Archive for the ‘War Culture’ Category

Before I was a veteran, I was a veteran.

During the 1980’s, a series of wars and skirmishes broke out across the Appalachian region of North Carolina. These engagements went largely ignored by the news and popular media, who instead chose to focus on the conflict between Afghanistan and the drunken cockfight formerly known as the Soviet Union.

imageBy December of 1979, the people of Afghanistan were openly revolting against a series of newly enacted socialist peasant raping reforms and the leaders appealed to their sugar daddies, the Soviets for military support. The Soviets responded by mobilizing airborne brigades and sprinkling Red Army paratroopers all over the Afghan countryside. On December 27th, Soviet troops reached Kabul and the special forces promptly paid a visit to the president bearing a message from the closest thing the communists had to Santa, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. It was a swift execution, Dirty South Style, on his knees with two in his head.

On the other side of the globe, an invasion of another sort was taking shape. In 1981, as the Soviet “intervention” was gaining serious momentum, a secret meeting was convened in New York. One of the men in attendance was Archie Goodwin, a well known author of, well, comics. Goodwin was charged with creating a public face for the impending invasion, as well as writing what amounted to a manifesto calling for the overthrow of the worlds governments and their subjugation to “Cobra, a ruthless, terrorist organization determined to rule the world.” image

The invasion, although eventually reaching an international scope, began in the United States heartland. The news of the impending attack was heard solely by America’s youth, who were suddenly faced with the reality of what it means to become a man in America. And they began to arm themselves. Hushed calls were made from design studios to corporate board rooms. Sweaty hands shook firmly before dialing China and lining up ordinance production.

Little boys in North Carolina, meanwhile, were making lists and submitting them to their Secretary of Armaments, Santa Clause. Beginning on Christmas of 1982, the young American patriots began to amass troops. The small, localized militias grew slowly, with neighborhood warlords graduating to generals as troop strength swelled.

The overall resulting military collaborative became the cultural phenomenon collectively referred to as “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.” Hasbro, an American company with manufacturing facilities in China, began to extensively produce weaponry and the 3 3/4″ plastic men the young generals needed to combat the dreaded Cobra Commander and his shock troops.image Back in Afghanistan, the Soviet occupation wasn’t going so well. The Afghan Army was expected to do most of the front line fighting but apparently when it came to killing their own people in support of a doctrine that directly contradicted their belief structure, they turned out to be squeamish. Roughly half raised a black flag and joined the revolt. The rest, mostly, just hung around and talked shit, waiting for the next paycheck and often, doing more harm than good. More and more, the Soviets were finding it necessary to use their own troops in direct combat, something they’d hoped to avoid.

The mujahideen, Afghanistan’s rag tag conglomerate of a resistance, proved to be much more effective than Soviet command had predicted. Able to attack without warning and then disappear back into the populace, conventional military attacks against the mujahideen were obviously ineffective. This resulted in a tactical shift, and the Soviets began to view the Afghan countryside as what amounted to the mujahideen’s supply lines, resulting in the implementation of scorched earth strategies. As the civilian body count climbed, the Afghan clergy issued a decree, or fatwa, labeling the atheist-socialist controlled invasion as an attack on Islam as a whole and declared it the duty of all Muslims to join or at least contribute to the effort against the Russians.

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Soviet AK-47, preferred weapon of Clint Eastwood’s enemies and Cobra troopers

The mujahideen army grew exponentially, peaking out in excess of 200,000 fighters, many of whom were called Afghan Arabs, foreigners who had heard the cry for help and came to kick in. Such an influx of personnel required armament, much as the G.I. Joe armies back in North Carolina. The American adults, along with those of Saudi Arabia and a few others, began to funnel cash and weapons into the mujahideen using Pakistan as their primary conduit. For the first few years, Afghanistan’s foreign support network contracted with independent arms traffickers and provided the resistance exclusively with Eastern Bloc ordinance procured from China, Czechoslovakia and even the Soviets themselves.

