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The War Nerd / November 26, 2010

north korea shelling1

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.


So a quick prediction about Korea and I’m movin’ on to happier stuff.

Prediction: What’s going to happen? Nothing. Noise. Bullshit Kremlinology about what the artillery attack means: It’s Kim III’s way of asserting power, or it’s his enemies’ way of asserting power, or it’s the NKPA’s way of asserting power against the politicians…I say just blame autism. Why not? You can blame autism for anything these days. Just say, “You can’t blame poor NK, he’s autistic.” Always makes me laugh, that “He’s autistic” thing. Like somebody from Brooklyn talking about Picasso: “He’s autistic? Whyn’cha buy’im some paints an’a caaaanvas den, huh?”

NK has nothing to lose except its rep for being bad, being stone crazy. SK has everything to lose; the whole country is like that glass house, the one they say you shouldn’t throw rocks from. Even if the South didn’t have this pitiful “poor little autistic brother” attitude toward the north, they’d have cold hard reason to wimp out, no matter what the provocation. Hyundai’s just making its Toyota move, shifting from base-model up to the SUVs and luxury sedans where the  real profits get made. They can’t afford to get blasted back to competing for third place as the world’s leading exporters of barley noodles.

It’s a watched pot, the Korean Peninsula, it’s never gonna boil and I’m sick of watching it. Africa is the last homeland of real war, and now that Nkunda’s Nneutered, Africa is fading too.

I think I’ll go back to the past, when wars were wars and people painted these cool pictures of them without getting squeamish. I’ve decided I’ll do a picture tour of great war paintings, and to start off, a Thanksgiving treat: Washington Crossing the Delaware. I don’t do Thanksgiving myself, on accounta God is not a big friend of mine—we don’t talk, just like me and my mother’s side of the family; in fact God is a lot like that side of the family, which is probably why they all believe he’s one of them, a Tamplen under all that Jewish OT fancypants clothes.

But I’ve got nothing against it for other people; eat and get fat and I won’t feel so bad when I see myself in store windows (damn things pop out at unexpected angles, mirror you when you least expect or want it). So if you get tired of BCS BS on TV, here’s why I love that picture, no matter how many times I’ve seen it made fun of in cartoons.

First of all, It’s COLD in that painting. Everything about it says cold; you don’t really appreciate it until you see it fullsize, like I did when I had to go to this DMV office where they had a fullsize reproduction.

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I imagine everybody knows the history here: It’s December 25, 1776. Washington and his 2400 Continentals are on their way to surprise the 1400 Hessian mercenaries celebrating Christmas. The rebels desperately need a victory because the British regulars have been shoving them around like Assistant Directors on a Hollywood set.

There’s a cultural thing here most people don’t realize, though: Christmas was a German  thing back then. The English before Dickens and all that Tiny Tim stuff had a weirdly nasty hate going on for the old Jingle Bells, so they didn’t mind working, as in attacking, on the holiday—whereas to the Germans it was the big day of the year. So Christmas Day was the perfect time to attack the Hessians, who were already miserable, sold by their little princeling masters as cannon fodder to the Brits. Germans started all the Xmas traditions, the tree and the bearded guy and all that, but their biggest tradition was getting drunk out of their minds and stuffing themselves with as much animal fat as they could steal from the locals.

Keep in mind, the Germans weren’t great soldiers back then. They were the best, no question, man-for-man, in the 20th century, but it took a long time to make that tradition. German troops in the 1700s weren’t worth much outside of Prussia, and the Prussian Army was only German at officer level. The ranks were the scum of Europe, kept in line with beatings for breakfast, whippings for lunch and hanging for dinner. And even the Prussians were going to spend another half century losing to the French—that’s right, the French…don’t even get me started on that stereotype again.

These Germans were no Prussians, just depressed serfs in uniform, hoping to drink it all away for a few hours. They were warned Washington was coming—there’s always a snitch in the neighborhood, especially in Jersey from what I hear—but Col. Rahl, the Hessian commander, wasn’t going to let that get in the way of the schnapps and brew. They figured nobody was going to cross the river and come after them in that freezing cold.

The sky is the first thing you notice: it’s Christmas, back when December meant something. Like death. Lots of old sayings from those days about dying in Winter. The sky in the painting is pure winter: the sun’s so low you can’t see it. It’s just a rumor, kind of making a dome in the middle of pure cold dark. Naturally, the dome centers on The General, but that just leads you, or leads me anyway, to think what I  always feel looking at those Valley Forge pictures: “DAMN, the late 1700s were a rotten time to be out in the cold!” Not only was it the tail-end of the Little Ice Age that killed off the Viking settlements in Greenland—I mean you have to be pretty serious to kill off Viking settlers, they hung on to real estate once they’d hacked their way to full title—but those damn Founding Fathers clothes!

Valley Forge

Anybody else feel like this, “Thank god I don’t have to wear those revolutionary clothes!”? For one thing, they’d be death to a fat man like me. Tight white pants and an open blue coat! It’s like it was designed to embarrass you: “Hello, World, meet my big Founding gut!” Not that there were a lot of fat guys in the Revolution (though there were a few, like Henry Knox, the artilleryman, and Nathanael [sic] Greene, who was one of Washington’s commanders at Trento). They were probably admired for being fat, actually; when fat’s not all around you, maybe it seems cool. Something I learned in my one econ class: “The Scarcity Theory of Value.” Of course your only chance for a big white-vested gut like Knox’s or Greene’s was general rank—no way an enlisted man was going to bulk up, shivering in a lean-to listening to the wind tell you it was on the Brits’ side.

What you really need in the cold is a hat, and that’s where the Founding Fathers really must have been the shivering Quakers. Those three-cornered hats—I never did get what they were about. It seriously occupied a lot of my mental time when I was a kid: what’s with the three-cornered hats? Why, God, why? God gave hats a brim for a reason! Why pin it up, and if you have to, why not pin it up cavalry style, like Larry Storch in F Troop, not this prissy, ridiculous three-corner style? One guy, on the near side of the boat, seems to have figured that out; he’s got his hat pinned up just like Cpl Agarn. We know the wind’s blowing hard in the painting because another unlucky dude near the back of the boat, probably an officer and required to wear the three-cornered thing, is trying hard to hold his hat on with one hand. Why’d you pin it up like an old lady then, huh?

If you look closely at the painting you can see an incredible variety of headgear, and almost all of it is an improvement on Washington’s three-corner trademark. There’s a guy near the front of the boat, shoving an ice floe out of the way with his oar, who’s wearing a kind of fur-lined tam-o-shanter. He’s probably supposed to represent something, like the Scottish contribution, or maybe he’s a real guy, I don’t know. The guy right at the front of the boat, the bow or whatever, has a coonskin cap and boots—he’s the lucky one. The man steering at the back has a fur hat too—and why not? It’s not like there was a fur shortage. They were too excited about being European, wearing cloth, when cloth was incredibly expensive and bad, which it was up to about 1900. Even during the Civil War, raiders used to take the time to steal little bits of cloth, enough to patch a pair of britches, because they were worth a ton of money.  Tan a deerhide and you’d have better clothes a lot sooner and cheaper, but you’d look too much like a Injun. (That last word isn’t a slam on  your home town, by the way, Korean readers.)

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Under the boat is this weird beautiful green cold water—deep, beautiful, kill-you-in-a-minute green. It blew me away, the sky and the water, when I saw the thing fullsize. Yeah, in some ways the water’s the star of the painting. It wants the guys in the boat, you can see it, it’s like a predator, and the guy in the red coat (uh-oh, better take off that red coat when the firefight starts!) is looking down at that water thinking, “How much time would you last if you fell in, a minute? Half a minute?” You stand back from the thing, like I did in the DMV, and it hits you that there’s only cold white/blue/green all around these people who are all got up in hot colors, reds and such. One dipping and they’d dissolve.

To remind you how scary this ice-clogged river is, the artist (a German; most of the good battle paintings are by Germans) put a drifting tree on an ice floe in the background. Snag that and no more tactical surprise, just some rusty muskets for the local kids to fish out come summer.

