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Arab Spring Break
September 23, 2012 1:06 PM   Subscribe

It's midnight in Libya, and the math major from UCLA is standing on an overturned pickup truck screaming, "Libya is great!" He has just survived an amateur "drifting" accident – the pickup he was in tipped over on its side, skidding across Benghazi's Keish Square at 40 miles an hour – and he is jubilant. With his carefully tousled hair and goofy T-shirt (featuring a cartoon bomb that's crying while it explodes), he looks like a stoner undergrad on spring break, which, remarkably, he is.
posted by liketitanic (52 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Every once in a while I kind of forget why the entire world hates americans and then I read stuff like this and immediately remember.
posted by elizardbits at 1:17 PM on September 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


Warzones are addictive. There's a reason so few war journalists and serious mercs ever get off the circuit. Once you accept you might die and that's OK, the rush is hard to give up.

I heavily miss them.
posted by jaduncan at 1:17 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Armed Conflict Tourism?

I heard about this guy last year.

I am glad he found that rebellion so amusing. Go USA. (sheesh)

Tried to read this without being too jaded, but here is a kid who is treating an event that was born out of the misery of people and he is treating it like a Disney vacation. And this is not even mentioning the people who lost their lives in the recent fighting but for the decades before under Qaddafi's rule.

This kid does not need more press.
posted by lampshade at 1:21 PM on September 23, 2012


kid who is treating an event that was born out of the misery of people and he is treating it like a Disney vacation.

Set against that he risked his life to fight with them. The Spanish International Brigades wouldn't have sent you away for being a thrill-seeker, you know. Hell, there wouldn't be many armies without them. This guy sounds like a thrill-seeker, but people forgive a lot of the guys who don't run away when the fighting starts.
posted by jaduncan at 1:27 PM on September 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


Isn't mercenary traditionally the career for people who feel the way Jeon does? Are there still proper mercenaries or just Blackwater-type security contractors now?
posted by michaelh at 1:29 PM on September 23, 2012


Apparently Geneva outlaws mercenaries so it can only be done for kicks now, not money also.
posted by michaelh at 1:32 PM on September 23, 2012


Armed Conflict Tourism?

They pretty much called these people War Tourists during the Spanish Civil War.
posted by The Whelk at 1:36 PM on September 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Set against that he risked his life to fight with them.

Set against that he now has parlayed his little adventure into a homeless touring consultation business (national.ae).

It sure sounds like he was a person who had some money to travel and was less interested in helping the cause of the rebels and far more interested in thrill seeking so could get a tv show or something. The whole thing just does not pass the sniff test to me. He is welcome to make a living in a way he sees fit and works for him. But let us not refer to him as an freedom fighter displaying some measure of altruistic behavior. He is an opportunist.
posted by lampshade at 1:36 PM on September 23, 2012


I both envy the kid and kind of think he's an asshole.
posted by empath at 1:39 PM on September 23, 2012 [16 favorites]


Apparently Geneva outlaws mercenaries so it can only be done for kicks now, not money also.

No, there are plenty of places you can be paid for soldiering regardless of the GC. They are just politely called Private Military Contractors.
posted by jaduncan at 1:40 PM on September 23, 2012


Apparently Geneva outlaws mercenaries so it can only be done for kicks now, not money also.

Contractors aside, aren't the Swiss Guard mercenaries?
posted by hoyland at 1:46 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're looking for a specific example of open merc work, Executive Outcomes fought and won against UNITA in Angola on behalf of the Angolan government. EO was pretty much a collection of all of the guys who used to fight for South Africa in border wars but were dumped in the Mandela cutbacks, although with a sprinkling of UK and Aus people.

It's now reemerging as Sterling Corporate Services, as the EO company was shut down in SA. It's all the same people though.

Similar things exist for UK people, and if the degree of army cutbacks being discussed here actually take place it's likely that a lot of bush conflicts are about to involve British 'trainers' and 'technical support'.
posted by jaduncan at 1:48 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


A young man of wealth and privilege imagines himself immortal and seeks novelty in a war zone? Truly, this has never before happened in human history.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:49 PM on September 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


Hemingway sort of did the same thing. This kid will have the last laugh if he can avoid being decapitated on grainy video by a bunch of ululating religious fanatics and parlay his experiences into a book/movie deal.
posted by Renoroc at 1:52 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Contractors aside, aren't the Swiss Guard mercenaries?

