Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Now It Can Be Told by Fred Russell

Fred Russell's bitingly funny satire about the American military operation in Iraq.

It was the Vice President who got the idea of putting together a Special Forces team to mop up and flush out Saddam after the President proclaimed victory in Iraq. He wanted to put Clint Eastwood in charge of the operation but the Secretary of Defense told him that Clint didn't do that kind of thing anymore, having gone a little arty in his old age. "If only we could get Arnold," he said.

"What about Steven Seagal?" the Vice President said.

"I think the Israelis are using him in Gaza."

"Van Damme?"

"Let's keep this American."

They found the President in the White House Screening Room watching an old John Wayne movie from the Nixon Collection. "What I'm worried about," he said, "is where we're going to get 150,000 extras."

"From the ranks of the unemployed," the Vice President said. "You don't even have to give them guns. Our team will be in and out of there in twenty-four hours."

"Who's directing?"

"Leave that to me," the Defense Secretary said.

It was harder to put the team together than anyone had imagined. Karl Rove was in a dither. Everyone he talked to had contractual obligations, even Sylvester Stallone. In the end they had to go with the B Team, not that the men didn't have impressive enough records. All of them had participated in daring missions during the course of their long careers, wiping out whole armies with just a handful of men in less time than it took to boil an egg. The Vice President and Defense Secretary had no reason to believe that things would be any different in Iraq. They briefed the men in the White House basement. The President came by to listen in, eating pretzels.

They had put together the team the way such teams are usually put together; they found the men engaged in a variety of occupations all around the globe when the official-looking vehicle pulled up and two Secret Service agents wearing dark glasses stepped out: the demolition expert about to blow up a condemned building in downtown Miami, the radio operator dead drunk on a beach in Waikiki, and so on and so forth. The radio operator had doubled as a safecracker and forger in other capers so he was a valuable addition to the team. They also had a martial arts man serving time in Leavenworth and promised a reprieve if he signed on, someone for comic relief who was also an expert marksman, and the team leader, code-named Spanky. All they were missing was a black who was also a licensed pilot. Spanky and the martial arts man went back a long way and though there had been bad blood between them in the past Spanky wanted him on the team. That's the kind of guy he was.

The Vice President said, "Men, the future of the free world and the safety of our nation depend on you. We wouldn't be putting you in harm's way if we didn't think you could do the job. There may be a few pockets of resistance but you will be facing undersized men who will throw down their arms and run away the minute they see you. Don't forget, you are Americans and they are not. Remember Bataan and Iwo Jima."

Charlie, the comic relief man, said, "That's where I got the clap." Everyone laughed, including the President. The Defense Secretary said, "Now now, boys, let's settle down." Parker, the demolition expert, said, "Sir, I have a question." The Vice President said, "Go ahead, son." This was classic repartee, establishing Parker as respectful to figures of authority and therefore worthy of being an American hero, and the Vice President as fatherly and therefore worthy of being Vice President, unless he turned out to be a homicidal maniac.

Parker said, "Once we're in, how do we get out?"

The Defense Secretary stepped in and said, "The SS Nimitz will be standing by at 0100 hours to rendezvous with your PT boat."

"Where will that be?"

"Off the coast of Beirut. Any other questions?"

Smitty, the radio operator, said, "What's the lingo they talk down there in I-raq?"

"A-rab," the Vice President said, "but don't trouble yourselves about that. The streets are full of kids who talk pidgin English. You can use them when you interrogate the insurgents."

"Who are these Shiites we've been hearing about?"

"That's some women's lib organization they got over there."

"And the Sunnis?"

"I think they're nudists."

"Are they for us or against us?"

"We haven't figured that out yet."

The men had heard enough. They were raring to go. Not wishing to waste any more time, they loaded up their gear and touched down in Baghdad that same morning, skipping the tedious trans-Atlantic journey. General Armbuster, the commanding officer, was skeptical about the whole operation, thus setting himself up as a doubting Thomas who would later have to swallow his pride and say, "I was all wrong about you boys. You make me proud to be an American," or, "I didn't think you had it in you, boys. You make me proud to be an American." The Defense Secretary organized the extras into convoys, figuring he'd get some nice footage for his private collection when they were blown off the road. With 150,000 men out there he had plenty to spare. The B Team was equipped with a jeep and a command car. They kept the explosives and spare ammo in the back of the command car and had a machine gun mounted on the jeep. Spanky had seen enough movies to know that this was how you distributed your ordnance. They found a kid who spoke pretty good English so they figured they'd take him along when they started knocking on doors in the afternoon after they captured Falluja and Mosul. The kid had a nice back story too, along with a pretty sister, so there was a hint of romance in the air as the men moved out.