And even further back there’s another flatboat with horses. You have to wonder what the horses thought. They don’t look too happy with the whole project: first this, then we get shot at? What’s cool is that the horses are all rearing and twisting, and their shape overall is like exactly the same as the famous one in this painting, with Washington as the crest of the mid-boat mountain and all the other guys on the boat as the foothills. Which come to think of it is the same shape as that Iwo Jima picture. The flag’s in the same position too, half-up and rising, the only thing higher than Washington’s head.

They made the bank, of course. Surprised the drunk Hessians, who tried to form a defensive line among the little houses of what would someday be one of America’s finest ghettoes and were sniped by those pesky Continental riflemen the Brits came to hate as much as the French had hated the Brit longbowmen. Col. Rahl was killed, probably mourning the fact that he’d been shot in the liver before it had processed its rightful gallon of raw alcohol. Famous last words: “Some Christmas this was!”

But it was, for the other side. Nobody mentions it much in the books, but battle involves a lot of fast food, not to mention fast drink, and I imagine that between mopping up the Germans and getting back to army food, there was a lot of diving into the Hessians’ leftovers. Many a Continental was wobbly when they formed up again, I bet, and not just dizzy with victory either. And Howe wasn’t happy at all.

See? Those were the days. Oh, you can say “Chosin Resevoir” all you want, and true, it was glorious, but that was 60 years ago and it gives me a pain to talk Korea now.

Hyundai vs. Autism: whoop de doo and happy thanksgiving.

Would you like to know more? Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to Read Gary Brecher’s first ever War Nerd column by clicking here.

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Add your own

  • 1. thus_speaketh_the_butt_trumpet  |  December 1st, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Hm when I first went to Korea I saw Hyundais all over, trucks and such, the font was weird, I thought it was Hyundri like a dryer in a laundromat.

    I grew up in the Starving Seventies, yes indeedy being fat was special, if you could afford to be fat, you were doing sumpin’ right. A gal in high school named Casey/KC was fat, she was very popular. We stringbeans formed an aura around her. My older sis paired up with an ex-Luftwaffe guy, OLD, basically to stay fed. He could afford to be fat. Since he was in this thing called “electronics”, I chose that career too. Needless to say I’d have been better off going into Dumpster Diving. but that is the power of fat. Hence all those old-time portraits from Bach on, showing off one’s adipose when one’s “made it”,

    In this Greater Depression, trust me on this, if you’re fat, honestly fat, it’ll mean you can afford to keep the car, don’t have to hike 5 miles to get to/from the bus to read your nearest podunk town, can afford meat, and sugar, and the finer things like life like over 1500 calories a day.

    Fat will be where it’s at!

    Just lay off the Diet Coke.

  • 2. Kaare  |  December 2nd, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Fuck yes, War Nerd! If you want any traffic on your site Ames, you got to keep some nerd articles flowing now and then!

  • 3. ANZAC  |  December 6th, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    I expected more of the North VS South Korea conflict.

    How will it play? A modern industrial nation with a population of nearly 50 million people is “invaded” by a nation of collective farmers, factory workers, and stalinist style bureaucrats with a population of 25 million, the results are a foregone conclusion.

    The North will have the elements of surprise (provided some hot-headed cadres don’t give the same away) in choosing when to attack, their “liberation” tunnels, and lots of artillery aimed at Seoul. Add in to this poison gas and nukes. Even 1-4kt devices can be used tactically but they still have the problem of delivery. (As a comparison, the “Fat-Man” implosion device used at Nagasaki was about 22kt.) Bio-weapons could be too risky and could affect the North as much as the South when used.

    The liberation tunnels can cause some confusion in the rear areas, but mobile forces can isolate, contain, and destroy those units. The tunnels found to date have only been at most 2×2 metres, which is too small for vehicles.

    The artillery is the biggest threat, but with Seoul 35km from the DMZ, which is 4km wide, and another few kilometers for the artillery to be properly hidden, only the longest ranged guns and rockets could reach. The range would be about 40-50km minimum. And once they start firing, their positions will be logged and targeted. Seoul is a large city with an area of over 600km2 (or about 240miles2 (Squared)). With a population of 25 million, and twice as densely populated as New York City, an artillery attack would be devastating and destructive with high loss of life and property damage, but it would not be catastrophic. If anything, such an attack would rally the South Koreans.

