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The War Nerd / April 8, 2011

NOTE: My links are messed up here, I realize. Found out what’s wrong. I’ll have it fixed in tomorrow’s column. Meantime, here’s the link to the video I’m talking about:

 

I’ve been watching the famous motorcycle-shooting video from Afghanistan, the one leaked by Rolling Stone.

Tell you one thing, it’s weird getting used to the idea of Rolling Stone breaking all these war stories. First it was Michael Hastings’s career-ender profile of Gen. McChrystal, now it’s these “Kill Team” revelations that some US troops were killing Afghans for fun, having little contests, and taking trophies off the dead.

That shouldn’t really be a surprise, unless you’re purposely ignorant about what bush wars are like. I’m not interested in justifying it, or un-justifying it either. In fact I’m not very interested in trying to crazy-glue war and justice together at all. I’m just saying it always happens.

Every time conventional armies fight guerrillas, they take trophies and start kill-competitions, mainly because they’re pissed off and bored. Pissed off because they keep getting ambushed, bored because in between ambushes they’re walking around in someplace where the daytime temperatures are about the same as the planet Mercury and everything that moves is poisonous. I remember the one guy my family knew who’d actually been in Nam. I was looking forward to some great stories but he wasn’t having any of that. Kept saying, “Look, it was mainly guys standing around in the heat getting nervous wondering if somebody was going to shoot at them and eating candy bars. I gained 20 pounds in Nam, that was the worst of it.” Took the fun right out of it, especially the weight gain bit.

People get mean, start trying to find ways to make it more interesting. I remember when I was writing about the Brits’ wars against the Sikhs, one Brit wrote in a letter to his friend something like, “I was just calmly scalping this Sikh corpse when this other Sikh jumped up, not dead as I’d supposed, and tried to hack at me with one of their damned swords, the blighter!” For him, the point of the story was those dirty wogs don’t play fair, jump up after playing dead, but for me it was, Whoa, back up a little, Limey boy, did you just say “I was scalping this corpse”? And yup, that’s what he was saying, so it was probably standard practice.

It didn’t happen as much in the big conventional wars because soldiers get enough bodies that the main worry is getting them buried before they start to stink up the place. Low-intensity warfare means not that many corpses, so when troops have one they make a big deal of it, like hunters posing with a 12-point buck. It’s no accident counterinsurgency always gets compared to hunting.

That’s what’s happening on this video from Afghanistan that’s stirring people up. You better watch the first few seconds hard because all the real action is over by the 13-second mark.

A GI has his camera, cell phone or digital camera, pointed up this dirt road under with the usual adobe wall you get in Afghanistan. The shade is nice-looking, though; I didn’t know they had such decent shade trees in Afg. It looks hot and dusty anyway, like Bakersfield in the summer.

Then a buzzy little Afghan bike comes around the corner with two guys on it. The troops fire, about a dozen shots, and the bike goes down in a little dust cloud. Did the bikers fire too? Did they have a weapon? I can’t tell. Maybe somebody’s got better resolution or faster video than I do.

After that, an American voice, probably whoever’s in charge of the squad—and whoever he is he’s got a classic Barney Fife voice–yodels, “Take’em down!” Kind of a little late, Deputy Fife. The two riders are already as dead as the housing market. But orders are orders, so one soldier steps up and fires another ten shots into the corpses.

Then Cpl. Adenoids yells, “Cease fire, cease fire, cease fire!” The most important part of any ambush: making sure you don’t shoot each other. Big part of any fighting. Just ask those Libyan rebels who thought it’d be cool to zip around in captured Qaddafi MBTs, only they forgot to tell NATO air. Kaboom!

So they stop popping and stand up, check out the dead. So far, typical combat video: hard to see what’s going on, lots of yelling, everything repeated lots of times so people can hear it over the noise. Now comes the talk part, where the soldiers mess around with the bodies and convince themselves it was a good kill for five minutes. It’s typical too, a lot of dumb conversation that reminds me of high school, every second word is fuck this and fuck that, showing off, getting the story straight in advance:

“You see that fucking motherfucker haul off on me? Draw down on me?”

That’s where I got my first surprise: “Draw down on me”? What is this, Dodge City? Deadwood, South Dakota? I guess you need a lot of different expressions for trying to shoot somebody in combat, but jeez, you could find something better than that. I like the Cubano way myself: “Echa palante si eres hombre!” But I didn’t direct this thing, so what can you do?
The guy with the camera is standing watch up the road so he calls his buddy over: “Lemme check out my kill, man.”
The rest of them are getting the story straight, telling each other what they saw: “That motherfucker, as soon as he got…to where Domingo’s at right now…I came out like this…and he fuckin’ kept coming, he raised his rifle and started blasting back at us…”

Maybe, maybe not. I can’t see any rifle on the two dead guys, but maybe the squad kicked it away to be safe. Or maybe there wasn’t one. I guess that’s the part that people are worried about, but what do you expect? This is how bush wars go. Two young males come toward a squad on a narrow road, they’re not going to get a wave and a dixie cup like marathoners.

The rest of the video is like a demo on how boring war is when you’re not actually about to die. The camera guy should be fired, first of all, worse than that Blair Witch Project for jumping around and blurring everything. They do a few closeups of the two dead men. One has a cartridge belt on. I don’t know if that proves anything. A GI says, “This guy’s got a mag carrier too.” They try to figure out where the bikers came from, checking it out on a map. They look over the bike, a crappy looking Chinese thing: “This the battery?”

The bodies look tiny, that’s what hit me. Very skinny little guys in rubber shoes and long shorts. Eyes closed, that surprised me too. The video ends with another rehash of the 12 seconds of actual action, and I really like the last line you hear, which kind of sums it all up: “I ‘uz like, FUCK!”

Read more:, Gary Brecher, The War Nerd

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38 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. GuidedBombUnit  |  April 8th, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Dude, you gotta learn how to make hyperlinks. Lots of your links are actually “http://http//www.whatever.com”.

  • 2. postman  |  April 8th, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    When any group of young men are given guns, ammunition, and the power of life and death over an enemy population, atrocities are inevitable.
    They will get drunk or drugged up, start playing God with shooting random people.
    They will start confiscating valuables, gold and cash, ie. looting.
    They will shoot the males and they will rape the females, the underaged girls, too, acting out all their perverse fantasies on them.
    Then they will burn the place down, after collecting some ears for necklace.
    This is the law of war, these are the spoiles of war. This is how young men act in war. This is what I would do, this is what you would do, this is what everybody does in such war situation.
    This is normal, as far as war is normal.

  • 3. DrunktankDan  |  April 8th, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Gary, I love your shit but you gotta fix that link. For some reason it goes to http://www.http//.com followed by the URL of the site you are ACTUALLY trying to link to.
    Anyways, 19 straight days of WAR NERD has brought meaning back into my life. I don’t know how long you can keep this going but goddamn if it doesn’t bring some of us miserable unemployed fucks something to smile about.
    Cheers.

  • 4. johnnydontdoit  |  April 8th, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    if anyone else is getting the dead hyperlink to the vid, its here. shitty little vid as well nothing exciting as Brecher says, everythings over within the first 20 then its all just dick waving, someone should have got them a measuring tape for fucks sake.
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/photos/motorcyle-kill-20110327/0692075

  • 5. Ilona  |  April 8th, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    There wasn’t even a proper product placement of the weapons used! Fuck it!

  • 6. Nestor  |  April 8th, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Shootout in a brit nuclear sub, possible subject for a new article?

  • 7. joe  |  April 8th, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    @ Nestor
    postal on a sub is more Mark Ames territory

  • 8. Epsilon  |  April 8th, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Ugh. Can’t read that Rolling Stone article, it has that “whiny self-righteous liberal hating evil military dudes from his confortable apartment” smell all over it.

    War is ugly and people on it do ugly things. Get over it.

    The US would win more wars if they cut the pretenses and let the army get shit done. Is not fun when big oil bankers are the only ones that benefit.

  • 9. Eddie  |  April 8th, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    The kids where very clearly delivery boys/scouts for the local Taleb unit. They will be replaced without any noticeable loss the next morning.

    As a kid it’s great fun to be running along on a sponsored bike acting all cool, that is until you get some incoming fire.

    I wonder how long it will take us to figure out a system of folding a bad hand without all this macho bullshit about loosing and winning. I get so tired when I hear that certain reasonable actions are not on the table because they are unpalatable to the military establishment/general population. For some reason military doctrine require that a winner be announced for every conflict. No matter how stupid and pointless.

    This need is so desperately important that one will get chosen even though the most you can say is that is was a tie.

    Notice this stupid shit does not occur among the other animals. When two dear lock horns the weaker one having exhausted all his energies will bid for a hasty retreat. Seems to be no shame associated with loosing. You just have to pick another day, and try again.

    The day we humans figure out a system like the dear already seem to have figured out, we will be much better off.

  • 10. I C IT  |  April 8th, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Looked like a rifle was slung over the right shoulder of the passenger. Probably why the driver turned into the first guy who popped up.

    Eyes were closed because it was a good day to die.

    Looks like the problem is not realizing how small and weak the “game” is getting. An imbalance in nature.

  • 11. freeman  |  April 8th, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    This stuff has happened in every war that anyone has ever fought. They may not talk about it when they get home, but it sure as hell happens. It’s part of the dehumanizing effect of shooting people and making them “the enemy”…especially when they’re trying to shoot you back. Plenty of “trophys” came back during ww2…skulls were very popular…And I just saw an article about the letter opener made from a japanese’s leg/arm bone that was given to fdr (who later said to take it out and give it a decent burial). Taking trophys was common enough back then to give one to a sitting president… Not saying that it is/was right, but it’s what happens under those circumstances. War isn’t civilized…it’s WAR. These guys aren’t cops (until they come home), they’re KILLERS. It’s what the job is all about. The closest to civilized that you can get is to confine it to enemy troops…and good luck there when -in a guerilla war- the fighters are civilians… (Not that the people at the top are any better than the grunt in the field when they approve mass bombing of civilians. The excuse “break their spirit” has been proven to be bogus…the result is normally just the opposite in whoever survives). No, this is just part of the game. Don’t like it? then shouldn’t start it in the 1st place. (That being said, if someone attacks YOU, then best to make sure they regret it…nothing like your enemy seeing his buddy’s head on a pike to make them think twice about why they’re walking a patrol in that neighborhood.)

  • 12. pat b  |  April 8th, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    “in between ambushes they’re walking around in someplace where the daytime temperatures are about the same as the planet Mercury and everything that moves is poisonous.”

    Sounds like Fresno

  • 13. Former  |  April 8th, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Hey Gary your blog is now a must read on my daily net search. Kinda worried about you and that data processing job…Let me guess, they reduced your hours?

    Something good may have come out of this recession errr depression..

  • 14. Stephen  |  April 8th, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    “It didn’t happen as much in the big conventional wars because soldiers get enough bodies that the main worry is getting them buried before they start to stink up the place.”

    At mass graves for the Battle of Towton the bloodiest battle in British history. There were cut marks found on near the ear hole on all the skulls. Meaning someone was probably cutting of all the ears and making a nice necklace.

  • 15. Benito Blanco  |  April 8th, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Read the great article:
    Nazi War Crimes as Described by German Soldiers
    By Jan Fleischhauer
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,755385,00.html
    Direct transcripts of bugged POW by the Allies.
    Thesis: All solders do bad things.

  • 16. John Z  |  April 8th, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Watch Iranians play “dodge the humvee” on the Iraqi border:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCRgWZi7J2I&feature=player_embedded

    Some papers calling this evidence of a “massacre.” Looks more like a nashville tailgate party to me.

  • 17. Rocketbanana  |  April 8th, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    bah who cares about working links, just keep maxing em out.
    How ’bout this, The JAS 39 Gripen, small swedish third gen single engine multipurpose jet.
    What could KRADHAFFIN have done with 59 of these little valkyries?
    Do research on it, crave you oppinion

    Could home defense air platform work to drain airsuperiority of effectiveness + losses ?

    Sweden thinks yes, but motives are dimmed after 911′s merging of “western” military.

  • 18. Hannibal  |  April 8th, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Speaking of human souvenirs, we’ve been gettin’ some good ones down here in ol’ May-jee-co. I figure I’ll just post the goodies here, since Pancho Montana has been MIA with his updates.