The rules very carefully exclude the Gurkhas, FFL (and lesser known Spanish Foreign Legion) and Swiss Guards, as the same pay and conditions apply (art 47(c)) and they are part of the declared armed forces of those states (art 47(e)).

Article 47 of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions:
"A mercenary is any person who:

(a) is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
(b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
(c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
(d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
(e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
(f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces."
posted by jaduncan at 2:01 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


47(e) is the biggest loophole; just pay your local army members above the going rate for mercs/PMCs and you're golden. If you have a small army and wish to recruit a lot of contractors, it's an easy choice to make.
posted by jaduncan at 2:02 PM on September 23, 2012


Fuck this kid.
posted by greta simone at 2:04 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


47(c), obviously.
posted by jaduncan at 2:08 PM on September 23, 2012


"Nobody wants their child to be in a war," Dr. Jeon said. "Plus, school was starting soon."

War is one thing, but an unexcused absence? Not my kid!
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:08 PM on September 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Funny, my take was that this is the kind of thing that growing up in Orange County can drive you to.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:37 PM on September 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is better than the students that put traffic cones on their heads at 3am ........ you'd probably cause more destruction working for an investment bank as well.

I can't imagine any of the home counties rejects that get sent up here doing this, immersed as they are in cake sales and other minor acts of colonialism, but it seems a good idea.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:47 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


(fingers crossed) Please don't be Caro... oh, god, wait - there's another one? Fuck.
posted by Guy Smiley at 3:00 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


A man named Flitcraft had left his real-estate-office, in Tacoma, to go to luncheon one day and had never returned. He did not keep and engagement to play golfafter four that afternoon, though he had taken the initiative in making the engagement less than half and hour before he went out to luncheon. His wife and children never saw him again.
"He went like that," Spade said, "like a fist when you open your hand."
"Here's what happened to him. Going to luch he passed an office-building that was being put up - just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk alongside him. It brushed pretty close to him, but didn't touch him, though a piece of the sidewalk was chipped off and flew up and hit his cheek. It only took a piece of skin off, but he still had the scar when I saw him. He rubbed it with his finger - well, affectionately - when he told me about it. He was scared stiff of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works."

Flitcraft had been a good citizen and a good husband and father, not by any outer compulsion, but simply because he was a man most comfortable in step with his surroundings. He had been raised that way. The people he knew were like that. The life he knew was a clean orderly sane responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things. He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.

It was not, primarily, the injustice of it that disturbed him: he accepted that after the first shock. What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, and not in step, with life. He said he knew before he had gone twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By tht time he had eaten his luncheon he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away. He loved his family, he said, as much as he supposed was usual, but he knew he was leaving them adequately provided for, and his love for them was not of the sort that would make absence painful.

He went to Seattle that afternoon," Spade said, "and from there by boat to San Francisco. For a couple of years he wandered around and then drifted back to the Northwest, and settled in Spokane and got married. His second wife didn't look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes. He wasn't sorry for what he had done. It seemed reasonable enough to him. Idon't think he even knew he had settled back naturally in the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."
--------- Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
posted by Diablevert at 3:09 PM on September 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


Not only Hemingway, but Lord Byron did this too. Foreign volunteers in wartime is a long-standing tradition.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:09 PM on September 23, 2012


Gosh, I don't know why people are calling him a mercenary when he's obviously a man of conviction.
posted by psoas at 3:09 PM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


A couple of days later, the katiba drove into the desert and fired cannons at loyalist positions. Jeon helped load the ammunition. "My lips were cracked and bleeding, I hadn't brushed my teeth in days, and my face was peeling, but it didn't matter," Jeon says. "I was totally happy – happier than I'd ever been."

As much as I hate the cult that has built around that film, this is straight out of Fight Club. The whole banality of middle class modern existence. Except the U.S. has not only gone through a near depression and not one but two wars, people still want more.

I blame the lack of a more illustrious, better-funded Peace Corps to give young people the chance to pursue foreign adventures without the long-term commitment of military service.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:14 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think his being Korean-American as a lot to do with this--plenty of everyday Anglo guys all over the US do stuff like this, but most Asian-American guys I know would never dare pull this, for fear of their parents, grandparents, folks at the church, etc.. Fair play to him.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:28 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does this tweet from him on January 23, 2012, mean?
"Hey Rita! I'm an intern at CBS LA and wanted to say hi. Let me know where you sit so I can pick your brains :) "
posted by Houstonian at 3:47 PM on September 23, 2012


He comes across as a bit of an asshole in print and in pictures, but after watching this CNN interview and other videos on his channel, he seems pretty charismatic. I can see him being ingratiating enough to join the rebels and remain friends with them afterward.
posted by book 'em dano at 3:53 PM on September 23, 2012


Oh, and as a follow-up to Diablevert's post: another wake-up from mundanity.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:13 PM on September 23, 2012


It was then that he decided to institute what he called a "yeah, man" policy.

