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The War Nerd / March 29, 2011

How much would you pay for this dead reb?

How much would you pay for this dead reb?

First a quick clear-up on something I said yesterday. These clear-up urges seem to come with the daily posting territory. Every night I go to bed thinking I should’ve said something better, or added a link, or something like that. But the good part is, I can come back the next morning and do it.The point I wanted to clear up today was why V/STOL technology is a sensible design cost for some planes and not others. We were talking about the Harrier, where it’s not a good idea. That’s because the Harrier is a fighter, and as inflight refueling gets better and better, the need for good shock absorbers and V/STOL on a fighter goes down, because a fighter has no reason to land on what those Gettysburg guys would call “bad ground.” (I never heard people talk about “ground” as much as in that movie; it was like listening to landscape gardeners in uniform.) In fact, if a fighter or fighter pilot touches the ground at all before it gets home, something has likely gone seriously wrong.

But STOL makes sense for transports like the C-17, because touching the ground in rough places is a big part of that plane’s job. And even the “V” part of V/STOL is a worthwhile investment in a rescue/transport like the V-22, because its whole mission is putting down in unexpected, unimproved places.

Now for the meat of the blog, har har har: Who’s been planting bodies?

According to our own SecDef, Gates, Muamar Qaddafi and his Mua-minions have been going around moving bodies, planting them where there’ve been air strikes to make it look like we’re killing civilians.

The story goes that Qaddafi’s been handling the whole production in-house: first he kills some people—the story doesn’t say who or why, but most likely rebels—then his guys toss the corpses in trucks and take them to bomb sites where they arrange the bodies like Macy’s window decorators or fashion designers (I swear, war these days is getting way too close to fashion, like I said about the mannikin idea) and take Western reporters to see them so one of Big Q’s English-speaking sons can yell “Genocide!”

And not to interrupt myself but can we have some kind of NCAA standard minimum introduced on the whole G-word? Like, “You cannot claim genocide unless you can show that at least one percent of your population is dead.” The Paraguayans, the most heroic unknown nation in all history, lost about half their civilian population and never claimed genocide. Instead they claimed what real warriors always claimed until around 1950: they said, “Never mind, fuckers, we’re still comin’ for ya!” And they did. Fought to the last man, then the last woman and child. A magnificent people, shame nobody remembers them.

But that was then and this is wimpytown. That’s the main thing to remember: how weird it is that your own side’s dead bodies (or bodies you can claim were from your side) are valuable now. That’s new in warfare, a sign of the weird, weird moment in military history we’re in right now. You go back in history and it’s the winners who gloat over the dead bodies of the losers. I remember trying to read up on Tibetan military history—that was a fiasco, right up there with marching on Moscow—I came across a tidbit among the gibberish where the Tibetans, who were always fighting with the Mongols, collected the ears of all the Mongols they’d killed in this battle, and there were so many ears the cart axles broke, bla bla bla…and then they put the ears in a public square and they stank so bad it was always known after that as “The Square of the Stinking Ears.” I know, I know: Tibetans are weird. But the point is, that was a pretty typical pattern: put the killed enemy’s head on a stick, stand it at the village gate to show everybody you’re bad people, not to be fucked with.

Still happens sometimes. Lot of GI’s in Nam collected ears. Tiger Force made it almost a parttime job, making necklaces out of ears. Bloody Bill Anderson rode around with a necklace of Union scalps. (Imagine that, in Missouri, in August? Man, I wouldn’t want to be downwind of Bloody Bill on the way to an ambush. On the other hand, who’s going to tell him his scalps are stinking up the joint and drawing flies?)

That’s the tradition. This stuff Gates says Qaddafi’s doing, that’s something new. This is about making it look like your own side has suffered lots of casualties. In traditional warfare, who wants to do that? You want to minimize your own losses and exaggerate the enemy’s. Not no more, folks. That’s the sign of this new (and crummy) era in warfare: you win by losing, you win by making the world believe you’re being massacred.

Imagine trying that on the Romans: “Look at these corpses! We’re being massacred!” Centurion nods and says, “Fine, but could ya hurry it up? I’ve got a quota of you Franks to fill, we’re s’posed to [reads orders from scroll] ‘kill every living thing by sunset’ so make it snappy, these villagers won’t kill themselves!”

Slowly though, as people stopped seeing death every day, corpses got valuable, got all full of emotion. One interesting case I came across: you know those famous Matthew Brady pictures of the aftermath of Gettysburg? There’s one that shows a rebel sniper lying dead by a rock wall. Looks like he was shooting from there when he was hit. But it turns out that one of Brady’s Mick assisstants, Tim O’Sullivan, dragged a dead reb 40 yards—in July, in Pennsylvania! These guys must’ve had nostrils of steel!—to lay him out at a better spot.

But that’s just sort of a fun side-note. It wasn’t til our times, the late 20th early 21st century, that you could gain an advantage by making it look like you’d lost a lot of people. The most effective use of moved corpses was Kosovo. Now there was a rotten little war from start to finish. First the Serbs’ militia, tired old men, kicked the shit out of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a nasty bunch of heroin dealers, organ traders and pimps claiming to be fighting to liberate Kosovo’s Albanian majority. Then the KLA won by taking the dead bodies of their men, who were useless as fighters, and making them valuable by planting them with their weapons removed as “civilians killed by the brutal Serbs.”

Playing Dead: Vital 21st-c. War Skill

The UN teams saw, counted, and believed the bullshit. Next thing you know we’re bombing Serbia (losing a Stealth fighter in the process, which ended up in the hands of the Chinese—smart move, sending our most expensive secret plane against a low-level target like Belgrade!). [Read The eXile’s investigation into the staged massacre at Racak here.]

The value of a dead body only came along with modern guerrilla warfare and the notion of martyrs, because guerrilla wars tend to start off with some kind of suicidal attack like the ones the Muslims staged in Southern Thailand a few years back. They stood around waving machetes outside fortified police barracks and got mowed down. What you do then is take the bodies home, make a big fuss over them, stage giant funerals—funerals are very, very important in guerrilla culture—and generally talk them up. Since most of these guys are barely trained or untrained, they’re not worth much alive—like those KLA men who were totally uselsss as live fighters—but they can be valuable as Hell once they’re dead. It’s just a much easier job, lying still in a coffin. Not nearly as easy to mess up as your basic L-shaped ambush, which is a very tricky thing. Hell, the average recruit can learn to be a good corpse in a tenth the time it takes to make a decent live guerrilla fighter.

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. CensusLouie  |  March 31st, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Gary, I’m only saying this because I love you:

    but you should really rethink the whole daily blog thing.

    So far it’s been statements that have been corrected in the comments within a couple of hours, things like countries never playing up massacres before the mid 20th century. I mean, I get it, you’re pounding these things out without time for proper research, but that’s the problem.

    What is the point of quick daily blogs if half the blog is clarifying a hasty statement from yesterday, and then the other half is a hasty statement which will be addressed tomorrow?

    I’m telling you, I’m fine with waiting a month for the old quality articles. I’ve seen it in tons of online writers before who claim that they’re really going to start sticking to deadlines and crank stuff out: it’s ALWAYS without fail the first sign of impending burnout.

  • 2. Bob  |  March 31st, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Eddie – well, IR tracking is going to become increasingly important. You can fan, mix and shroud the exhaust all you want but ultimately an F-35 doing Mach 1.5 is going to be hot, even if it does have the frontal RCS of a metal golf ball. In the longer run though, the writing is on the wall for manned fighters. Cheap UAVs just have too many advantages to ignore, and if one or two get shot down, who cares? You haven’t lost a pilot, and here come another hundred. There’s also the potential for a robo-fighter which could outperform any manned one, since the main limitation on manoeuvres is the amount of G’s the human can take, but realistically it’s probably not worth it since dogfighting is so rare these days.

  • 3. bud  |  March 31st, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Well, if all warfare is based on deceit then this corpse moving exercise is just another play out of that book. Back in the day you could kill an entire village and burn it to the ground and nobody would ever know about it. It can still happen, but in a much smaller percentage of the world. Now that we have the internets and googles and youtubes and porns everywhere, people are hooked in. They can send and receive info instantly, and there are more of us in the world than ever. No matter what significant thing that occurs in the world, there will always be some percentage of people that are more interested in that issue than the rest. If enough people from all over the world are interested enough then they can change the trajectory of events in the area of interest. For example, you can be a non-state actor waging war against a state, and you can recruit soldiers from every corner of the world. Of course that sounds far fetched, I can’t think of anywhere that could be happening right now. So that is why Qaddafi might be moving bodies, deceit in warfare is mandatory.

    I don’t know why you think this is such a crummy age in warfare compared to the last one. The last true warriors died because they didn’t use firearms. Modern weapons have made it so much easier. Even you, War Nerd, can wage war these days. Physical fitness be damned, if you can push a button you can fight. Not really the same as charging your enemy head-on, crashing swords at arms length. The skillset needed to be a warrior back in the Mongols time was much more extensive than the skillset needed by soldiers now. Technology has made genocidal acts less acceptable but at the same time technology has also made deadly acts of war achievable by a much larger portion of the population. “So you get what we had here last week. Which is the way he wants it, well, he gets it. I don’t like it anymore than you do.”

  • 4. Buster Mountebank  |  April 1st, 2011 at 9:54 am

    This reminds me of Hermann Goering’s comment about atrocites. “Anyone can make an atrocity film. Just dig up a bunch of corpses and film a bulldozer shovelling them into a mass grave.”

  • 5. Private Ivan  |  April 23rd, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    NATO first used that tactic against Serbs. Now it’s being used against NATO – what goes around, comes around.

    Saakashvili also tried using this tactic, but he was so inept, he got caught changing his soldier clothes to civilian clothes by Russian satellites, and he also used well known Georgian Actors as dead and wounded guys. They even had a “wounded” corpse with his head turned the wrong way.

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