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The War Nerd April 7, 2006
This Ainít 1864, Bush Ainít Lincoln, We Ainít Winniní
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email

FRESNO -- Lately some of the cheerleaders who waved their pom-poms for the Iraq war have quit the pep squad, yanked the kleenex out of their bras and hit the showers. It's been quite a show, with NeoCon elders like William F. Buckley using the D-word, as in "defeat."

To anybody with any sense, it's been obvious since day one that Iraq was going to be the biggest catastrophe since Nam. But when the cheerleaders start defecting, that's when you know the game's lost. It's like one of the girls at the bottom of the pyramid walking off while the head cheerleader is wobbling at the top of the pile -- kinda ruins the whole stunt.

Which is why the diehard Bush Pep Squad have been slamming their defectors -- Buckley, Fukuyama and Sullivan -- as "defeatists." Charles Krauthammer, the token disabled pom-pom girl on the squad, has been leading the bitch-biting from his wheelchair, mumbling through the pom-pom in his teeth: "NnnGaahd, nngirlllzz, don't have a cow! Nnnget back here and shake that Connecticut booty!"

In NeoCon jabber, "defeatism" means noticing the obvious. Good thing Krauthammer isn't doing anything serious like answering 911 calls. He'd never send an ambulance, just screech at the callers: "Stop saying Grandpa had a heart attack! That's just defeatism! You're encouraging Al Qolesterola with talk like that!"

But even these wackos have to admit Iraq looks bad. So they've trotted out the ol' crap about how it's always darkest before the dawn, victory's just around the corner, etc.

Under all that pep-squad guff there's a serious question: how can you tell when a war is won or lost?

Now that is worth considering, if only somebody'd deal with it intelligently. So far, what we've had is some of the worst parallels to other wars, wars that have nothing in common with Iraq, used to prove we've got to stay the course.

The most common stupid parallel is to the US Civil War, especially the gloom Northern voters felt just before the 1864 election, which is supposed to remind us that there are always quitters who lose their nerve just when victory is about to dawn. Naturally, the lamest version of this line comes from my neighbor down the road, Vic "Victory" Hanson. He's been dangling the "Iraq's just like the US Civil War" fairy tale since 2003.

Here's what he wrote in September 2003, in a column with the profound title "These Are Historic Times" (do tell, Vic! Ain't most times "historic"?): "passing judgment [on Iraq] now is like saying that in June 1864 the Civil War was Lincoln's greatest blunder or that Truman should have been impeached given the landscape of Korea in November 1950."

That's Vic for you -- he can't stick with one bad historical parallel, he's got to stick in another. So he tells us that the Iraq war is just like the Civil War just before the capture of Atlanta, AND Korea after we'd been pushed back to the Pusan Perimeter.

Not only is Iraq totally unlike those two wars -- the two of them aren't even anything like each other! In June 1864 the North was weary of the war, but controlled all of its own territory and a huge chunk of the rebel states as well. Its armies were intact, well-supplied, and ready to fight. Compare that with the chaos in South Korea after the surprise North Korean invasion, when a few demoralized garrison GIs were trying to hold off Kim's hordes in a tiny chunk of what used to be South Korea. There's no connection.

Every time I hear somebody misuse military history like this for some cheap morale-boosting trick, it reminds me of a great line from my favorite Western, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid. Come to think of it, that movie's about another badly-planned invasion, a raid on a bank way up in Minnesota by the combined James and Younger gangs. Naturally, Cole Younger is the good guy and Jesse James is the sicko, a beady-eyed born-again fool who looks and talks a lot like our C-in-C. After the raid goes wrong, Jesse tries to talk Cole into leaving their wounded to be captured by claiming he's had a vision about the Israelites fleeing Egypt. Cole Younger shuts him up with a three-part smackdown: "This ain't Egypt. Jesse ain't God. We ain't leavin'."

That's what somebody needs to say to the diehards yammering about the Civil War: this ain't 1864, you ain't Abraham Lincoln, and Iraq ain't Northern Virginia.

Two vital differences that show you what nonsense these parallels are:

1. Conventional wars like the Civil War are decided on the battlefield; massacres of civilians are optional. In guerrilla war, massacring enemy civilians is the whole damn point.

2. Conventional wars end when one side's army can't stop the opposing army (Lee in 1865). Guerrilla wars BEGIN when the locals' army is defeated in battle and occupied by the enemy (Baghdad 2003).

I realize this is all pretty basic for anybody who knows contemporary war, but jeez, nobody out there seems to know it. Most of all, people won't face the fact that guerrilla war is dirty by design. That's the whole idea: making the occupier so sick of you, so disgusted with what you do to him, and what he has to do to you, that he'll just go home. That's what happened to the French in Algeria, the Israelis in South Lebanon, and us in Nam. The idea of guerrilla war is as simple and horrible as eye-gouging: the locals care more about the place than the occupier, so they'll outlast him, out-atrocity him.

