I'm under orders to deliver something Christmasy, even though I don't exactly overflow with Xmas spirit. A lot of other stuff, yes, like Diet Coke-belches and fat-sweat, but not so much that spirit stuff. In fact it just weirds me out the way my neighbors who ignore me all year and keep hitting the door-unlock button while they run away from me in the parking lot, like they're afraid I'm some overweight hook-armed commuter in my suit and gag-tie, suddenly start noticing me and greeting me around Dec. 22. Last night I was going to my car and this skinny jogger lady who usually breaks into wind-sprints when she sees me actually wished me a Merry Christmas. I thought it was some kind of sting, looked around for Feds popping out from behind the trees, but then I remembered the date and golly, was I jolly. Any jollier and I'd have headed down to Costco to price their beartraps for next morning: "Got anything a little smaller, like Lady-Jogger size?"
But orders are orders, so I'm serving up the full holiday platter: a few chills, then a New Year's resolution, and finally your present, a mouth-watering look at a special holiday war any gore fan could swallow in one delicious bite. I'm like some Saint freakin' Nick here, only he's happy-fat. Never met any happy-fat folks in real life, but I'll take Santa's ho-ho-ho word for it. After all, I'm the trusting type; I believed Jimmy Carter would punish Iran in 1979; I believed Reagan would arm the Afghans in 1981; some little sucker-lobe of my brain even believed Bush would listen to reason on Iraq.
And that brings us to #1, your winter chill. And Fresno's the place to send chills from. Sure it doesn't snow here, doesn't even get below freezing that often, but when that Tule fog pours into the Valley, it's colder than it ever gets in Siberia. I was in the snow once in Tahoe and I couldn't believe how comfy and warm it was compared to a foggy morning in Fresno, heading out to the car to wipe the fog off your windshield and mirrors. Tule fog isn't like that cool coastal fog they get in SF. It's like fog that drifted out the ass of a dead steer somebody forgot to burn in some gully. It stinks like dead mud, or an oil refinery. I swear to God, even if there's no refinery for a hundred miles, Tule fog still smells like one, all mixed up with frog mud and corpses. Fresno is Death Central, winter or summer. So for a skully-jully Christmas, never mind the North Pole, just send your letters here.
Now let's see-lots of chills to choose from, but the biggest is this rumor that the President is going to actually send more troops to Iraq. Yeah, that'll work. Actually it could, if there was any chance these morons would do it right. Send Bob Kerrey type soldiers, the ones we used in the Phoenix Program in Nam, and it might sort of work, for a while. I mean smart killers. Quiet guys who don't play electric guitar, rap or even talk much. Guys who got 1500 on their SATs and 0 on their personality tests. Send them to Iraq with local snitches/guides to point out which doors they should kick open and lists of people who need to be sent to Allah's arms ASAP and maybe the Arabs would stop laughing at us.
But Bush isn't that smart. He'll send a few thousand more regular infantry, who are trained in armored advances, and they'll stand around corners in Baqubah waiting for that video sniper to fire a 7.62 round right between their helmets and body armor. We're getting a lot of casualties like that, 19-year-old jocks who are going to spend 70-odd years as quadraplegics after taking sniper rounds to the neck. Bad enough when it happens in a good war, but 70 years getting your ass wiped by a minimum-wage Filipina "caregiver" and knowing it was for nothing, it was just we had a reckless idiot for a president-that's pretty close to Hell. That's a case for Dr. Kevorkian-and if the Secret Service is reading this, I'm talking about the crippled soldiers here, at least as far as you know.
But I'm bumming you out-bumming myself out, actually-so here's Item #2, my New Year's resolution, which is, "Gary, be more positive! Don't just criticize, offer positive solutions!" A lot of you suggested that in your letters, and even if I don't answer them, I appreciate those letters-and here's a by-the-way, drive-by thank you to everyone who wrote me this year-and I'll try to be, what's that word? "Positive."
But I just have to say one thing first: when I hear that same line from Bush, about critics not offering solutions, I want to bash certain heads in. Not any specific heads, Mr. Secret Service dude, just, uh, in general.
