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Halfway around the world tonight / In a strange and foreign land / A soldier packs his memories / As he leaves Afghanistan --Arlo Guthrie
December 31, 2010 2:49 AM   Subscribe

...if all these neocons who worship the Ancient Greeks, like Victor Davis Hanson, really want to know what their precious Greeks were like, those boy-fucking, throat-slitting, 400-verse war-song reciting founders of our glorious civilization and all that, they should go live in a Pashtun village.... Well, the Pashtun are sensible people too. They don’t have much to lose, and they’re not that scared of dying.... They’ve got nothing coming from the whole Thomas Friedman world, and they’d be fools to think they do.
from The War Nerd: Market Lessons from the Pashtun

(Note: this post's title might seem to imply that "Gary Brecher" is a veteran of the current war police action conflict in South-East -West Asia; the name is apparently a nom de plume, and there is no evidence the author is a veteran.)
posted by orthogonality (46 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
And who can say who the nom de plume belongs to, with this recent resumption of articles? Entirely coincidentally, John Dolan recently lost his reasonably paid job teaching English in Iraqi Kurdistan.
posted by jaduncan at 3:00 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've been working on jokes for terrorists. For example: “A young boy came up to Outpost Outlaw with news of a buried bomb. Stick in hand,

Well, you can fill in the blanks. I like this one:

A terrorist walks into a Bar Mitzvah.

There's a history in the West. What do you call a French emperor who returns to power by terrorizing kitchens with suicide bombers?

Napoleon Blownapart.

I think that humor and terrorism go well together.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:13 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Linoleum Blownapart.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:16 AM on December 31, 2010 [8 favorites]


Who says those millions of farm boys who joined up as soon as a war came along didn’t make a logical decision: “Duh…fifty more years of scratching at my lice and shoveling cow shit…versus a quick glorious death if we lose, and lotsa enemy villages full of implied consent if we win?” I know how I’d choose.

Apparently he went with the bullshit.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:24 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is there a term of art in the journalism trade that describes this tone of writing? It's not gonzo, it's more of a jaded smart-ass street-smart nihilist, but that's too many words. Kinda fun to read, though.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:30 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


I would not be at all surprised to find that Gary Brecher had poked his own eye out when his dick swung out of control as he wrote that article.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:56 AM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is there a term of art in the journalism trade that describes this tone of writing?

O'Rourkian
posted by Edgewise at 4:06 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there a term of art in the journalism trade that describes this tone of writing?

Not in the journalism trade, cause it ain't journalism. This is barely even editorial.
posted by smoke at 4:16 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is there a term of art in the journalism trade that describes this tone of writing?

'typing'
posted by unSane at 4:56 AM on December 31, 2010 [9 favorites]


Were't the Red Coats cut up on the road to Kandahar? Hadn't they left Kabul?

The prose gave me a headache.
posted by the noob at 5:10 AM on December 31, 2010


"...boy-fucking, throat-slitting, 400-verse war-song reciting founders..."

Where do I sign up?
posted by londonmark at 5:14 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


They barely remember the British, even though the Brits were scary fuckers back then and most countries unlucky enough to get a visit from the Redcoats never forget it

What? Has this person even spoke to an Afghan?
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:39 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


That tone must be in The Exiled's style guide, as everything I've read on the site is drenched in it. Pity, there's actually some interesting observations there (Cf the XM25 piece) but that voice gets tiresome quick. I would have loved it when I was 19.
posted by mojohand at 5:49 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a racist screed. I mean quotes like:

They have nowhere to go except Karachi, where Pashtun run the porter trade. Now that’s some monopoly, huh? Yessir, they’ve got that whole important industry sewn up tight, those wily Pashtun

But come on–a Pashtun illiterate with no skills besides marksmanship and pedophilia

Not only is there no evidence that Gary has been in a war, I find scant evidence he's graduated from high school or left his parents basement.
posted by humanfont at 6:15 AM on December 31, 2010


I can see why the writing style can be grating for some of you, but personally I can put up with it, and from time to time the War Nerd has generated some quite interesting takes on modern conflict.
posted by Harald74 at 6:19 AM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


What? Has this person even spoke to an Afghan?
posted by dougrayrankin

I'm gonna go way out on a limb here and say no.
posted by nola at 6:29 AM on December 31, 2010


I thought part of the Brecher persona was actually that he was a pasty shut-in who lives in his mother's basement, despises his life and writes from a place of self-and-other-loathing. Somehow I thought that the tone was a feature, not a bug.
posted by LucretiusJones at 6:42 AM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was talking with a friend from Pakistan and the subject got around to the Taliban taking up up in Pashtun country. I asked him, why, if the Pashtun are these supposedly brilliant and savage warriors, would they put up with such cowardly scum in their midst, terrorizing the countryside and perhaps bringing down the wrath of the West on them?

