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War is not often the business of fat men. Sure, there’s Churchill, Mao, and Milosevic, but consider all the slim dictators: Stalin, Mugabe, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Ceausescu, Pinochet, and, of course, Hitler. But sexist, racist war buff Gary Brecher—the nom de guerre of a self-proclaimed “war nerd” with a “hairy white gut” who pens an eponymous column in the Moscow-based alt-weekly The Exile—proves that the obese can still master military strategy. Unfortunately, there’s no way to fact-check Brecher’s gut—the combat connoisseur may be a data-entry clerk living in Fresno or John Dolan, an Exile editor. Whoever Brecher is, the 48 informative, offensive, and mostly entertaining essays in War Nerd overshadow the particulars of the author’s suspect biography. A tour of conflict zones past and present, War Nerd fuses history lessons with a comprehensive theory of armed conflict that makes George Casey look like an inept junior-high Risk enthusiast. But buyer beware: Brecher likes to annoy while he educates. Insisting that “[w]ar is the only good thing in my life,” he peppers his position papers with in-your-face straight talk, like encouraging Japan to embrace its imperialist history: “…be Japanese again, not just confused, spiky-haired tourists and girls who won’t wear anything but black!” Brecher bemoans the Holocaust, sort of: “…by massacring all those civilians, that asshole Hitler ruined the whole idea that there was a heroic life in war.” Brecher composes cheers for female supporters of Janjaweed rape squads in Darfur: “Abdul, Abdul, he’s our man, if he can’t rape ’em, no one can!” Though he calls himself “pro-American,” Brecher makes irksome-hilarious declarations without adhering to any ideology beyond respect for power and those who unflinchingly wield it. In a chapter on the Iran hostage crisis—which Brecher likens to “watching your family get raped while you’re strapped in a chair”—the evildoing Shah is eclipsed by dastardly, weak-kneed negotiator Jimmy Carter, “some sort of sick Gandhi mutant version of a Southern Baptist.” Fetishizing grand battles like Gettysburg and Stalingrad, Brecher is an action junkie, decrying the Bush’s administration’s bumbling in Iraq and empty diplomacy in North Korea while penning love letters to his “simple little beauty”—the guerrilla-friendly RPG. War Nerd’s bloodthirsty, chauvinstic pose eventually wears thin: “Fag v. Fag” is an entertaining take on the Indo-
Pakistani conflict, but an anti-woman-soldier piece that references “buzz-cut Hillarys” and showcases bad dyke jokes is neither eye-opening nor funny. What redeems War Nerd is Brecher’s concise portraits of under-reported Third World dust-ups that he feels point to the future of war. Cable channels and newspapers wring their hands over supposedly senseless African tribal strife without discussing “primitive warfare”—as he explains, armies interested in “avoiding combat, slinking around, looking for unguarded villages, and then going in and killing everybody.” The G8 crowd underestimates the power of insurgents with low-tech weaponry, but Brecher thinks guerrillas who forego expensive gear to grind out victories with little more than HUMINT and chutzpah are the armies of the 21st century—forces that look more like Colombia’s FARC than Patton’s Third Army. Whoever wins the White House ignores War Nerd’s singular vision at his peril, even if it’s written by a man who admires Sinhalese Buddhists because their god is “a fat guy.”