The War Nerd
Soft Skull Press
If memoirs were the province of WWII, then blogs would have to be the defining medium of the War on Terror. Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, several “war blogs” have popped up on the Internet, including Iraqi Salam Pax’s Where Is Raed?, JP Borda’s milblogging.com, and others. Several, like Pax’s poignant tome about the search for his missing friend, were turned into books, and many of the bloggers themselves went on to become mini-celebrities in their own right. Through a combination of humor, anecdotes, and sober analysis, these tomes are able to shed light on a difficult and frustrating subject. To compare Gary Brecher’s War Nerd to any of them would be an injustice to all of them. It would also be an injustice to Gary Brecher.
At 317 pages, the book is as inflammatory as it is dark. From the introduction, in which Brecher declares that “War is the only thing good in my life,” to the final chapter’s analysis of asymmetrical warfare (that’s terrorism, folks), the tale is a blunt, sometimes reactionary examination of war and its aftermath. Take for example, this passage on Haiti: “There’s a lot of racial talk in the world, and not much of it means anything. That’s why I like Haiti…take Dessalines, he killed every paleface he could catch.” See what I mean? It’s like Rudyard Kipling on crack.
There’s a lot more there where that came from- screeds on the Vietnamese, the Maoists in Nepal, the Pakistanis and Indians. He even gives a shout out to Al Qaeda, whom he considers vastly superior to the IRA in light of the whole suicide bombing thing. Yet browsing the book, it’s hard to get a sense of the man himself. Does he really consider himself a war-lover, or is he being satirical? It’s hard to tell. Some passages, such as the one on Columbia, invite ridicule (“Complete Guide to Understanding Columbia. Step 1: Rent Scarface. Step Two: Fast forward to the part where Al Pacino and his friends try a coke deal with the Columbians. Step 3: Replay this scene over and over for four hundred years”). Yet at other times he is dead serious- as when he praises the Syrians for putting down the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Aleppo. So which is he, satirist or war-lover?
The resulting confusion make this book a difficult read. Not surprising, giving the mystery surrounding Brecher himself, who is something of a cross between Thomas Pynchon (no known photos of the guy exists) and Dennis Miller in fatigues. If war is comedy, as the man says himself, then it’s hard to see the punch-line. Or is it?
At $16, “The War Nerd” is a good book…when it’s raining outside and nothing’s on. Other than that, it’s a waste of ammunition.
By Jack Winn