To put it another way, nobody with sense would try to live through a guerrilla war, and the occupier can leave; the locals can't. So they win by default, by which time their country is usually a bloody mess. So everybody loses, but at least the guerrillas get to plant their flag on the ruins.

You've got to realize how horrible this kind of war is, and that the horribleness is the whole point. If you really hated somebody, you'd wish on them a guerrilla war in their hometown. Guerrilla warfare is the real "dirty bomb," the low-tech answer to hi-tech invasion. It doesn't just occasionally involve killing civvies -- killing civvies is the whole durn point. Both sides have to torture, terrorize and kill as many locals as they can, and the sicker, crazier, more evil bastards will win.

Wars like that don't end. They're like Risk games where you play by that dumb rule that sets never go up in value -- ever play those rules? Game goes on forever. Guerrilla wars can only be ended by genocide of the locals or withdrawal of the occupier. Otherwise they can last hundreds of years.

I suspect, and I've said this before, that sooner or later the nuclear powers will resort to genocide to deal with problems like the Sunni Triangle. But not any time soon. If Bush was really the fascist liberals make him out to be, I could almost support him -- I mean, if he had the cold, Roman will to just erase the tribe that's annoying us in Iraq. But unfortunately he's nothing like that. He's about lies and failure, not cold, clear Imperial will.

So instead of solving the problem, his little PR dudes like Victor Hanson bullshit us that a war that's about vans full of strangled Sunni, car bombs outside Shia mosques, and families found with their throats slit... is just like our Civil War -- the most glorious war in history and the most clean-fought, too.

You know, that's what keeps shocking me: how these bastards, who are supposedly so American and patriotic, don't think twice about smearing the magnificent soldiers who manned both sides from 1861-1865 with these dirty kid-killing militias in Iraq. It just confirms what I've thought from day one: these people don't care about America, never did.

I grew up studying the Civil War, dreaming of all the great battles, staring at those great paintings of Gettysburg for hours. It was maybe the only war in history where the noble ideal of soldiering actually worked: those men fought like demons on the battlefield but were almost always decently behaved, even polite, with civilians.

Federal commanders who treated locals as the enemy, like Fremont in Missouri, were relieved of their commands, fast. And when Lee marched into Pennsylvania, his soldiers showed the same decency to their fellow Americans, even though the poor bastards were starving. They hit Gettysburg hoping to scrounge up some shoes, but as far as they could, they tried to pay for what they commandeered.

Even after the war, when Northern hotheads wanted something like a Nuremburg Trial for the Southern leaders, decency prevailed. Maybe a little too much, like when Jefferson Davis, the most vicious reptile in American history, was allowed to slither off to exile. I personally would have ordered Jeff Davis burned alive, inch by inch, from the toes up, one inch per day.

But then I'm no Abraham Lincoln either. No man living is, that I know of. We don't have that many real heroes, and he's one. He doesn't deserve to be dragged into a dirty world like Bush's.

The only part of that war that's anywhere near sleazy enough to compare to Iraq is Kansas. And even that's an insult to Kansas. When Quantrill's men shot women and kids in Lawrence, Kansas, their own side shunned them. They were marked men, and spent the rest of their lives trying to deny what they'd done. In Iraq they'd be heroes -- no, actually, they wouldn't even get a mention in the militia newsletter, because it would be just business as usual. In towns where Kurd, Shia and Sunni are mixed (not to mention Turkmen in places like Tal Afar), massacre is the norm. Always has been. Always will be.

If you try to tell me these hellholes have some connection to the glorious campaigns of our Civil War, I'll spit in your anti-American ignorant face.

But that's what Vic Hanson keeps on trying to prove. He just wrote another pom-pom piece comparing Iraq to the Civil War, with a unique new twist: actually claiming that because Iraq looks so awful, that's a sign that it's going great. I'm serious, he said that, and here's the quote to prove it: "Fighting sometimes intensifies just before the end. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's horrible summer of 1864 almost broke the Union. The surprise of the Bulge cost more American lives than the 1944 drive from the Normandy beaches. Okinawa was not declared secure until a little more than two months before the Japanese surrender. It was the worst-thought-out campaign of the Pacific and cost about 50,000 American casualties."

As you can see, Vic's never happy with one bad comparison, he has to make it worse. So here, Iraq's not only like 1864, it's also like 1944 in France, not to mention 1945 in the Pacific.

Vic, you just don't understand what guerrilla war means, do you? Hey, since we're neighbors -- and since you already accused me of trying to burn your vineyards -- maybe I should offer you another lesson. You play Robert E. Lee, sort of the Eric Cartman version, and I'll play a typical Sunni militia guy. You go off to battle in your uniform, and I'll come visit your house, Iraq-style. You know, with my Iraq-militia kit: handcuffs, power drill, pliers, carving knife, strangling rope, the works.

And I guarantee, Vic ol' buddy, when you get home -- well, remember when Russell Crowe comes home in Gladiator? -- I guarantee that when you get home, you'll see the difference between Virginia in 1864 and Iraq in 2006.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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