The War Nerd, the nom de guerre of the military blogger Gary Brecher (who in turn is the alledged nom de plume of the itinerant Irish-American writer and poet John Dolan), is one of those independent, online columnists that some people love to hate. Principally their disdain derives from their failure to understand the brutally honest persona of the “American military fanboy” that Dolan adopts when providing his analyses of current and past conflicts around the world. The emotional detachment and occasionally gung-ho nature of the former permits the latter to say things that are otherwise left unsaid by mainstream journalists and commentators. Yes, it can be provocative – especially some of the more cynical pronouncements – but that is the point of the whole thing. This is never truer than when he writes about events that are informed by his own personal experiences of the world’s “hotspots”. A good illustration of this are his two most recent articles on the now multinational war in Yemen. If you want to understand why it is making the headlines these related pieces are as good a place to start as any you will find in the print or electronic press.
From the first piece, which you really should read it its entirety, I was struck by this all too accurate description of the workings of the former Pax Britannica:
“…after the Turks left in the mid-17th century, the Yemenis faced a much smarter empire: the British. Very few countries held off that Empire for long. Between the Americans’ victory in 1783 and Irish independence in 1922, not one country was able to eject the Empire. Tens of millions died trying — brave, brilliant empires like the Sikhs and the Zulus; no one succeeded. We forget that now, because . . . well, you know that amnesia flash device from Men in Black? It was actually the British Empire that invented that thing, and asked the world to smile and say cheese when it decided to dissolve itself around 1960. And like Tommy Lee Jones in that movie, their last act was to use the flash on themselves, so they could say in all truth, “Empire? What Empire?”
But in 1840, at their peak, the British were beautiful to watch. They were masters at handling a complicated, clannish country like Yemen. They never made the mistake of rolling in and claiming the whole place as the Turks had. That only united the locals. Instead, they did what they were good at: using proxies, fomenting divisions, creating distractions—the original force multipliers. And even when they lost battles or campaigns, they left their enemies weakened, often for good.
The British used another Imperial strategy now forgotten: forced immigration by subject peoples. Aden, the focus of their ambitions in Yemen, became a “world town” in the 19th century, with about a thousand Arabs swamped by South Asian, SE Asian, and African immigrants. Those were the perfect inhabitants, with no links to the locals and entirely dependent on the Empire’s protection to avoid being killed by the angry Yemenis.”
Switch Yemen for Ireland, or pretty much anywhere else in the long list of former colonial possessions, and you readily appreciate the accuracy of the War Nerd’s summation of Britain’s historic policies. Not to mention it’s current blind belief in the glory days of the world’s only “empire of the good guys” (something that even many on the British Left choose to believe is true). However here is something of far greater import, a riposte to all those conservative Western commentators who ask: where are the “secularists” in the Arab world who were so prevalent in the 1950s and ’60s and why is the region now dominated by religious fundamentalism?
“You know why they stopped getting modern, and started getting interested in reactionary, Islamist repression?
Because the modernizing Arabs were all killed by the US, Britain, Israel, and the Saudis.”
The follow-up article is much more personal, and all the more effective as it deals with the city of Dammaj and its cross-border hinterland. I recommend you take some time to read it as it gives more insight into what is happening in the area than much of the reporting I’ve seen in the bigger news outfits.
I like your diversions to the Middle East Sionnach – great for getting an alternate take on what’s going on out there