The Pakistani government, heavily influenced by Saudi Arabian Wahhabi Islam, disbursed the armaments disproportionately, basing their issuance not only upon the prospective faction’s potential for sending Rooskies to be judged by Allah, but their level of commitment to hardline ultra conservative Islamic principles as well. Nothing about warfare, it seems, is ever fair and things were no different back in the mountains of North Carolina.

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G.I. Joe Headquarters

My sixth birthday signified my entrance into the global G.I. Joe battlefield. Since the war had begun, I’d engaged in daily after school battles in my friend Wyatt’s basement. Wyatt commanded the neighborhood’s only true G.I. Joe stronghold, the massive Headquarters play set he’d gotten for Christmas. Again and again, the open topped plastic fortress was bombarded by the likes of HISS tanks, Fang helicopters and the dreaded Hydrofoil. Each time, we were able to repel the attacks using the fort’s laser cannons, removable missiles and Wyatt’s brigade of tanks and trucks, all maintained in the service bay.

As often occurs in such guerrilla style commands, infighting broke out. Wyatt, while a highly capable leader on the basement battlefield, was a poor politician and proved ineffective at maintaining cohesiveness amongst the lieutenants who’d joined from around the neighborhood. We all began to personally arm ourselves and the intense battles pitting the G.I. Joe forces against those of Cobra became interspersed with sectarian cap gun violence in the back yard. The infighting nostalgically culminated in our first real casualty, when a kid named Heath stepped on an old land mine in the back woods, driving a three inch rusty nail through his foot. Although a resulting ceasefire refocused resources on the war against Cobra, the damage was effectively done. As the hype around G.I. Joe grew, our small coalition factionalized and in the fall of 1984, I began to stockpile ordinance of my own.

The Silver Mirage motorcycle was the first thing I acquired. It was awesome to behold, a magnificently flimsy, unsteerable thing of a sidecar equipped motorbike, broken in the package even. It was the first tool of war that was mine. I’d suddenly become my own boss and sweet Jesus it felt good. I wanted more. My small yet successful engagements with Cobra outposts such as the Bunker, as well a few against a new enemy known as the Transformers instilled within me a strong resolve as a military leader and tactician, thus I began pleading with the Congressional Parental Undersecretary to authorize an increase in the household defense budget.

imageLater in 1984, as I was planning a series of waterborne creek assaults on a backyard Cobra cave complex, my father burst in with a VHS tape containing information that “everyone” needed to see. The Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan had expanded to America and it was time to open our eyes. The tape was a newly released copy of the John Milius film, Red Dawn.

Eyes wide, I was engrossed with the concept of American children rising up against the Cobra-like invaders and I instantly identified with them. From my parents living room, I witnessed Hollywood destroy previous records for depiction of on screen violence and loved every blood soaked minute of it. I wasn’t the only one of my generation who suddenly became aware of the Communist invasion, and it also began to play out in the back yards and playgrounds, running concurrently to that of the battles against the Transformers and Cobra: The Enemy. But, despite even the bloodiest fighting against the commie forces, the war against Cobra still managed to intensify in some sectors as generals like Wyatt added elements such as the fucking U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier to his arsenal.

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Official toy of the Spoiled Bastard

Unequitable distribution of war resources often led to jealous sectarian clashes, with well funded warlords such as Wyatt being accused by rival factions of back room talks or flat out collusion with the communists and thus militarily engaged in conventional cap gun and motorized squirt gun combat. The truth is, we could have, and maybe should have used nukes against guys like Wyatt but found ourselves concerned with global fallout. That is to say, no one kicked his ass for being a stuck up spoiled prick because he’d have told his commie mother and there’d have been hell to pay.

Back in Afghanistan, the Soviets were starting to pay like that. As money and manpower flowed freely into the mujahideen’s ranks, their effectiveness as a fighting force against the invaders increased. Victories against the Soviets prompted further tactical shifts. Soviet offensives became more brutal, incorporating heavy aerial bombardment of civilians and militia alike, as well as the use of chemical weapons.

During the heaviest fighting of the mid eighties, when troop strengths were the greatest, a young Saudi jihadi with a degree in economics created a splinter faction using money inherited from his billionaire father. His name was Osama bin Laden and his group was the forerunner of Al Qaeda. Between his own cash and some outside help, Maktab al-Khidimat, became a notable contributor to the resistance. Bin Laden himself began to gain notoriety of his own following the Battle of Jaji.