It reminds me of a drunk driver waking up to find himself at the wheel of his friend's new car, now wrapped around a tree. His buddies are screaming at him, every name in the book, and he says, "Oh, it's easy to criticize, but where do we go from here?"
Now that, folks, is gall. You almost have to admire it, it's so insane. HE wraps OUR car around the tree, and we're in the wrong for complaining? No wonder he's on top; you can't beat gall like that.
And by the way, the correct answer to that question, "Where do we go from here?" is, "Well, the first thing we do is drag the driver out of the wreck and kick him to death right there on the scene, with his face down in leaked tranny fluid, just on general principles." I'm just talking in general here, no specific faces are implied, in case those guys in the suits, earpieces and shades are taking notes.
So here's my positive helpful hint, to the men who have the power. We have a great chance right now to see how to settle Iraq, and all we have to do is let the Ethiopian Army invade and occupy Somalia in force. In fact we have to insist that the Ethiopians go in full force. Right now they're doing it CIA style, maybe 8000 troops with one foot sort of flirtatiously over the Somali border. That's no use to us at all. We need them to occupy the entire country so we can use it as a no-cost lab to see what works. Because as soon as Ethiopian troops are in the streets of Mog, all Hell will break out. And when it does, we have to make it clear to the Ethiopian elite (which is actually Tigrayan at the moment) that they have a free hand. And we want to see that hand develop RSI from machete chops. We want those trigger fingers to ache. We want those shoulders to get bursitis from AK recoil syndrome (ARS, leading cause of complaints in the Horn of Africa).
The guys running Ethiopia killed 500 people in their last election campaign, when they were being democratic. Let's see what they can do with an armed, Islamic population in rebellion against them. We won't lose a man. We just keep the ammo and propaganda support comin' and they'll do the rest. We'll see whether going all-out in Iraq would actually work or not. (And by the way, that's not as "obvious" as amateurs think. Large-scale massacres are not easy, and they often backfire. The logistics alone are scary, and the effect on enemy morale can be very dangerous. Frankly, I don't think any genocide-based strategy short of nukes can solve our little Mesopotamian jock-itch at this point, but after a few months of Ethiopian hijinks in Mog, we'll know for sure.)
There. How's that for being positive? I feel all proud and Xmas-time, like a mass grave with red and green lights all over it.
Well then, time for Santa Brecher to hand out the presents. Your gift this year is a bedtime story with real heroes in it: the Finnish Winter War of 1939-40.
After Stalin and Hitler agreed to divide Europe into Soviet and Nazi zones, Stalin, who had the heart of an accountant, started tidying up the messy bits-such as Finland, which had only been a country since Versailles, when Woodrow Wilson had got everybody high on that dangerous hallucinogenic call "rights of small nations." The way Stalin saw it, there were way too many of these acid flashback countries clogging his peripheral vision, and Finland, just outside the suburbs of Leningrad, was the most annoying. So he made them a generous offer: "Give up all the arable land you've got and I won't crush you." Which those uppity reindeer-eaters dared to refuse.
Remember what I said in my last column: Europe before 1945 was a tough place, warlike and fascist to the bone. It was not anything at all like Europe now. We basically killed Europe in '45; on our side with kindness and on the Soviet side, well, with killing. But like I said, our killing, the nice kind, was worse for the poor bastards in the long run. We killed their spirit; the Russkies just popped a few people. We turned them from berserkers to peacenik scum.
Well, in 1939 there were still lots of tough people in Europe and the Finns were some of the toughest: small farmers and hunters making a living out of frozen forests and lakes. Their war chief, Marshall Mannerheim, kept pushing through the 30s for more money, ranting about the Bolshevik threat. The civvies in charge fought him for every penny, but he kept threatening to resign and that scared them into coughing up just enough to keep the army ticking over. They even had a small "line," like a backyard version of the Maginot Line, called the Mannerheim Line, down near Lake Ladoga where they expected the Soviets to strike.
On Nov. 30 1939, the Soviets crossed the Finnish border in massive armored force without declaring war-standard Soviet war practice, maximum force, deception and surprise. The Soviet thrust had a million soldiers, 2,000 tanks, 2,000 artillery tubes, and 1,000 planes. The Finns had nothing, not even adequate rifle ammunition or the most basic antitank weapons. They actually developed the Molotov Cocktail while under attack by Soviet tanks, shaking up gasoline, soap and some sand in a bottle stuffed with a burning rag. It worked, but you had to be in throwing range to deliver it, and against masses of Soviet tanks supported by infantry you lost a lot of men for each tank set afire.
