While we wait for Egypt to finish cooking, there’s some great footage to watch. It may not be warfare as practiced by Lee and Grant, but it’s weirdly close to what urban combat must have been like before firearms. If you watch this clip from Al Jazeera—and let me say now, thank God, Allah or Odin, whoever, for Al Jazeera. Best network around, actual reporters on the ground in places other networks are too cheap or chicken to go.
What you’ll see in this clip is the quick transition from “peaceful demonstration” to urban warfare in Tahrir Square, the big zocalo in Cairo. Of course these transitions from “peaceful” to violence aren’t all that clear down at street level. Even before rocks start flying, you’ve got a huge crowd of young males screaming as loud as they can, pushing each other to do something. And in a place like Egypt, just standing out in the street facing the cops is doing something in a big way. You can die that way, like one demonstrator did in another video from Egypt. It’s a classic video. What it shows you is the answer to the question, “Who’d be the first to die of all the guys you know?” And the answer, unfortunately, is, “The bravest one, the one who really believes in what he’s doing.” That’s what you see here: this guy doesn’t notice that all his friends have slunk off, and he keeps flinging rocks at the cops. Then there’s one shot. He falls down with a bullet in his head. It’s funny, you know: you could make an argument against war from that, you could say that the first thing war does is weed all the bravest guys out of the gene pool. It would explain a lot, actually, like what happened to the Italians. Maybe the Romans just used up the brave ones. (more…)
Posted: February 2nd, 2011
“You know, win or lose, I gotta say I love my day job”: The Pashtun positive work ethic
I’ve been watching the news out of Afg—I like it spelled that way, “Afg”; kinda gets the spirit of the thing. The Afg news is simple: those Pashtun boys are keeping a hand in, having a good time, while they wait for a better offer.
A few weeks ago I read a story about a Stryker brigade leaving the Pashtun zone of Afghanistan. The funniest bit was this quote by a staff sergeant: “We set the tone there, and the biggest worry that my guys have is that what we did there will be forgotten. One thing is certain. If you ask the Taliban, they know who we are.” In my day they had a name for that kind of talk: selling woof tickets. It’s just plain sad when you leave a combat zone and the best you can say is that they won’t forget me, like some Summer Bible Study girl making the guy she held hands with in the pew swear he won’t forget her back home in Camarillo.
Posted: December 30th, 2010
This article was first published by AlterNet.
If you didn’t know better, you’d get all excited reading about the Army’s new shoulder-fired cannon, the XM-25. It’s being hyped as a “game-changing” weapon that will literally blow the Taliban out of their hiding places and turn the tide in Afghanistan.
The XM25 is the kind of weapon a kid likes to dream about. It’s basically a “smart,” user-friendly shoulder-fired grenade launcher. It shoots 25mm fragmentation grenades that explode at a pre-set distance. And you don’t need to be a math prof to calculate the distance; the weapon talks to itself, the laser sight basically telling the round when it has to explode.
So suppose I’m a soldier trying to deal with a sniper firing from behind a window in an Iraqi city, or popping up from behind some adobe wall, irrigation ditch or boulder in Afghanistan. In that situation you could blast away all day with a pure line-of-sight weapon like a typical automatic rifle, and you’d just make a lot of dust without hitting anybody. (more…)
Posted: December 20th, 2010
Guess I should start this off with Korea, the North hammering that Southern island and the South responding like a big sister dealing with her autistic little brother: “Ow, I wonder what made him hit me in the face that time. Maybe his diaper needs changing.” We knew a family who actually had an autistic son like that, a huge handsome athletic-looking guy whose stereo wires had come unhooked some time around second grade, and if you went over to their house when he was around you definitely wanted to stay out of kicking, biting and punching range. He never telegraphed his bites or punches. Pro fighters could have taken lessons from him. He’s giggling at some private brain-damaged little joke on the sofa next to you and wham! You’re seeing cartoon birdies, and his sister and mom are busy trying to help him relax. “What’s wrong, Kenny? Kenny? Honey?” And you’re lying sideways on the couch like Chuck Liddell after his manager talked him into trying the Rampage Jackson road to the title one more time. They don’t even notice you; all they care about is calming “little” Kenny (who was a head taller than me) down again.
I can understand that kind of behavior—Korea hasn’t had a very cheerful history, they lost God knows how many people in the last war, maybe two million, they have a lot of good reasons not to go to war with themselves again—but excuse me if it doesn’t turn me on much.
Posted: November 26th, 2010
I know, I know, I’ve been AWOL a long time. Shoot me. No, seriously. I wouldn’t object. It’d be great to get shot, as long as it was quick and fatal, not somewhere like the shin, where you scream like a raccoon from the pain and don’t even die. Shot nice and quick by a firing squad, that’s the dream. When that redneck demanded capital punishment by firing squad in Utah, I was as jealous as I used to get reading about Hannibal and Forrest. Lucky bald-headed Aryan Brotherhood bastard: what a way to go! He suckered those Mormons all the way. Lethal injection, now that’s scary: die on a table with tubes going up your elbow? That’s too much like how I’m going to die for reals (and how you’ll die too, even if you don’t want to think about it). But getting shot in the heart—that’s making something of yourself. Be shot. (more…)
When the fourth of July rolls around, you’re supposed to think of, I don’t know, the Constitution and backyard cookouts like in old Chevy ads—but for me, it’s really Gettysburg we’re celebrating. Greatest battle in American history.
But the battle, for me and millions of other war-nerd kids growing up on stories of Little Round Top, the fish-hook line, and what Ewell coulda shoulda woulda done at Cemetery Hill. My grandfather from my mom’s side, the more hardcore side of the family, used to mutter about “that man” who lost the war for us, “us” being the Confederacy, but he’d never say a name, so I grew up with this real downer of a notion that there was some kind of traitor in the ranks so plain evil you couldn’t say his name, like the bad wizard in those Potter movies. (more…)
This article was first published in The eXile on February 19, 2004.
Haiti popped into the news again, and I decided it was time to tell the whole military history of the place. It’s got to be the most amazing, bloodsoaked, heroic, messed-up story in the Western Hemisphere: slave armies defeating Napoleon’s troops, huge castles built in the middle of the jungle, endless three-cornered war between whites, blacks and mulattos…it’s just incredible. In fact, it’s so wild and complex I’m going to have to divide it into two columns. This one will cover Haiti up to independence in 1803. Next issue I’ll bring it from there to the present.
Haiti is like the big slaughterhouse across the tracks: you kind of know what goes on in there, but you’d rather not think about it. (more…)
Posted: January 13th, 2010