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Hamster not included.

On the Carolina front lines, my own army had grown dramatically. In addition to a small fleet of assorted armored vehicles, planes and helicopters, Santa found my war efforts and ideology worthy enough to provide me with the Mobile Command Center. The MHC changed the war against Cobra altogether. It was a rolling, three-story, unfolding monstrosity that took a team of technical experts until New Years to assemble. It contained a repair bay, missile command, brig and on the top level, there was a trap door large enough to accommodate a marauding yet very confused hamster as it swooshed down an eighteen inch escape slide. Cobra simply couldn’t compete with heavy, mobile firepower like that, not even by weaponizing giant hamsters.

In 1985, mainstream America finally became aware of the true scope of the Cobra invasion when Sunbow Entertainment produced a 95 episode series of animated documentaries about the conflict. Weapons sales soared and plastic man recruitment was at an all time high.

The fighting was also the heaviest during this period (1985-86), and many of the G.I Joe generals began to show their true colors. While some welcomed outside factions such as the Transformers, many generals were distrustful of the giant robots and felt there was “more than meets the eye” going on. As a result, Transformers and their leaders were more often than not targeted for persecution and or elimination.

Heavier ordinance, of the Chinese pyrotechnic sort, was becoming widely available to anyone brave enough to cross the border into South Carolina and obtain it, and its use soon became widespread. In a struggle for neighborhood supremacy, some despotic fartknockers committed what accounted to genocide against Transformers and other minority groups including M.A.S.K., The Masters of the Universe and those Voltron cat things. The only thing more devastating than using an M-80 to destroy a disloyal Joe soldier is using six of them to blow Optimus Prime into more pieces than that crying kid who owned it could ever realistically pick up. My Little Ponies were slaughtered wholesale and melted down into something that actually sort of looked like soap.

Indeed, playground warfare had evolved significantly since the days of beheading Barbies in windows and door jams or simply using stones to drive those snug scrawny bitches up to their necks in the cold, red North Carolina clay. By the end of ’86, even those of us commanding the most modest armies had become drunk on our own power, and this arrogant aggression soon spilled over into our ongoing war against occupying Soviet forces. The first real hard shots sounded like the ultra realistic rob-a-liquor-store-with-it cap guns we were all packing, but as it turns out, Wyatt had introduced South Carolina bottle rockets into the fray and was in fact firing them towards our position.

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The Stinger, a gift from Allah and whitey

About the same time, a new weapon was introduced into the arsenal of the mujahideen, not entirely dissimilar from a bottle rocket, called the Stinger missile. Afghan fighters were being butchered, at this point, by the Soviet use of areal bombardment and attacks by heavily armed helicopter gunships.

The west, apparently as tired of fucking around as Wyatt was, just gave a whole bunch of the Stingers, shoulder fired, laser guided and capable of dropping an aircraft from 6 km away, to the Pakistanis. Pakistan, of course, did their best to arm those who were most committed to mad dog Islamist policies, like bin Laden and the assholes who would become the Taliban a decade later. Many Stingers, however, found their way into the hands of fighters commanded by Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Massoud was an old hand in the war. A native Afghan, he’d been one of the subversives who’d bristled under the Soviet thumb since even before the invasion. He commanded a large contingent of rebels in northern Afghanistan, where most of the heavy fighting took place. The Stinger missiles were the wind that turned the tide for the Afghans, giving them a much needed edge against the superior Soviet air power that had been driving them further and further towards defeat. Massoud’s men, with the precision of surgeons, used these wonderful American toys to drill new assholes in the Russian hardware, as well as the Russians themselves.

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“Yes we can.”

As 1986 began to lean towards 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed effective control of the U.S.S.R. and announced, much as Obama did, that the Red Army would soon be returning to the mother Russia. Although at great cost, the Afghan and Arab mujahideen conglomerate had succeeded at driving out the great and powerful Soviet war machine. Contrary to popular western theorists, the Golan-Globus contrived character of Rambo had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

The victory was the product of a home field advantage, surgically applied firepower and a whole hell of a lot of religious, self-righteous indignation. Unfortunately, as the cease fires set in and the Russians prepared for withdrawal, the commanders of the mujahideen armies realized that a power vacuum was developing in Kabul and began to view each other not as allies, but as rivals.

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Cobra Commander…a snake?!

The North Carolina battlegrounds were evolving as well. By 1987, Cobra seemed pretty well done for. Cobra Commander had gone to the North Pole and been turned into a snake by weird mutants (WTF??). Most of us simply didn’t buy the official story. Around the NC campfires, the theory was that Serpentor had assassinated Cobra Commander on the shitter and gone on to turn Cobra into a live Miami drag show comprising elements of Shakespearean thespianism and down home Tijuana livestock lovin.’

Hasbro began reissuing old equipment, repainted and rebranded, a shiny example of the military industrial complex at its most money-grubbing pathetic best. Without Cobra Commander, the once powerful G.I. Joe armies fell into decline. Repairs ceased and the thundering war machine slowed to a crawl, a weekday after school rerun.

The decline resulted, as in Kabul, in a vacuum, but ours was resource based. As armies of plastic men took up less space in war budgets, more funds became available for the same resistance leaders to focus towards the ongoing struggle against the communist occupation of the playgrounds and increasingly, against each other. Arms makers like Hasbro and Mattel fell away from prominence and were slowly replaced by the likes of Crosman and Daisy. Christmas weapons shipments changed shape. Instead of large square packages filled with unassembled plastic bits, we began unwrapping long rectangular boxes containing the 4th grade equivalent to the Stinger missile.

By spring of 1988, the Great North Carolina BB Gun Wars had begun. The Soviet menace was losing face and strength in the eyes of the world. It showed in our battles against them on the playground, which became fewer and fewer. The Soviets were withdrawing, much as they were in Afghanistan, and like any post-war army, we still needed someone to shoot at. Luckily, we still had our old rivalries from the Cobra wars and it wasn’t long before someone shot someone else in the ass with a pellet gun.

Everyone thought it was really funny, because it was, and not a week passed before new alliances were formed and we began actively engaging in open live combat. Our new weapons equalized us on the battlefield. Wyatt could bring all of the bottle rockets he wanted, but he still had to stick his head out in the open to fire them.

The Afghan mujahideen had won, sort of, against the Soviets, but their fight, just as ours, was far from over. As Soviet forces exited to they north, they paused and spent three days in the Panjshir Valley violating the ceasefire with Massoud’s army by steadily shelling and firing rockets at them. The attack, which inflicted substantial casualties was a preemptive effort (rightly so) aimed at protecting the Soviet installed puppet leader, Mohammed Najibullah, formerly the head of the Afghan secret police. Najibullah was tasked with basically continuing the same policies that lead to the war in the first place.

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Massoud and his homies

With continued outside aid, mujahideen fighters united under Massoud and in 1992, the communist presence was eradicated from Afghanistan and hopes were high for democratic elections in the near future. In the meantime, civil war raged. By 1994, a generation of hardline Pakistani radicalized refugees returned as the Taliban. Within two years, the Paki and Saudi backed group had driven Massoud and his hopes for Afghanistan into exile and instituted their oppressive form of authority. Massoud’s forces remained loyal, later becoming known as the Northern Alliance.

A year before the Soviet evacuation, bin Laden’s modest force had gained its own autonomy. Bin Laden saw al Qaeda as sort of an Islamist jihadi version of the A-Team and declined to officially integrate himself into the Taliban. When Iraq invaded Kuwait and moved dangerously close to the Saudi border, bin Laden eagerly offered the services of his mujahideen army to his native Saudis. When they declined in favor of American intervention, bin Laden’s focus shifted and ultimately, he found his new war.

Much information exists to suggest that bin Laden’s al Qaeda was responsible for the car bomb that killed Ahmad Shah Massoud on September 9th, 2001, the first shot fired in a war that bin Laden felt the 9/11 attacks would render inevitable. The Soviets, withdrawn from the situation and destroyed from within, have offered the best perspective on what the foreseeable future of Afghanistan holds in a statement made by former Captain Tarlan Eyvazov:

“Children born in Afghanistan at the start of the war… have been brought up in war conditions, this is their way of life.”

