But when the local version of the IRS stops getting taxes from the peasants — that’s when the authorities really get grim. You can mess with the army and the cops, but don’t mess with the tax collectors. When the government stops getting taxes, they use the only leverage they’ve got: they send the army to get their money at gunpoint. The Maoists are doing the same thing to the villagers at night. Not a happy time to be a Nepalese villager, especially when the rebels are known to use some pretty extreme penalties for late payment of tax — such as crushing people’s arms and legs with big rocks.
Squeezing the peasants between two forces like this is part of Mao’s big plan. The idea is to drive the peasants so damn crazy they’ll finally be ready to fight. The soldiers actually help the Maoists at this stage by lame attempts at reprisal: they’ll almost always grab the wrong people, torture them, and end up radicalizing whole families, whole villages. The Maoist cadre won’t be touched; they’re hiding deeper in the hills. But every time the cops beat somebody to death, all his cousins become recruits. So the meaner the cops get, the stupider they get, the better for the revolution.
This is where that old commie line about making omelets and breaking eggs comes into play big-time. The more the cops and soldiers terrorize the locals, the more isolated the Army ends up in their sandbagged barracks. Nobody feeds them intelligence any more; they’re holed up, always on the defensive, no longer capable of choosing the time and place for combat.
That’s when the slow, boa-constrictor Maoist plan switches over to the offensive. The Maoists focus on numbers and surprise. A few months ago the Maoists attacked a police barracks in Gam, in western Nepal. There were at least a thousand of them, yelling, waving torches, shouting slogans. They overran the base and hacked to death every cop or soldier they found, at least 70 dead. The Maoists lost maybe 200 — if you can believe the cops — but that’s not important. A victory like that spreads through the villages instantly. The peasants — and remember, these people are used to being bought and sold like cattle — suddenly realize they can take on the army and win.
They’re riding high right now, but where do they go from here? That’s the problem. Suppose the Maoists beat the Nepalese Army. Would India let that happen? India thinks of Nepal as sort of a kid brother-annoying but part of the family. The Indian Army may not be good enough to fight a real war, but it sure as hell could squash the Maoists in Nepal. It’s had a lot of practice with this sort of war, in other hellholes like Bihar. It could easily bring in enough troops for the 25:1 ratio you need to flush out and destroy rural guerrillas.
And it’s not likely the original Maoists, the Chinese, are going to help the guerrillas. They’ve got other things on their minds: profit margins, export ratios — money, money, money. I kinda like imagining a meeting between one of these Nepalese gung-ho Maoist rebels and Zhiang Zemin. “You, the party of Mao, must help us overthrow the landlord elite!” “Um, sorry, but all our cash is tied up in short-term Citicorp bonds. How would your revolutionary peasants like to invest in our new Shanghai enterprise zone?”
It must be kind of discouraging to be a Maoist; who can you count on these days? The only real friends the Nepalese Maoists have are the leftovers of those crazy Peruvian guerrillas, the Shining Path. Remember them? They were like the one-hit wonder of eighties guerrilla warfare: dynamite-throwin’, machete-choppin’, Incas who made Peru a lively place.
And with friends like Shining Path, well…you ain’t got no friends. So the Nepalese Maoists are up against it in the long run. They may win inside Nepal, but their talk about “planting the red flag on Mount Everest” ain’t gonna happen. Where would Dianne Feinstein go trekking? The folks who run this world wouldn’t let anything get in the way of their expeditions up K2 or Everest. They’d bribe the Indian Army to waddle in like a big fat Sumo and squash the Maoists.
And there wouldn’t be a damn thing Shining Path, on the run down in Peru, could do to help. But that brings me to the last big mystery here, the same one I started out with: the hippies. I mean, what is it with hippies and hi-altitude peasant rebellions anyway? First it was Shining Path — remember back in the late 80s, all the hippies were wearing those wool Inca hats that looked like wool versions of 14th-c. man-at-arms helmets? And now, in all the little grimy coffee places where the local alternos hang in Fresno, they’re all wearing those ratty cloth over-the-shoulder bags you get from Nepal.
What is it with these people? Is there like some kind of romance to low-oxygen poverty and dirt?
There’s a punch line coming for all the hippie tourists who take the pilgrimage to Nepal, though. See, the Maoists haven’t touched a single tourist yet. Not one. Interesting, huh? Odds are they’re not sparing the scruffy guesthouse types out of softheartedness. Qualms ain’t on the menu when you’re running a Maoist insurrection. So they’re probably saving it up for something real, real big. And I have to admit, it cracks me up to think of a whole busload of hairy Californians playing hostage, shoved into a freezing cave in the Himalayas, guarded by lice-ridden crazy peasants whose idea of fun is bringing big ol’ rocks down on people’s arms and legs.
That’ll teach those hippie girls in high school to tell me I should “lose some weight.” I didn’t mind it when the white-trash skanks called me “Lardo” — that trash doesn’t know any better. But it got to me, I admit it, when the — whatever you’d call’em, grunge girls or neo-beatnik chicks or whatever — when they did it. I mean, their parents went to college and all, you sort of expected them to be a little better.
So I’m just kinda waiting here, for the day the Nepalese Maoists decide to go for the tourists, kidnap a bus of longhaired suburban girls looking for spiritual enlightenment. Talk about losing weight — yeah, they’ll lose some weight in that fucking cave. Did you see that [sic] letter from some girl named “Avril” who wanted me to read her peace poem and “think about it”? She’s just the kind I’m talking about it. Anybody want to chip in on a one-way ticket to Nepal for Avril? It’ll be real, real spiritual.
This article was first published in The eXile on November 27, 2002
Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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