    This vid shows what we like to call a ‘Mexican facelift’ proceeded by a full-body ‘Mexican manicure.’

    http://www.blogdelnarco.com/2011/04/video-donde-una-mujer-decapita_05.html

    This lovely photo montage is a veritable tour de force; you can tell Mexican hitmen are cultured, because it’s obvious they stole the Bodies: the exhibition’ idea; they should work for MOMA, god damnit. The comments section is hilarious, too; as you would expect, a lot of ‘Face-Off’/Nick Cage jokes, a lot of ‘SCORPION WINS…FATALITY!/Mortal Kombat Kano jokes; you know, the usual.

    http://www.blogdelnarco.com/2011/04/aparecen-dos-hombres-desollados-en.html

  • 19. internal exile  |  April 9th, 2011 at 1:30 am

    hearts and minds, hearts and minds

  • 20. CRABS  |  April 9th, 2011 at 3:59 am

    I just like the way the guy on point falls over backwards and waves his feet in the air.

  • 21. fajensen  |  April 9th, 2011 at 4:13 am

    Well, Most of these soldiers are going to come back eventually, with all that experience in killing wogs but no jobs to go around and nobody hiring except gun runners and narcos!

    Decades of hilarious Blue-on-Blue situations will follow – maybe even in Fresno.

    Maybe Obummah actually don’t want those boys back just yet, him starting shit with Libya, Yemen or wherever?

  • 22. fajensen  |  April 9th, 2011 at 4:19 am

    Well, Most of those soldiers are going to come back eventually, with all that experience in killing wogs but no jobs to go around and nobody hiring except gun runners and narcos!

    Decades of hilarious Blue-on-Blue situations will follow – maybe even in Fresno.

    Maybe Obummah actually don’t want those boys back just yet, him starting shit with Libya, Yemen or wherever?

  • 23. pimp of the Balkans  |  April 9th, 2011 at 4:53 am

    None of this is even remotely surprising, and wouldn’t even be newsworthy if you Yanks didn’t buy your own propaganda on your brave, selfless boys spreading peace and bringing democracy, greeted by smiling natives bearing flowers, etc

    RS feigns surprise – or maybe it’s not feigned, I can’t read the local narrative that well – that the boys of company B, regiment C are essentially either bored simpletons or and perverted and bigoted scum of the earth. Well, what else would they be? What do you expect them to be? And that supposed zinger at the end of the kill team article – the killer leans back and says ‘we don’t actually give a shit about the Afghans’… I was waiting for the punchline, I swear I was. That was it? That’s the surprise!? Are we meant to be horrified? Shocked? Astounded? Haha, honestly.

    At least the WN doesn’t feign surprise, more power to him.

  • 24. Jaspers  |  April 9th, 2011 at 5:44 am

    … that which has happened is a warning, to forget it is guilt. It was possible for this to happen and it can happen again at any minute …’
    Karl Jaspers

    He was German philosopher, himself prosecuted by Nazis. He said this after Second World War. In his book “The Question of German Guilt” he showed that the Germans fully supported the Nazi regime, annihilation of ethic groups were done with the consent of German populations.

    By reading this article and the comments, it is same today. Apologist of the regime, trivialize this horrific crime by saying: All soldiers do bad things. That is what the Nazis used to be saying.

  • 25. XSoviet  |  April 9th, 2011 at 6:11 am

    You guys believe now the USA is so strong that you will never ever have any foreign troops on your ground.
    Yeah, right, 21 year ago, we in the USSR did not do either.
    Now the only thing we discuss here is how soon we are going to have the US troops here and how we are going to fight them in a guerrilla war.

    The main reason of our defeat 20 years ago is a bunch of traitors in our government, and the only way to survive is get back the good old USSR.

  • 26. Tim  |  April 9th, 2011 at 8:38 am

    I remember seeing some African mercenaries posing with their “kills” ten or so years back also. Don’t know what happened with the site it was on.

    VICE magazine actually had one of the best explanations of the Iraq situation I have read.

  • 27. abc123  |  April 9th, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Rocketbanana: Gripen is 4.5 gen, not 3rd gen.

  • 28. postman  |  April 9th, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Jaspers,

    The poor Germans having their compulsory guilt-tripping is the most sad phenomenon in contemporary Europe.
    Lots of things they are accused of are allied propaganda, like in WW1 them cutting the hands of Belgian newborn babies. Extermination camps without survivors and guards both suffering from PTSD? Sure.
    Of course they approved and followed Adolf Hitler, their elected national leader, who put their country in shape after the bolshevik and liberal downslide of the Weimar Republic.
    Of course they approved harsh measures against the Jews: they stabbed the country in the back, and started up bolshevik red terror, killing Germans! National Socialism came as cure against jewish bolshevism and jewish liberalism that was destroying their country! The defeat just gave Germany back to these enemies of theirs. They were forced to accept the allied propaganda that they started the war and they are evil. I guess German parents were not allowed to tell their kids: do not believe a word the school and Media tells about the German guilt, so the new German generations take this bollocks literally…

  • 29. Xenon Lied, People Died  |  April 9th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    You’d think somebody who uses old internet memes would know to link.

  • 30. pimp of the Balkans  |  April 9th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    @24

    It’s no less true because the Nazis said it.

  • 31. Eddie  |  April 9th, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    @Rocketbanana

    Sweden has a long tradition of building pragmatic hardware that are designed not for their looks and coolness but share usefulness. Think of IKEA and you will understand what I mean. You have furniture that is very compact when purchased, easy to assemble, and although perhaps not winning any design awards very functional in their usage, perfectly useful for what ever they where designed to do. Be that kitchen table, sofa or knife set. The idea is that usage dictates design.

    This same principle applies to all Swedish military hardware. Sometimes with extraordinary effects.

    Take for example the main post-war battle tank for the Swedish army, the so called Stridsvagn 103 (Strv 103), or S-Tank. It had no turret(useless in the forrest), was painted green and had a very low profile. It was also able to dig itself into the ground making its profile smaller still and aiming was accomplished by a very sophisticated transmission system. For offense it had a very big gun with an auto loader.

    Looking at this thing you would have said that it was a useless piece of military hardware. Hardly equal to any of the competing Russian designs in either size, speed, or survivability.

    But looks can be deceiving. Place this baby in the forrest where it was suppose to fight and you would soon realize that no Russian, German or American design would equal it in a any defensive wars located in a forrest. It would have mauled any adversary naive enough to challenge it on it’s own turf.

    These same principles apply for the JAS Gripen. It’s a rugged little aircraft designed not for any long range offensive operations but rugged defense. It is designed to operate from ordinary Swedish roads and has literally tens of thousands of miles of runway to take of and land on. It is able to carry all the modern European and American missiles and bombs. And it is extremely agile and flexible in the air combat role. Although air combat is only one of the 3 roles it was designed to perform. The others are surface attack and reconnaissance. Witch by the way is where it get’s it’s name from J(air)A(attack)S(reconnaissance).

    The aircraft will match and exceed any of it’s intended competition in the type of air to air role that it was designed to partake in. The rest is up to the pilot.

  • 32. fajensen  |  April 10th, 2011 at 3:24 am

    but rugged defense That killed it right there. Our entire defence strategy is based on bombing rubble into smaller rubble in shit-holes thousands of kilometres away that have no air defence. We obviously need stealth, extended range and smart bombs for those precarious missions.

  • 33. debaser  |  April 10th, 2011 at 5:53 am

    And this ‘kill team’( And i thought these guys were the ‘Sunflower Cupcake’ team’) video is controversial in what way?

  • 34. derpotism  |  April 10th, 2011 at 7:29 am

    so basically you’re talking about this
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,755385,00.html#ref=top

  • 35. derpotism  |  April 10th, 2011 at 10:50 am

    “Saddam killed innocent people! That makes him terrible! Boy we would’ve found him sooner if we could just kill every living thing we saw instead of having to stick to those lousy ROEs for ‘hearts and minds’ and all that pansy shit!”
    That’s what some of you retards sound like

  • 36. old news  |  April 10th, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    This video is missing a good sound track. “Hey man, nice shot” by Filter anyone?

  • 37. Matt  |  April 10th, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    He wasn’t saying “Take ‘em down,” I don’t think; I think it was “tangos down”

  • 38. brits were the original bad asses  |  April 11th, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    “The US would win more wars if they cut the pretenses and let the army get shit done..”

    No. This mindset only works on tank-on-tank full blown conventional wars like good ole WWII—when the other side actually cares about not dying or having their nice middle class house burned to the ground.

    In a guerrilla war against an enemy with nothing, they have nothing to lose. It becomes a blood feud and don’t care if they lose everything (including their lives) because they already got nothing to begin with and they’re just living to vengeance.

    The British couldn’t win in Afghanistan no matter how brutal they were. The Americans couldn’t fully subjugate the Phillippines from 1898 to 1941. And the Germans didn’t have enough bullets to kill all the Poles and Russians in occupied Eastern Europe during WWII.

    There are 27 million Afghans, you can’t kill them all. Such is the natural of guerrilla wars.


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