The boys in North Carolina, like our Afghan counterparts, had succeeded in driving out the invaders. But, also like the Afghans, we found ourselves continually engaged in the throes of all out civil war. Our newly acquired pellet rifles amounted to being little more than muskets, low powered and slow to reload, but when they’re the best thing available, they’re certainly sufficient. Our fathers, who’d ultimately planted the idea in the first place were surprisingly cool with it all, but the Maternal Oversight Committees labeled the use of pellets and BBs as atrocities and war crimes, which forced the fighting out of the neighborhoods and underground, into the forests.

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The Crosman AR-17

Hidden fortifications were quickly constructed and the evolution of our fighting became evident. Gone were the flimsy twig forts of the Soviet/Cobra wars and in their place rose cobblings fashioned from old pallets, used lumber and anything we could find that would stop an air rifle that had been pumped up 46 times. Cardboard and duct tape were adapted into crude forms of body armor and used to cover exposed patches of pellet susceptible flesh.

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Daisy Model 45 Semiautomatic pellet gun

As the fighting again intensified, I signed a secret treaty with a collector of Cobra war relics and used the subsequent profit to purchase a CO2 powered semi automatic handgun, modeled after the Colt 1911. It complemented my Crosman AR-17, a pellet firing cousin of the M-16A1 rifle. I kept the new weapon a secret, tucked under my combat clothes in a vintage canvas shoulder holster and waited for just the right moment to deploy it. The wait wasn’t long.

The summer of 1990 was accentuated by the Battle of South Springhaven Court, the last major military engagement of my adolescence. The small cadre of fifth graders, of which I was a part, found ourselves out manned by forces loyal to Wyatt, who had slowly morphed into a tyrannical seventh grade version of Stalin himself. There were only five of us in the tiny fort and the bigger kids were unleashing timed volleys of pellets and BBs, balancing their rate of fire with reload time so we had no safe window of escape. A fourth grader named Richard suddenly screamed out that a BB had penetrated the skin just behind his ear. The shooting stopped and except for Richard’s wailing, it all grew silent. After a moment, we heard Wyatt’s voice clearly.

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They don’t hirt THAT bad.

“You faggots better brace yourselves,” he yelled in a way reminiscent of the Soviet nerve to hand Afghanistan a bill for their invasion services. “Because we’re coming in and that little kid owes me money for my pellet that’s in his head.”

We were screwed like the pooch. The woods began to fill with thick, white smoke. The smell of South Carolina pyrotechnics filled the air. Wyatt and his men were using a smoke screen. They were going to storm our fort and fuck us up. The BB guns were ineffective in close quarters and those boys were much bigger. The mountains grew silent, save the crackling of leaves as Wyatt and his troops closed in. Our only chance was to use the same smoke as cover and we knew it.

Rifles pumped up, we assumed a triangular formation and pushed right down the center, hoping the enemy had fanned out enough to make their lines week. The older boys were too cool for protective snorkel masks and cardboard, so the first two we encountered got hit close range by the aforementioned 46 pumps, which stopped them cold. Although our rifles were empty when we encountered Wyatt and Heath, our crude body armor easily absorbed their hastily fired shots and all that was left was to get away. Wyatt and Heath, thinking us unarmed, attempted to close in for the kill.

They stopped suddenly and began to back away, however, when I whipped out the CO2 pistol. That awful fascist son of a bitch Wyatt got a look on his face like he was about to get shot sixteen times with a pellet gun.

I shot Wyatt sixteen times with that pistol, center mass, at a practically point blank range. And then we ran, reloading on the move, all the way back to the relative safety of home. It was the closest thing we could have achieved to victory, but it was ours, as we hadn’t been wedgied or beaten up, and so for the moment, it was enough. But like the Afghan kids, it had become what we knew and as Iraq war veteran Michael Prysner put it,

“G.I. Joe was my first recruiting officer.”

 

*This edition’s highly offensive comic strip has been posted to Facebook.