Saturday, December 12, 2009

War Made New: Don't Fire Until You See Those Shiny Transmitter Receptors

"If you're depressed, learn something."

That may or may not be the exact quote I came across years ago. It could be "when you're depressed, learn something." I remember quotes like I remember jokes -- badly.

I took the quote to mean that when you're depressed, learn something to take your mind off of it. If you're clinically depressed, picking up a book or plugging yourself into the PC is a daunting task. If you're in this state, you need more than book learnin'.

If you're garden-variety depressed, learning something gives you something to do. It focuses the mind, and by the time you exit the book, you will have forgotten -- temporarily -- about your depression. You may even feel better. One thing's certain -- you will have learned something. "Mopey" may be a constant state, but why not try being a mope with a head full of history or art or poetry.

I was thinking about this because I've been depressed due to Christmas and the sub-zero temperatures and various other things. So I checked out books from the library about depressing topics: bird flu, military history and Iraq. This might send another dysthymic over the edge. But to me, reading about sordid and complicated topics has a calming effect. I also sometimes medicate myself with films featuring sordid and complicated topics. But it doesn't have quite the same salutary effect.

The book on the avian flu, "The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemic," gave me all sorts of info about viruses and epidemiologists, not to mention admiration for the craft of reporter and author Alan Sipress. His descriptions of the inner workings of the flu virus made me marvel at its existence. When I finished the book, I was (temporarily, at least) a wiser man. I bored several of my coworkers with descriptions on the spread of bird virus and the operations of the CDC germ detectives. After a few days of this, workplace absenteeism soared. I figured they had either caught the swine flu, thought that they'd been infected with avian flu, or were patiently waiting at home for me to finish the book and move on to other things.

I moved on to "Understanding Iraq" by William R. Polk. I'm now in the section where Polk documents "Revolutionary Iraq." This chapter covers the years between the fall of the monarchy in 1958 and continues through a series of dictators leading up to the late Saddam and up until 1991 and the First Iraq War. The U.S. has entered the picture at this point and there are ominous rumblings of what's to come. Iraq, of course, is a complicated country with a tumultuous history. I'm a bit late reading about Iraq, but better late than never. Too bad that U.S. neocons never understood the target of their nefarious plans.

I took a break from Iraq to dive into "War Made New: Technology, Warfare and the Course of History, 1500 to Today." Author is Max Boot. He takes us from a prologue about "the Blitzkreig of 1494," when a disciplined French army brought shock and awe to Italy, to "Humvees and IEDs: Iraq, March 20, 2003-May 1, 2005." The book was published in 2006. It's almost 2010 and we're still in Iraq. although the Humvee-IED battles have switched the Afghanistan. This will no doubt require a sequel.

Max Boot writes in an easy-going manner about some tough stuff. Right now, I'm at the end of the "Gunpowder Revolution" section with the Battle of Assaye, the Brits vs. the Marathas in 1803 India. I haven't read ahead, but the Brits might still have been sore about getting their asses beat by ragtag bands of American colonists. This brings to mind Stephen Colbert's Afghanistan history lesson on the Colbert report last night. He showed a complicated chart of U.S. plans in Afghanistan. Then he showed a chart of the simplified British plan when they fought Afghanistan: 1. Kill the bloody savages; 2. Win; 3. Drink tea. He then added this: 4. Oppress the Irish.

Simple plan. How difficult to put into practice (except the Irish part -- for awhile, anyway).

Here's the military's COIN strategy flowchart as seen on TV:

Mr. Boot's book has captured my attention. The rise of nation-states, bureaucracies, professional armies, improved weaponry. Those all could be deadly dull. But not here. Temporarily, I am more fascinated than depressed. Do to the technology of antidepressants, and the stimulation of learning something, my brain's neurotransmitters are overcoming the entrenched and outmoded tactics of the Dendrites. Here it is shown in the graphic below:

The Neurons, with daily reinforcements from the arsenals of Zoloft, may win this battle and -- ultimately -- the war.

NOTES: Shamelessly lifted the illustration from wikipedia. You may view the full "Colbert Report" episode noted above by going to

No comments: