If there’s anything worth valuing after the last eight years, it’s straight talk. It turns out to be much rarer than you might think. When you find somebody truly unburdened by social mores or corporate expectations, you realize that all the stuff you thought was straight talk was just doublespeak. I’m no anti-media conspiracy theorist, but you read a column or two by the War Nerd, Gary Brecher, whose first ever collection, The War Nerd, is being put out by Soft Skull, and you realize you’ve been getting the news with a lot less truth, perspective, and humor.
Now it may seem antithetical to crown Brecher, which after all is a pseudonym, the king of telling it like it is, but when we’re talking samizdat, there’s value in staying undercover. Brecher’s backstory is that he’s a schmo in a cubicle in Sacramento pounding away at his data entry gig. He’s a self-described friendless, overweight creep who’s probably been voted most likely to show up at work and mow everybody down. The upside of this unlikeable persona is that Brecher is a bonafide self-taught expert in military history, whose lifelong bitterness at being the unloved fat kid remains unchecked. He’s a War Nerd.
That Brecher’s War Nerd ravings appear in Moscow-based expat newspaper is telling, as if mutual incompatibility between Brecher and mainstream media requires that his words appear in what might be considered the diametric opposite of the New York Times or Washington Post. The eXile, an English-language biweekly free newspaper with a misogynistic bent and often vile content, both feeds off of Moscow’s corrupt culture and offers a rebuke to it, particularly as Vladimir Putin has strangled the media there over the last several years.
Brecher is by far the best thing on offer in The eXile, though he definitely is likely to offend to a good portion of the public if they read enough of his columns (we suggest the sensitive and politically correct steer clear). His sensibility, that of the basement-dwelling war fanatic, is hard to convey, so I’ll just share a choice excerpt from his recent column on Kosovo declaring independence and America’s simplistic official response.
I’ll get to the battle in a minute–it’s a glorious battle and deserves retelling–but first I want to talk about Condi’s tantrum over people caring about stuff that happened long ago. I’ve heard this a lot: “Can’t they just get over it?” There’s some rule in California, it’s like a misdemeanor to care about anything that happened more than a week ago. And Condi, the all-American spinster, picked up that notion and ran with it, because as we all know Condi had to be twice as dull as her rivals. So here’s Condi solving the problems of Balkan history in a mall-girl whine: “I mean come ON! 1389? I wasn’t even BORN then!”
I can’t stop here. Read on:
Well, Condi, have a seat on that mall ottoman, the one between the American Eagle store and the foodcourt, and let Uncle Gary tell you something very important: You see, L’il Condi, some people actually care about stuff that happened a long time ago. Yeah, seriously. Like, for example, me. I care more about one particular day in 1779 than I do about my whole sophomore year in high school. Because on September 23, 1779 a Scottish-American rebel privateer named John Paul Jones maneuvered his soggy old raider, the Bon Homme Richard, next to a much bigger British warship, the Serapis, and lashed the ships together to make sure no quarter could be asked or given. And even though the Brits blew his little ship apart right under him, Jones refused to surrender and scared his Brit counterparts into surrendering themselves.
That day gave me a reason to live. All my sophomore year gave me was the strong impression that people were stupid and nasty. So excuse me, Condi, I’ll take 1779. A lot of people will take any year in the past over a lot of years in the present.
And the year 1389, the one you want the Serbs to get over? Well, 1389 means even more to the Serbs than Jones’ victory means to me. The battle they fought against the Turks that year is the main plotline in every song and story the Serbs tell to this day. It taught generations of Serb boys what was expected of them, how honorable warriors are supposed to act.
I suspect Condi’s other, deeper problem with the Serbs’ 1389-ophilia is that the Serbs didn’t even win that day. Talk about un-American! They hang around dreaming of this old battle, and it was a defeat? Gawd, get a life!
Well, not everybody wants a life, Condi. There’s a lot to be said for glorious death instead. Ever read the Bible, for example? Not that you have to. A lot of the great old European warrior stories are about defeats. The Anglo-Saxons sang about getting stomped by the Vikings at Maldon, and the Franks just couldn’t get enough of the Song of Roland, which is a whole epic poem about how Roland, Charlemagne’s Custer, lost his whole command. They should do a poster of that battle, with Roland as this Conan-the-Barbarian hero battling to the end, surrounded by hacked Saracens, wearing a t-shirt that says, “It’s a Euro thing, you wouldn’t understand.”
It’s international news coverage with a soul and acne, not to mention a deeply contrarian point of view.
If you’re a War Nerd fan like I am, you may wonder who Brecher is exactly.
Wikipedia, as of this writing, suggests that he’s really John Dolan, an eXile editor. Soft Skull’s publisher Richard Nash told me, “I published Mark Ames’s [eXile's founding editor] Going Postal and he asked me if I’d be up for doing a War Nerd book and I said hell yeah!” As for the identity of Brecher, Nash said “We decided not to get into the whole Who is Gary Brecher thing, sorry!” As War Nerd fans already know, however, Brecher’s murky persona only heightens his outsider genius.