    Once the initial shock has worn off and the South Koreans, the US, and other allies, get their act together, the North Koreans will be on the receiving end of the biggest curb-stomp since the Desert Storm operation in the first Gulf-War.

    Will the Chinese get involved? The big question. If China did sent waves of “volunteers”, they face and economic backlash from the nations who are their biggest customers and suppliers. The downturn, and possibly recession, caused by this could cause a lot of social unrest. Stability and growth have been China’s mantra for the last 30 years. China’s involvement would be to offer as much support to North Korea to keep the Kims happy but not too much to annoy their trading partners. I would guess this could be some train loads of supplies sneaked across the border when the spy satellites aren’t looking.

    Since China has already stated they see a unified Korea that is friendly to China as a viable option, the only other role China would play militarily would be a decapitation strike against the North Korean leadership to bring the conflict to a rapid close.

    The only way North Korea could really damage the South Koreans would be to unconditionally surrender to them. It took the German unification over a decade to get sorted out. And the former East Germany had a sizable industrial economy (one of, if not the best, in Eastern Europe) and a well educated and highly skilled workforce. One of the reasons for the Berlin Wall and the Inter-German border was to stop these trained and educated people from taking their skills to the west where they were in demand.

    The North Korean economy is a shambles of labor-intensive collect farms and Stalinist style heavy industry. The workforce has no skills the South Koreans would want or are willing to pay for. Until the North is productive, it will be a welfare state writ large and a drain on the South Korean economy for at least a generation or two while infrastructure is built and jobs created.

  • 4. Ozinator  |  December 9th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Korea goes to war with itself again? Every time I start with one of this guy’s articles it doesn’t take long to see it’s a hip take using the same US taught bad premises. I’m sure that and getting wrong who started the recent shit isn’t his main point though. He’s so cool!

  • 5. Carney  |  December 9th, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    ANZAC, don’t forget the effects of starvation on North Korean IQ. An entire generation will be totally uncompetitive on a permanent basis, regardless of how much education, training, outreach programs, etc., are given to them. Norks will demand and get affirmative action, probably be a disproportionately criminal underclass, etc. Sound familiar? Even though the next generation would not have the IQ gap, the negative cultural baggage could remain, retarding acculturation and success. Osties lag to this day.

  • 6. Dedoquetor  |  December 9th, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    Nothing will ever happen in North Korea. The reason is something liberals will never admit: the greatest fun in the world is being evil. Kim is having too much fun every day to piss it all away by launching chemical weapons at Seoul.

  • 7. Jesse the Thief  |  December 10th, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I think all this war stuff is coming to an end really. Things are different these days, infrastructure is so complex that’s it’s becoming unprofitable to risk it. For all the talk of China can any one really see it going to war with any other significant power? Their economy would collapse, as would half the worlds’. We’re all so interconnected by trade that war is becoming economic suicide.

    This whole SK/NK thing is just a taste of the future, the only ones left willing to fight are going to be those with nothing to lose. And if they try anything they’ll just get hosed by the superior technology of the richer nations. The closest thing we’ll get to war in the future will be some lame-ass trade wars and Cold War style proxy puppet bullshit. Lame.