He replied that the Pashtun have a tradition of hospitality and are slow to turn on a guest. When the Taliban came, they took on guest status and as such were not to be touched or judged and were to be helped. It was just the Pashtun way.

He added that the Pashtun are getting sick of the Taliban's shit.

So there's that.
posted by bovious at 6:44 AM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


In case other people don't get it: The War Nerd is a column written by an English professor who tries to make the military industrial complex look ridiculous by embracing a pro-war chivalrous position that war mongers find difficult to argue against. They are all, well researched, character pieces. Whether or not it is effective is a matter of debate.
posted by aychedee at 7:30 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


john dolan
posted by rh2 at 7:40 AM on December 31, 2010


You got your reductio ad my absurdum!
posted by bovious at 7:41 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


They’ve got nothing coming from the whole Thomas Friedman world,

Is "Thomas Friedman" being used here as an adjective? In context, it seems to mean something like "mother fuck(ing)," and I'm wondering if that might work more broadly:

"Sorry I'm late, the Thomas Friedman cabbie got stuck in traffic trying to run up the fare."

"Damn, why are you such a griefer every time we play CTF mode? Thomas Friedman."

"Why so down, rkent?" "Ah, I just got done reading this stupid Thomas Friedman column in the Times."

Etc. I like it.
posted by rkent at 7:52 AM on December 31, 2010 [13 favorites]


I like the War Nerd articles because they're just so over the top.... clearly ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous. The racism in this particular one is off-putting, but there are often powerful truths peeking out from behind his hyperbolic descriptions.

I think the core observation, that we're not exactly 'winning hearts and minds' in Afghanistan, is probably very true. His observation that at least two semi-modern empires have been broken there is also true. And the suggestion that they have few reasons to modernize, little to look forward to in such an impoverished area, seems sensible enough.

But the most important part, I thought, was the claim that the Pashtun are becoming angry with the Taliban. That's very, very interesting. The war could change very quickly if their relationship goes sour.
posted by Malor at 8:11 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


When he's on our side, he's a guy who embraces the others' position in a way that the other has a hard time arguing against, and we like him because he's ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous.

When he's on the other side, he's a Thomas Friedman troll.
posted by bovious at 8:15 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is there a term of art in the journalism trade that describes this tone of writing?

"blogging"
posted by vibrotronica at 8:32 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Pathans well remember the British, especially they remember the Scots troops sent in to fight them. They killed some of the Scots and because the Scots fought bravely, they buried them and keep up their graves.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:00 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I liked the article, and found it massively more credible than either the blowhard neocon Mission Accomplished victory prose or the bleeding-heart multicultural handwringing that is more generally opposed to it. As for the allegations of "racism", give me a fucking break: it's hardly racist to point out that Pashtun culture isn't exactly a shining beacon of feminism or pacifism, and that the only common points between a Pashtun warrior and a hippy are their personal hygiene (or absolute lack thereof) and inclination for various intoxicating substances. Moreover, the article pretty much demolishes the racism charge by reminding us that the customs of the ancient Greeks had more in common with the Pashtun code than with anything currently practiced in the whitewashed neoclassical buildings of our Western capitals. Crucially, if the Pashtuns ever lose patience with the Taliban, it won't be because they consider Wahhabism's XI century ideas backwards, but rather unpleasantly new-fangled, compared with their own V century (b.C.) ethos...
posted by Skeptic at 10:47 AM on December 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


I was talking with a friend from Pakistan and the subject got around to the Taliban taking up up in Pashtun country. I asked him, why, if the Pashtun are these supposedly brilliant and savage warriors, would they put up with such cowardly scum in their midst, terrorizing the countryside and perhaps bringing down the wrath of the West on them?
What? I'm not even sure how that sentence makes sense: The taliban are mostly made up of Pashtun, and what makes the cowardly? The point of war is to win, not to "look brave" for internet commentators you can't even read because you're illiterate.