Nobody expected the Finns to hold out for more than a few days-so nobody helped them, especially not Britain or France. But to everybody's shock, the Finns slowed, then stopped, then started to slaughter the Soviet columns. It was one of the strongest demonstrations that locals fighting to defend their home ground can never be counted out-morale beats hardware if the geography gives any help, and those frozen forests helped the defenders big-time.
And then, in the week between Christmas and New Year, the Finns scored one of the most glorious victories of the 20th century, the battle of Suomossalmi.
Suomossalmi (I wished they'd named it something a little easier to spell) was a little border village overwhelmed at the end of November 1939 by the Soviet 163rd Division. At the start of December the 163rd was facing a single battalion of Finnish troops, helped by village militias and scouts. They had to fall back and let the Russians into the trap, giving them the village-for a while.
What gets to me in Finns' accounts of this war is the way they mourn for everything, to the point they mention every house in Suomossalmi burned by the retreating Finnish army, and every cow captured by the Russkies. (I'm not kidding; precisely 270 cattle were captured when the village was taken, to be tortured in the cellars of Lubyanka by NKVD cows and their slimy Finnish collaborators.)
The Finns stabilized the front with a successful defense against a followup Russian attack on Dec. 9, and under a new commander, Siilasvuo-sounds like a Samoan to me-they managed to encircle the entire 163rd Division with way inferior Finnish forces, an incredible feat of military ingenuity and guts. With every building in the village burned, the Russians were exposed to the Finnish winter without shelter. And since Stalin hadn't budgeted for a long or hard campaign, they were sent into battle without adequate winter supplies. They started dying, and that made them desperate.
The Russians staged a breakout attempt on Christmas Eve, 1939-no doubt some atheist kommissar thought it was a good date, "That's one in the eye for their God, comrades!"
But the thin Finn line held, as smooth as freezer'd vodka, and on Dec. 27, traditional day for returning presents, the Finns staged the biggest customer revolt ever, smashing through the starved, frozen Russian troops' defense line and sending them fleeing back toward their backup, a Ukrainian division, the 44th. Now if you know how the Ukrainians got treated in the 1930s, you'll know they had no reason to love Stalin, much less die for him, so you won't be surprised to hear they collapsed almost instantly and split, leaving almost all of their equipment for the gun-starved Finns to borrow.
The 163rd was destroyed as a fighting force, and most of its equipment was left on the field too. The only reason the Russians escaped a total surrender, Stalingrad-style, was that once they reached a frozen lake and started across in their retreat, the Finnish infantry was vulnerable to air and art'y attack and had to halt at the treeline, settling for a few sniper kills on the ice like John Candy with his driver in Uncle Buck.
Next time somebody talks to you about "Finlandizing," tell'em about Suomissalmi, and mention that the Finns got no help whatsoever from us or anybody else in 1939, for all their heroics. These brave folks sure as Hell don't deserve to be the name tag for appeasement. Hell, I'd like to see any of these neocon jerks do what the Finns did in hundreds of forest battles, using the tactic they called "Motti" to chop Soviet columns that outnumbered them dozens to one into bite-size pieces, then kill them piece by piece. I've read that some Finnish soldiers used to vomit after these battles, just because they'd killed more men in a day than the whole population of their home villages. Finlandization my ass!
There's something about that Finnish war that brought out the last scraps of glory in the Europeans, before we castrated and lobotomized them into disco trash. I've written before about another hero of that war, a Swede no less http://www.exile.ru/2004-October-15/war_nerd.html whose glorious air war in Biafra culminated a career that started when he volunteered to help the Finns in the winter war by borrowing a civilian airliner and turning it into a bomber by hand-pushing bombs out the passenger door onto Red Army columns, sort of like Santa dealing with all the naughty kids one 250 lb dose of HE at a time.
As the war Santa says, "Ho ho Kaboom ho!"
See you next year!