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The War Nerd / October 28, 2008
By Gary Brecher

The horn is sticking up into the Somali deserts. Now take it in ethnic terms: the Amhara, the dominant, Christian tribe, only control the highlands, about where the rhino’s ear would be. The top of the head is rebel territory, Eritrea and Tigre. East of there along the desert coast are the Afar, just possibly the scariest people of all the tribes of the Horn—when Amhara hear “Afar” they say “Not Afar enough!” A little tribal humor there, folks, ahem. Anyway, moving right along in this whole rhino-head thing that I’m already starting to regret getting started on, the rhino’s horn is all Somalis, and back along the jawline you’re getting into more Bantu, Central African people who speak Omoro.

OK? Enough rhino head? Me too. So OK, in 1974, right into the middle of this house of cards, or maybe bones held together with Elmer’s Glue—no, I’m not starting another rhino, damn it—into this mess steps the Derg, a secret conspiracy of 120 Ethiopian Commie army officers, mostly Tigrayan and Amharic, who are determined to mess up the one relatively stable part of the country, the Amharic highlands, by stomping the aristocracy, freeing the serfs and handing the land over to them. Surprise, surprise, it got ugly.
Tomorrow I’m going to continue this story and talk about a book I found that tells you what went on from the view of a kid who actually lived through it—worth a medal right there—and belonged to two different rebel factions, one Somali and one Amharic/Commie. It’s one of the best stories I know, and one of the best ways to understand what it’s like to grow up in a place a lot farther from where you live than Pluto.

Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to

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