The Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade

I want loyalty, I need loyalty

No writing has influenced my work more than Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Not the Bible. Not the Constitution. Not even The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is a pretty great book and should be thrown full force at anyone who tries to ban it.

I wrote my first novel, Two Pumps for the Body Man, under the deep influence of Catch-22. I wrote it to oppose tyranny. I wrote it in response to the maddening bureaucracy all around me. I wrote it to protest a blind march to war in Iraq because of an attack that originated in Afghanistan.

Part of that project died with the natural lapse of the Bush-Cheney era, the Rumsfeld snowflakes era, the Valerie Plame/Scooter Libby era. The book had yet to be published and already, with the passing of the forces behind the so-called ‘War on Terror’, it had become irrelevant.

Or had it? After 52 years, has Catch-22 become irrelevant?

One of the more scathing passages from that classic relates to the headlines today. In The Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, Captain Black has all the men in the combat squadron ‘dominated by the administrators appointed to serve them’ and ‘bullied, insulted, harassed and shoved about all day long’ even as they suit up and prepare to fly into anti-aircraft artillery.

“The important thing is to keep them pledging,” he explained to his cohorts. “It doesn’t matter whether they mean it or not. That’s why they make little kids pledge allegiance even before they know what ‘pledge’ and ‘allegiance’ means….”

…“Of course, it’s up to you,” Captain Black pointed out. “Nobody’s trying to pressure you. But everyone else is making them sign loyalty oaths, and it’s going to look mighty funny to the F.B.I. if you are the only ones who don’t care enough about your country to sign loyalty oaths.”

In the final version of Two Pumps, the idea of an oath to loyalty is whittled down to a few lines in a passage about secrecy. Two junior officers are asked to sign declarations of loyalty, discretion, and, finally, the SDDTS Clearance Waiver Non-Disclosure Form, which is a meaningless form that doesn’t exist, mainly because Super Duper Double Top Secret Clearances don’t exist.

As far as I know.

But loyalty exists. It’s a return on trust. And those who want it, those who need it, must first earn it.

*Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.
-Johann Heinrich Heine

Coming Out Ahead

I just bought a dozen Cadbury Creme Eggs at nine cents apiece. $0.09!

Now, to Malta!

“I don’t buy eggs from Malta,” he confessed… “I buy them in Sicily at one cent apiece and transfer them to Malta secretly at four and a half cents apiece in order to get the price of eggs up to seven cents when people come to Malta looking for them…”

“Then you do make a profit for yourself,” Yossarian declared.

“Of course I do. But it all goes to the syndicate. And everybody has a share. Don’t you understand? It’s exactly what happens with those plum tomatoes I sell to Colonel Cathcart.”

Buy,” Yossarian corrected him. “You don’t sell plum tomatoes to Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn. You buy plum tomatoes from them.”

“No, sell,” Milo corrected Yossarian. “I distribute my plum tomatoes in markets all over Pianosa under an assumed name so that Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn can buy them up from me under their assumed names at four cents apiece and sell them back to me the next day at five cents apiece. They make a profit of one cent apiece, I make a profit of three and a half cents apiece, and everybody comes out ahead.”

One Year on the Beat

A year ago this week I put Jeff Mutton on the beat.

Assigned to keep America’s diplomats safe in Saudi Arabia, he proved a tough match for tyrants as well as terrorists. He endured vacuous conversations during diplomatic soirees and survived quack psychiatry at the hands of State Department shrinks. He introduced us to a secretive government entity known as Fourth Branch. He helped the man with no lips from the office that wasn’t there collect intell to support the War on Terror, even when there wasn’t any.

Happy birthday, Jeff! Here’s a list of top ten things that haven’t happened in the year since your story was revealed:

10. Two Pumps hasn’t been used as fuel for any book-burnings.
9.   There are no known fatwas on the author’s head.
8.   The story remains uncorrupted by Hollywood.
7.   There are no reports of this book being sold without a cover.
6.   About the cover: Two Pumps‘ only bad review was an insult to the jacket.
5.   About reviews: No 0- or 1-star insults!
4.   Saudi Arabia hasn’t declared the author Persona non-Grata.
3.
2.   The author has avoided slick-road car-wrecks and fan captivity.

