Welcome the War Nerd
Today marks the anniversary of a lot of major events in the War Department. For most of you folks, September 11th is the anniversary of that terrible day when remote-controlled cruise-missiles dolled up to look like passenger jets were deftly steered by joystick wielding Zionists into explosives-packed skyscrapers.
Here in Utah, September 11th is a day of shame: On this day in 1857, Mormon militiamen, inspired by or under orders from Brigham Young, massacred over 100 unarmed men, women and children passing through Utah on their way to California, in what became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, on the eve of the Utah Wars (yes, The United States actually fought a war against the Mormon Caliphate here in Utah). I’ll tell you more about all that in the near future.
But these World Trade attacks and Mormon Massacres will fade in time, becoming mere footnotes in the annals of some conquering culture’s encyclopedias. To the future historians of war and massacre, September 11 will be remembered for something far more significant: Today marks the day that the War Nerd, Gary Brecher, came out of retirement and launched his new regular column for NSFWCORP.
It was exactly ten years ago that I first proposed the War Nerd column to my writing mentor, Dr. John Dolan. My former partner Matt Taibbi had just left Moscow and The eXile, and I needed a new columnist to fill the void. Everyone was talking war in 2002, but it was clear to me that no one was talking honestly about war—and if one person could, it was John Dolan.
We were only a few months into the War On Terror, and the talk by amateur war dorks was getting out of hand: If you remember, the major magazines and newspapers were slobbering all over each other for a new superlative to describe America’s military dominance. It wasn’t enough anymore to call America “the world’s only superpower”—by 2002, they were inventing super-bosso playground words to describe America: now it was a “hyperpower” rather than a mere “superpower”; they claimed that the American Empire was the most powerful empire that mankind had ever produced, putting the Romans and the Mongols to shame. America had achieved “full spectrum dominance” they boasted. The only thing that prevented America from completely subjugating every last human being on earth was America’s own benevolence and sense of restraint. Thomas Friedman, with his narrow little shoulders, his jowly face and his ridiculous mustache, stormed into the Charlie Rose Show and dared the Arab World to “suck on this!”
In sum: we were fucking ridiculous. All the cheap triumphalism and affected gravitas of all these middle-aged men striking grim “look at my steely-yet-anguished expression as I make tough decisions while dressed in my dark suit” poses for the covers of all those Woodward hardback jackets—it screamed “comic foil,” the big setup before the fall, and yet there was no one in pundit-land to capture the mean humor of it all.
What was lacking from all of the tough-guy martial talk in DC and Manhattan was the plain, flat, obvious, comical truth: These wars were a godsend to millions of Americans, mostly males, whose dull, dreary lives aren’t worth protecting, let alone remembering. For them, this war—other people’s wars, other people’s deaths and glories and massacres—was the closest to a meaningful existence they’d ever get.
Dr. Dolan had already invented the expression “War Nerd” in a column he wrote shortly after 9/11 for The eXile, under his own name. But for the new War Nerd column, Dr. Dolan insisted on using a pseudonym, to release the War Nerd column from any of Dr. Dolan’s own personal baggage. So he invented a character, Gary Brecher, based entirely on Dolan’s own real war-nerd experiences and analyses, only with a simplified biography, in a voice that’s best described as a sort of “cheerful nihilism.”
It quickly became the most popular column that The eXile ever ran, with thousands of fans—mostly male, mostly nerdly— the world over. Dr. Dolan once confided to me, “People like the War Nerd better than they like me—and you know, to be honest, I agree with them. I like Gary Brecher better than I like myself.”
The War Nerd predicted that the Iraq War would go badly over time—and was vindicated, much to his neocon detractors’ grief. The Nerd picked a very public and hilarious fight with Dick Cheney’s personal guru, National Review columnist and historian Victor Davis Hanson—and when Hanson struck back with a National Review column accusing “Gary Brecher” of setting fire to VDH’s Fresno grape vines, readers celebrated the scorching humiliation of one of the leading “minds” of the neocon movement.
This year marks a decade since the first War Nerd column, started early in Bush’s first term. Now, ten years later, we’re nearing the four-year mark of the Barack Obama presidency. Some things have changed dramatically from that first War Nerd column: The same Fareed Zakarias and Thomas Friedmans who were hailing America’s hyperpower status now hector us for failing to accept America’s decline and reduced influence in the world.
So some of the dramatic elements have changed, but the basic structure and even the same comic foils remain: We’re still killing each other and lying about what we really think about all the the death and mayhem, and we’re still getting stupider and crazier by the hour. Only one nerd can make sense of all this senselessness.
Ladies and Gentlenerds, NSFW Corp proudly presents: The War Nerd.