That’s what happens when a fat man runs through an office complex looking for his new building.
Nobody else was sweating. They looked like they could have leaned back and had a nap, they were so relaxed. But I kept wiping the sweat off my forehead, fixing my pants, and trying to use all the cheerful/team player lines I’d rehearsed on the 87-mile detour Google took me on.
They haven’t said I’m fired yet, so maybe the impression will wear off. Gonna come to work early, lose weight, all the usual lies.
But anyway, the upshot is I can’t blog today. I’ve done my best, 40 days and 40 nights, but you have to give me the weekend off. For the next two days I’m not going to be able to hear much except the yuppies laughing when my belly made the horn go off.
Would you like to know more? Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to gary dot brecher at gmail dot com. Read Gary Brecher’s first ever War Nerd column by clicking here. The rest of his stuff is here.
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