And, the #1 thing that hasn’t happened in the year since Mutton’s story was revealed

1. No Oprah Book Club controversies! Thank you, Oprah!

Mission Accomplished

War Novels for the War on Terror

Thirteen years ago Sunday former President George Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. Over his head a massive banner proclaimed, “Mission Accomplished.” What followed this publicity stunt—he arrived on an aircraft carrier off the coast of California riding in a Navy jet—were years of insurgency and bloodshed in pursuit of a figment: Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.

** FILE ** President Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast, in this May 1, 2003 file photo. Democratic congressional leaders on Tuesday, May 1, 2007 sent Iraq legislation setting timetables for U.S. troop withdrawals to President George W. Bush and a certain veto. On the fourth anniversary of the president's "Mission Accomplished" speech, Senate Majority Democratic Leader Harry Reid said that Bush "has put our troops in the middle of a civil war. A change of course is needed." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The anniversary of this symbolic gaffe in a gaffe-prone presidency reminds us that war’s insanity starts at the top, in civilian attire. It also reminds us of why great war novels like Catch-22 are so vital. They expose absurdity in wartime leadership. Absurdity like, say, W’s response to 9/11, which was to declare war against an intangible thing.

The War on Terror, launched in Afghanistan to pursue the mastermind of 9/11, soon lost its way in the sands of Iraq. W’s pursuit of figments there is emblematic of the war itself. Isn’t that the reality of going to “war” against “terror”? To this day in D.C. and elsewhere public transport riders are told, “If you see something, say something. Report suspicious activities and unattended baggage.” Announcements urge passengers to ask fellow riders, “Is that your bag?” How better to stoke fear—and hand victory to terror—than to remind civilians that the authorities are powerless to defeat the intangible?

Unlike our traditional sense of what constitutes war, the War on Terror is a civilian conflict as well as a military one. Novels about the WOT might take this into account. Not to diminish the admiration and gratitude our veterans deserve for shouldering the challenges unique to combat. Because….

marines-ramadi-truck

Rather, it broadens the scope of what the WOT really is, and how victory might be attained. We’ll still have those books centered in what Iraq War Veteran Matt Gallagher, writing for The Atlantic, calls “the American war writing tradition.” We know what that looks like. Military books. Tales of strategy and tactic, grit and fear, stubble and blood. Great war novels like The Naked and the Dead and The Things They Carried. For the WOT, that might be Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds or Gallagher’s own Youngblood.

But because the enemy also targets civilians, civilians too walk a kind of front line. And the civilian experience demands its own type of WOT novel. A book like Jess Walters’ The Zero, which plumbs the civilian psyche in the aftermath of 9/11, comes to mind.

The WOT began in a civilian setting, a non-military attack against ordinary people doing ordinary things in a maze of cubicles one fine September morning. But the WOT is no ordinary war. And the novels that come out of it—whether set deep in the heat of battle or on some other front here at home—will serve us best if they remind us that victory over terror can only come from within.

Only then do we declare, Mission Accomplished.

views expressed here do necessarily reflect the views of the author’s employer

Nice Bump for Two Pumps

Robert Bruce Cormack penned a few kind thoughts on Two Pumps for the Body Man. Read more about his hilarious satire You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive).

Ben East has created a wonderfully wacky consular bash in a place called The Kingdom, a nightmarish place straight out of Catch-22 where bureaucrats use every acronym under the sun (including OOPS, which stands for Office of Overseas Predator Strikes). While bureaucracy rules, one man, Jeff Mutton, Head of Security, tries to keep everyone safe despite the machinations of beauty Vanna Lavinia, Consul General, attempting to improve diplomatic relations with disco parties.

This is haywire bureaucracy at its finest and East does a great job bringing his characters out into the Middle Eastern sunshine. A good read from a writer who’s obviously seen some of the nuttiness himself. Truly enjoyed this.