"Yeah, man," he said, taking a hit. "I smoke hash."

posted by Shit Parade at 5:20 PM on September 23, 2012


I’ll take odds that the sober minded critics of this kid never went out and lived spontaneously on the ragged edge when they were young.
posted by Huplescat at 5:24 PM on September 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


plenty of everyday Anglo guys all over the US do stuff like this,

They do? I grant that there's a big selection-bias problem with the "nobody I ever met" argument, but the only other person I've even heard of doing this is David Hicks, who was and is Australian, and he did it because he caught religion.
posted by gingerest at 6:01 PM on September 23, 2012


Maybe he should make his parents happy for once, use his math education, and write a paper which attempts to determine the theoretical probability of mortality for a severely unprepared young Westerner who has transported himself into a foreign revolution, despite having immensely large, passionate, and stupid testicles.

And maybe VBS.tv could hire him as an intern.

And maybe (just maybe) I'm jealous that he actually did the type of thing I've fantasized about doing since I was 8.
posted by hanoixan at 6:04 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I both envy the kid and kind of think he's an asshole.

I also feel this sort of vague moral repugnance, as if he's treating the warfare, the result of political turmoil and social misery, like a thrill-seeking vacation.

On the other hand, in terms of the facts surrounding his story and the consequences of his actions, I struggle to distinguish him from the war journalists whom he encountered there. He befriended the rebels and documented their lives in some way. True, he didn't stay, but he returned. He seems to remain in touch with them.

I don't know what to make of this kid. And I say "kid" because I really can't understand how one could deliberately be so reckless with their own life. There are so many ways to enriching experiences. I wish I could understand how war had to be the one for him.
posted by stroke_count at 6:14 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ex-Blackwater Firm Will Teach Military Spies Self-Defense
posted by homunculus at 6:20 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know what to make of this kid. And I say "kid" because I really can't understand how one could deliberately be so reckless with their own life. There are so many ways to enriching experiences. I wish I could understand how war had to be the one for him.

Millions of kids his age sign up for the army every year.
posted by empath at 6:50 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Millions of kids his age sign up for the army every year.

Sure, but a fair percentage of them are misled about what they're signing up for. Then there are the people who see the military as their only decent option. Those two categories (which do overlap) should dwarf those desperately wanting to be sent into combat.
posted by hoyland at 7:09 PM on September 23, 2012


I’ll take odds that the sober minded critics of this kid never went out and lived spontaneously on the ragged edge when they were young.

There's a far sight of difference between backpacking your way across South America and interpolating yourself in the middle of a civil war where you have no self-defense skills, no local language skills, practically zero familiarity with the country in any sense, and almost no regard for the loved ones who have miraculously contacted you via Al-Jazeera field reporters to express their worry.
posted by psoas at 7:15 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that still leaves a fair number of adrenaline junkies that join the armed forces every year (and firemen, etc)
posted by empath at 7:15 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting that the discussion here so far hasn't been about his auspicious background, and that there aren't any bon mots along the lines of how him shooting at Gaddafi partisans is less destructive than working for the world's largest asset-management firm.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:06 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are we sure he's not mentally ill? He's still alive and all, but did they send him for a psych evaluation at any point?
posted by discopolo at 8:18 PM on September 23, 2012


And I really feel for his poor mom and dad. Im sure the whole "scool starting soon" thing was just them trying to grab at something concrete to point to so they can grasp at some sense of normalcy while they attempt not to think that he's going to get killed. His mom spent nine extremely uncomfortable months gestating this kid, x number of hours in labor, then both parents spent even more years taking care of him, and years later he decides he's bored so he treats his life like he's in a cartoon while his parents have chest pains from worrying about what's happened to his selfish ass. I can't even imagine the toll it took on them.