  • 8. DarkMarkets  |  December 11th, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Good to see another WN column
    Of course, when you’re talking “cold” Russia is the most handicapped modern nation-state-empire (needing millions of btu’s of energy to heat buildings to tolerable temps) the Swedes and Danes having faded from front ranks of nation-empire in past couple of centuries. (Of course “General Winter” helped the Russians defeat the Germans in WWII – just imagine being one of the thousands of German sentries who froze to death standing at their posts.)
    @14 (John Figler) I completey agree that WN is overstating the “Euro-trash” angle of the Hessian mercenaries. The Hessians fought at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (downtown Greensboro, NC today, the battle that led directly to British retreat to and surrender at Yorktown)and by all accounts at the museum, on battlefield maps there, and in books about the battle, the Hessians were extremely professional, as competent as the best British units. The famous “Kentucky rifle” would of course be an development on the “Jaeger rifle” that the Hessian’s best marksmen used in battle all through the Revolution – they were apparently as accurate & deadly as Gen. Daniel Morgan’s best sharpshooters (who were also at that battle, although Morgan himself was not).
    Also, WN, if you’re mentioning “Hessian mercenaries” you might shoulda mention that, you know, the Rothschilds banking mega-cabal’s first big break was gaining favor, by selling gold ad other coins at a discount to Prince William, elector of Hess-Goethe, the richest prince in Europe precisely for renting out his well trained and highly sought after Hessians.
    Prince William was notorious for pocketing the pounds sterling that Britain’s King George III agreed to pay for each Hessian soldier killed in battle – stiffing the widows and orphans (shades of our US govt. underfunding WIA veteran’s rehab today in “the GWOT”.) Mayer Amschel (founding patriarch of the R’s) had been trained at Oppenheimer bank in Hanover, before returning to the seemingly dead-end Jewish ghetto of Hamburg, where he masterfully exploited his lucky break selling gold trinkets to Prince William, into selling bonds and cashing checks for William – and soon, all the royalty of Europe.
    The R’s profited from 3 wars against the United States: they profited from Prince William’s leasing of his Hessian soldiers to kill American patriot soldiers; they famously underwrote the bonds for the entire British war effort against Napoleon – including Britain’s disastrous post-Napoleonic attack on New Orleans in 1814, and they underwrote many wartime deals with the Confederate states in the early years of the Civil War, hoping the Confeds would split the USA into two, weaker halves.

    Needless to say, a powerful argument could be made that GS, Citi, JPM & the Fed itself are all the ideological if not lineal descendents of the R’s multi-national “above and beyond state borders – and laws” imperial-dicatorships-supporting banking cabal – and that, with this economic crisis -they are once again profiting from a 4th war (an economic war) waged against the United States – as Exiled friend Matt Taibbi wrote, “Golddamn Sachs is a VAMPIRE SQUID”, and as noted financial analyst Harry Schultz recently wrote,
    (my words here – in “Fifth Column sabotage” style) the traitorous “Vampire Squid” has totally taken over the entire United States government, and is (along with flip-side-of-coin JPM, Citi, & The Fed) almost the perfect vampire extortion leave-nothing-behind-but-a-drained-empty-corpse” machine.
    Ironic how the Hessians & their British masters may have “lost” the American Revolution back in 1783… but today, American’s are handing their entire government, economy, and country over to the banking cabal born from the profits gained by the blood spilled from those mercenary soldiers!

  • 9. Mar C  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 12:50 am

    I bet even Gary didn’t expect what’s going on in Korea these days. Looks like the South got fed up with its autistic brother and is eager to provoke a real fight to show the parents that he is just faking illness to get attention.

  • 10. ANZAC  |  December 22nd, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    At least the Korean peninsula might give us some Christmas/New Year fireworks! The south saying they will go ahead with a live-fire exercise, and the north threatening massive retaliation. And the north backing down, for the moment (probably restocking their own artillery, and finding out their latest order from Norinco has been delayed because the factory found it more profitable to make children’s toys instead).

    @59 Mar C, that’s been a noticeable development with South Korea no longer trying to placate their little brother and now saying “or what?”. Also because North Korea’s former big friends have grown up and decided they don’t want to play the game any more.

  • 11. liverspot  |  December 23rd, 2010 at 11:01 am

    bit late, but ames aint he. ames is a god.

    the south is the problem child esp with sociopath lee wack back at the top and being pushed by sycho sam.

  • 12. Swamp Yankee  |  March 23rd, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Warshingting is wearing his tricorn wrong. It’s not even a real tricorn, but one of those froo-froo French things Napoleon made popular by wearing it like a white rapper wears a New Era Yankees cap.

    As to why the felt was folded like that to male a tricorn in the first place? Dude. You’re looking at a culture that mandated that all men wear pony-tail wigs in public. The three-cornered-cap was the least of their worries. Howabout them thigh-high gaiters the Redcoats had to wear, huh? Just because the horsey-types wore leather right up to their crotch to protect their silk stockings, the grunts had to wear brass-buttoned fake stripper-boots. No wonder they felt like shooting Bostonians at random.

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