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Banned Reading

Did you know that Popular Online Vendor X bans “distasteful content” from honest reviews of the very books they’d be happy to sell you? That’s right: reviews of books full of obscenities sold on their site won’t be posted if those reviews contain the same profane, immoral, or distasteful content as the product they want you to buy.

I tried for two weeks to post my review of Robert Bruce Cormack’s hilarious (and not at all distasteful) You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive) only to have it rejected time and again. Finally last night, after five attempts, I found the magic formula. Boy did I have to censor the shit out of it.

Horse

First, I took out references to pot brownies and weed-smoking security guards. Next, I removed all the “stiffies” (also known as boners, woodies, chubbies, hard ons, etc). Finally, on the advice of industry insiders, I removed a reference to Zack Galifianakus, Catch-22, and A Confederacy of Dunces. Why these last? Because I’d learned that (REDACTED) might consider their inclusion to be a promotion of other products, including celebrities, and I was done taking chances.

I shouldn’t complain too much. (REDACTED) has a good track record of accepting my returns without question. And they did publish my review, despite a barb directed at them. They even allowed a promotional link to my blog. But I’m left with a sour taste in my mouth after swallowing certain words that a dumbass like me enjoys using when writing about certain intelligent, funny, colorful books.

One thought, though, for the robot censors at (REDACTED): you might catch the easy shit like “Show me some titty-action”, but you’ll never tell the difference between sarcasm and your asshole. Nor will you understand the hypocrisy of blocking my best reviews while peddling material like this (which is a f*ckin’ hoot, by the way):

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(REDACTED) reserves the right to remove reviews that include:

  • Obscene or distasteful content (Bye-bye, mynah repeating “Gimme some titty action!”)
  • Profanity or spiteful remarks (So long, “shitcanned”)
  • Promotion of illegal or immoral conduct (Sayonara, pot brownies and weed-smoking security guard)
  • Promotional content such as Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (so, really?, no references to an actor who might play the role of a protagonist, or similar type of book?)

Posted to (REDACTED)–self-censorship in red

Robert Bruce Cormack’s You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive) is a picaro’s tale with brilliant dialogue miscues straight out of (a satire about bombardiers during World War Two) and an unsung genius—Muller—who might have wandered in from (another hilarious picaresque set in New Orleans with a protagonist named Ignatius J. Reilly). Cormack’s story centers on Sam’s reintegration into a world that’s passed him by during 30 years writing advertising copy and which, to his understandable dismay, requires that he coach his live-in son-in-law on (his bedside manner) while simultaneously wanting to (teach him a lesson) about (breaking one of the ten commandments).

Original–the funny shit’s in blue

With little more plot than that Robert Bruce Cormack’s You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive) is a picaro’s tale with dialogue miscues straight out of Catch-22 and an unsung genius—Muller—who might have wandered in from A Confederacy of Dunces. Cormack’s story centers on Sam’s reintegration into a world that’s passed him by during 30 years writing advertising copy and which, to his understandable dismay, requires that he coach his live-in son-in-law on working up a stiffy while simultaneously wanting to choke him dead for coveting another man’s wife.

Full Review (uncensored!)

Review–You Can Lead a Horse to Water

(But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)

Queue the circus music when Sam, Muller, and Max join Max’s father Otis and mother Ruby in The Rec Room of Sound, Otis’s Internet radio broadcast, to consume pot-laced brownies and interview Bisquick the Mynah bird best known for biting nipples and repeating the phrase “Gimme some titty action”.

As the narrative careers from such inconsequence to further inconsequence, threatening to implode with all lack of import, it reveals instead our present state of communication and entertainment. How pathetic that an independent online radio program called Otis Cries for You can be a hit with thousands, that we might therefore get our emotions watered by watching Dr. Phil and Oprah.

Horse

Robert Bruce Cormack’s You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive) is a picaro’s tale with dialogue miscues straight out of Catch-22 and an unsung genius—Muller—who might have wandered in from A Confederacy of Dunces. File it under “Catch-22 for the late-life laid-off father-in-law/son-in-law relationship picaresque”.

Full Review

You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)
By Robert Bruce Cormack
Yucca Publishing, November 2014
Reviewed by Ben East