Maybe his life goal should be to pay them back for all the suffering he put them through.
posted by discopolo at 8:25 PM on September 23, 2012


discopolo: That's a very traditional Asian, specifically Confucian, viewpoint. And it may be that such an upbringing has driven him to react like that in response.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:07 PM on September 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I kind of get the impression that the author of the piece was on such a completely different wavelength from Jeon, such that he's really not able to accurately reflect his motivations. Remember that the journalist got on the first plane out of country after like a day traveling with him. So I don't quite trust the journalist's representation of him.

I pretty much can't fault him that much; as others have said, he decided h was unhappy with the trajectory of his life, and started trying things out until he found something that suits him better. He's made some real friends in Libya, and it's hard to hold that against him. Homelessness tourism is probably more fraught in my mind, but it's really not that different than, say, the Buddha walking out into the bush from the luxury he was born into. Not that this guy's a Bodhisattva or anything... He seems to still have some real asshole tendencies cooked into him from his upbringing and education, but they're things that may well wash out with time, assuming he doesn't eat a hand grenade first.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:42 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as thrill-seeking goes, drifting is one of the dumber ways to die.

Just hit up Youtube and search for "Saudi drifting accident" for some pretty compelling evidence against participating... and don't watch these while eating, for pity's sake.
posted by LondonYank at 5:16 AM on September 24, 2012


discopolo: That's a very traditional Asian, specifically Confucian, viewpoint. And it may be that such an upbringing has driven him to react like that in response.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:07 PM on 9/23
[3 favorites +] [!]


I know that. I'm Asian myself and don't really like the offensive stereotype that whites have about Asian parents as demanding robots. Because, You know, Asian parents are parents and people too.
posted by discopolo at 6:30 AM on September 24, 2012


And when I say I know that, "that" means the tired bullshit of people who immediately leap to thinking "all Asians are like this and their parents are like this" you can have your theory but it's offensive, no matter how many Korean kids you have as friends or went to school with. Jesus.
posted by discopolo at 6:36 AM on September 24, 2012


He popped up from behind his vehicle, took aim, and fired at one of the circling trucks. The gun jerked wildly, and he ran out of bullets. He loaded another clip. This time, when he squeezed the trigger, he saw the passenger's head snap back – blood splattered the inside of the car.

I can have sympathy with this guy feeling dissatisfied with his life, but I take extreme exception to how he chose to deal with that. Looking for meaning/opportunities for service? Join the Peace Corps, work with Habitats for Humanity. Just thrill seeking? Go bunjee jumping, for Christ's sake.

What he did took an unbelievable amount of arrogance and thoughtless privilege...he didn't have any stake in the conflict, just saw it on TV. He inserted himself into someone else's civil war and, per the article, more than likely killed someone.

This was irresponsible and selfish.
posted by maryrussell at 7:23 AM on September 24, 2012


And when I say I know that, "that" means the tired bullshit of people who immediately leap to thinking "all Asians are like this and their parents are like this" you can have your theory but it's offensive, no matter how many Korean kids you have as friends or went to school with. Jesus.

And I am Asian as well, and can say that sometimes stereotypes are based on fragments of truth. But really, my comment was solely a reply to yours, because your post unintentionally echoed the Confucian concept of children being obligated to pay back what their parents have provided them. And certainly, it is true that his parents, like any good parents, presumably spent their lives with love and effort to provide for him. But he's hardly the first young person to indulge in crazy behavior.

As for Chris Jeon himself, he seems to have lived a very well-off life in white-bread suburbia. I suspect his motivations are simply to escape the banality of upper class modern life; Wikipedia's article on Ladera Ranch mentions that locals call it "Stepford." He wasn't rebelling against a traditional stereotypical Asian upbringing, but the general societal drive to excel in education and then join the capitalist rat race at a top-tier financial firm to spend over twelve hours a day crunching numbers. I mean, his experiences, and aversion to that is right there in the article.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:24 AM on September 24, 2012


Join the Peace Corps
The Peace Corps doesn't take people without really useful specific skills. I don't get the pile-on about this. He did something other than the usual trajectory for his peers (Korean, nonKorean, middle class, educated, etc..) just like Hemingway drove an ambulance. Maybe he'll write a really great book, maybe he'll settle down and be an accountant.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:56 PM on September 24, 2012


Killing people by shooting a gun he can barely control is a little different than driving a Red Cross ambulance in WWI Italy, right? Drifting is a crime. In Saudi Arabia, they recently beheaded a guy for doing this and killing a couple of bystanders, and a few years earlier sentenced a man to 3000 lashes and 20 years of prison for the same. This goes beyond a little youthful rebellious behavior.
posted by Houstonian at 5:57 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


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