And as someone pointed out, the Taliban Sharia law is actually more modern then Pashtun tribal law.
posted by delmoi at 12:13 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


found it massively more credible than either the blowhard neocon Mission Accomplished victory prose

Is there much difference between "blowhard neocon Mission Accomplished victory prose" and "The longer I live in CA…we’re fucked up, way more than anybody sees. You should see the faces at lunch. God damn, a war would do them good." Both of them genuflect at the altar of Fight Club-style "authenticity," both tend toward hilarious(ly awful) exaggeration, and both are largely the imaginative figments of suburban nerds. The only difference I see is that The War Nerd's prose hasn't actually gotten people killed.

So it's got that going for it, I guess.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:03 PM on December 31, 2010


Guess you'll have to take it up with my friend from Pakistan.

Also, fuck the Taliban.
posted by bovious at 1:15 PM on December 31, 2010


"It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it."
posted by Shit Parade at 2:20 PM on December 31, 2010


You may get killed, if the pilots circling up there haven’t had their wakey-pills yet and are in a bad mood. But what’s killing, after all? Not everybody has this death phobia like we have.

The way I learned it in California, dying was proof you did something bad. Like smoked, or had a good time some other way. If you really lived right you wouldn’t die. Which is, now that I notice it, (a) a sure way to make dying even worse, and (b) just plain not true.

We just don’t admit that jocks and marathon runners and CEOs die like every other stray dog by the freeway.


Talk about burying the lead.
posted by Bokononist at 4:33 PM on December 31, 2010


and from time to time the War Nerd has generated some quite interesting takes on modern conflict.

I sure hope so, because he's obviously not generating interesting takes on ancient conflict, his take on the Greeks, quoted above, is just loony.
posted by Jahaza at 4:49 PM on December 31, 2010


They’ve forgotten the Russians already, 20 years after they slunk home, broke and beaten.

Oh come on, he's just an idiot. There are still people alive there who fought the Russians (and those who fought for the Russians.) As someone said above, this is typing, not writing.
posted by Jahaza at 4:54 PM on December 31, 2010


Talk about burying the lead.

Speaking of journalistic terms of art, that would be the lede, no?
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:17 PM on December 31, 2010


So now we're hoping the Pashtun eventually tire of the Taliban and then we might win? The War Nerd is vindicated.
posted by telstar at 6:01 PM on December 31, 2010


Is there a term of art in the journalism trade that describes this tone of writing?

Without reading (any more of) it, the first phrase that pops into mind is "purple prose".
posted by Twang at 6:48 PM on December 31, 2010


The first phrase that pops into mind is god's-own-fucking-truth.

This. Is. Gonzo.

It's telling you things you don't want to know in ways you don't want to hear. Tough. Fucking. Titties. He's not going to make heroic salt-of-the-earth martyrs out of decadent flinstone-era dispshits, and he's not going to lick dick for NATO.

Reality has a harsher narrative than you'd like. Man up and deal.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:55 PM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


We just don’t admit that jocks and marathon runners and CEOs die like every other stray dog by the freeway.

Talk about burying the lead.


Apart from the obvious philosophical point (which is well made IMO), how exactly is this burying the lede? Is there some reference I'm not getting here?
posted by pharm at 2:53 AM on January 1, 2011


(Unless you just mean that he buried the best bit of the article two thirds of the way down, which is probably true...)
posted by pharm at 3:06 AM on January 1, 2011


"They’ve forgotten the Russians already, 20 years after they slunk home, broke and beaten."

Oh come on, he's just an idiot. There are still people alive there who fought the Russians (and those who fought for the Russians.)


I think you're reading "forgotten" a little too literally.

There are still people alive in the US who fought in the Vietnam War. But our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan sure make it seem that we've forgotten all about that South-East Asian misadventure.

Not literally forgotten of course; it's more that our behavior hasn't been altered by that lesson we failed to take to heart. The War Nerd is saying the same about the Pashtuns: surely, there are individual tragedies, relatives killed by the Russians. But (the author asserts), the Russian invasion just washed over the Pastu culture, washed over and receded, leaving the cultural essence unchanged.
posted by orthogonality at 11:58 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was talking with a friend from Pakistan and the subject got around to the Taliban taking up up in Pashtun country. I asked him, why, if the Pashtun are these supposedly brilliant and savage warriors, would they put up with such cowardly scum in their midst, terrorizing the countryside and perhaps bringing down the wrath of the West on them?

Bovious is correct. I have relatives who live on the border of Afghanistan and lots of Pashtuns, urban as well as tribal villagers are very unhappy and scared with the Taliban in their midst. But it's always been kind of Wild West place that no one has been able to effectively manage. My grandfather was a British political agent in that region in the 20s and 30s and he spent a lot of time either pursuing bandits (on horseback!) or mediating vengeful tribal disputes.

And please stop lumping us all together as some sort of illiterate, goat-fucking bunch of medieval peasants. There are many educated, cultured Pashtun. Unfortunately, the Soviet invasion and ensuing chaos ensured that anyone with the means to get out of there, did.
posted by nikitabot at 1:07 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


This. Is. Gonzo.

Oh, nonsense. It's a half-dozen muddle-headed opinions and geopolitical banalities wrapped up in a package of hip nihilism and rhetorical poses that weren't even very clever when P.J. O'Rourke used them a quarter-century ago. To be Gonzo Journalism it would first have to be journalism and it isn't even that. David Axe's work might be "gonzo," (though he'd probably disavow the phrase) but The War Nerd is a provocation, a joke, a rant, a piece of performance art.

Sorry. Guess we'll have to find something else to man up over.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:14 PM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I note that the War Nerd's critics here have plenty to say about Brecher's writing style, but almost nothing to say about the content of his piece. Well, is the US military self-deluded, out of touch, and losing harder than the Russians and British did, or....what? The Pashtuns want the Taliban out? Kinda hard to believe, since all they'd have to do is turn them over to the would-be occupying force. And yet this war drags on year after year, hopeful US TV-news report after hopeful US TV-news report. Brecher is one of the the few with a depth of knowledge of the history of war who can look at a military situation and give more than a "rah rah USA" perspective. I suspect that's what's bothering the critics here...who are more likely than not steeped in CNN/Fox news/NY Times/local newspaper war propaganda.
posted by telstar at 8:36 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I note that the War Nerd's critics here have plenty to say about Brecher's writing style, but almost nothing to say about the content of his piece.

Mostly because the content consists of obvious platitudes and puerile posturing about glorious death and so on.

Let's try to find one place in this piece where Brecher's unique perspective, gleaned from his depth of knowledge of the history of war, produces something that is not obvious to anyone with half a brain. Is it really supposed to be news that you can't fly halfway across the world, bomb the hell out of a bunch of people and expect them to roll over and play dead?

I suspect that's what's bothering the critics here...who are more likely than not steeped in CNN/Fox news/NY Times/local newspaper war propaganda.

Oh you got me. Great use of suspect here by the way, it frees you from the burden of having to argue about what people are actually saying. Isn't there a part of the US media that uses this tactic all the time?
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:06 PM on January 1, 2011


I suspect that's what's bothering the critics here...who are more likely than not steeped in CNN/Fox news/NY Times/local newspaper war propaganda.

The phrase you're looking for here is "lamestream media." Sarah Palin won't mind if you borrow it.

Brecher is one of the the few with a depth of knowledge of the history of war who can look at a military situation and give more than a "rah rah USA" perspective.

"Brecher" isn't even a real person, he's a literary persona. That persona isn't someone who's uniquely knowledgeable and insightful about war, although said persona likes to believe his is, apparently, (that seems to be part of the shtick) that persona is the bastard child of Ignatius J. Reilly and Ed Anger. He's a misfit, troubled by the smallness and meanness of our lives, the smallness and meanness of his life, and wanting something that's glorious and sublime, like war. "Brecher" doesn't write about war, he's writes about why people like to go to war. It's a joke, son! I say, a gag, a put on.

Look, when Hunter Thompson in his prime wanted to write about a topic or an event, he went there, looked around, talked to people, and came to conclusions. And his methods, however unorthodox they seemed at the time, weren't very different from Orwell's, or Joe Sacco's, or of any good journalist. He went there. He saw. He reported. If Brecher/Dolan wants to report on the Pashtuns, he could start by going there.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:16 AM on January 2, 2011


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