Butler, the martial arts man, wanted to divide the team into two separate strike forces, three men to take Falluja and three for Mosul, but Spanky thought that this would be cutting it a little thin so they decided to stick together and take the two cities one after the other. "We'll get behind them and hit 'em with everything we have," Spanky said. Of course he knew he'd be getting air support from General Armbuster, who'd be laying down a carpet of white phosphorus and other incendiaries, though that was mostly for the highlight reels. Everyone knew what a big kick the CNN people got out of watching the pyrotechnics from their hotel windows. In fact, they had one of these news people "embedded" in their command car. Spanky had been hoping he could speak the local lingo, but that wasn't how these people worked. His name was Frank Bosh and he had won six Pulitzer Prizes for reporting from countries whose language he didn't understand.

The black guy with the pilot's license turned out to be a Latino with a chip on his shoulder, and since he wasn't going to engage in any spectacular air battles or fly the men out of a blazing inferno, they had him driving the jeep. Anyone could see that he was expendable, though sometimes these types surprised you, causing the commanding officer to say, "We can all learn something from you, son. You make me proud to be an American." His name was Pepito, indicating that he could fill in for the comic relief man if necessary, that is, if he lost the attitude. He was the one who spotted their pint-sized interpreter's sister racing out of a bombed-out building with a dozen insurgents hot on her trail and her dress only slightly torn to indicate that she hadn't been raped yet and could therefore still become someone's sweetheart. Spanky leaped out of the jeep and opened fire, mowing down the entire enemy force in less time than it took to toast a marshmallow. Then he took the hysterical girl into his arms and said, "Easy now, honey, no one's gonna hurt you anymore. We're the good guys." You could see that there was going to be something between them later on in the caper. However, as it turned out, one of the insurgents was still alive and was reaching for his gun when Butler stepped up and put a bullet through his head, just in the nick of time. Spanky nodded unsmilingly in the manner of American heroes acknowledging a debt of gratitude to a former adversary and said, "I owe you one, Ben."

In any case it was the girl who told Spanky they were going in the wrong direction. "Falluja is west of Baghdad," she said. "Shee-it," the dumbfounded team leader exclaimed, "those bozos in Washington don't know their asses from their elbows." He told Pepito to turn the jeep around. Pepito said, "Why I gotta do dat?" Spanky said, "You heard the lady, Falluja's thataway." "But the convoy go east," Pepito said. "That's their problem," Spanky said.

They now had three noncombatants on board: Frank Bosh, the Pulitzer Prize reporter; Hakim, their pint-sized interpreter; and his pretty sister, Jamila. Hakim sat up front with Pepito in the jeep. Spanky put Jamila in the command car with Bosh and the other men. This was no time for romance. The radio crackled. It was General Headquarters.

"Spanky from Angler, Spanky from Angler," the voice said. "Have you made contact with the enemy? I repeat, have you made contact with the enemy? Over."

Spanky said to Pepito, "Who the fuck is Angler?"

"Das de Wice Presdent, I believe."

"Well, I'll be damned. Angler from Spanky. That's a negative, sir... Sir? Sir? Do you read me, sir?"

"You didn't say 'Over.'"

"Let's cut to the chase, man. You sent us in the wrong fucking direction, if you'll pardon my French."

"Angler to Spanky, Angler to Spanky. Copy that. Mayday! Mayday!"

"What?"

"Sorry, I meant Roger."

"Is General Armbuster there by any chance?"

"I think he's in the crapper. Over."

"Over and out. Shee-it!"

The road was full of potholes. Pinpoint bombing had seen to it that the insurgents had no gas, electricity or running water, wherever they might be. The bombed-out buildings also made it hard for them to hide. Spanky could see that this was going to be a piece of cake. When they reached the river, Spanky signaled to Butler, the martial arts man, to follow him down to the bridge. The bridge was guarded by a squad of insurgents jabbering away in their A-rab lingo and conveniently spread out so that they could be silently dispatched one by one without alerting the others. Butler moved up silently and dispatched them, breaking their necks or slitting their throats. Each victim grunted to indicate that he had been dispatched and then fell heavily to the ground. Spanky himself got the last one just as he was coming up behind Butler, leaping down on him from a tree in which he had inexplicably posted himself. Butler gave him the thumbs up sign. They were even now. It was important to establish that, as conceivably they would be rivals for Jamila's affection.

The team crossed the bridge. They were in downtown Falluja now. The streets were deserted though they could hear some wailing coming from the bombed-out buildings. Suddenly they came under sniper fire. Someone also threw a pot of lentil soup at them. "Bring on the kebab," the comic relief man said.

Frank Bosh crawled under the command car in his helmet and flak jacket and started broadcasting. "We've just come under heavy enemy fire," he whispered. "I'm with a Special Forces unit that's been sent in to clean up Falluja and Mosul and capture Saddam. They figure they'll be in and out of here in twenty-four hours, but so far it's been rough going. These brave American boys are the best we have. If they can't do the job, no one can. They may not get the attention of the big stars in those blockbuster movies that gross a hundred million dollars over the weekend, but in their own quiet way they too are making the world safe for democracy. Jesus, that was close! He's up there in the window. Kill the motherfucker!"

While Charlie picked off the snipers Spanky moved the men toward the last A-rab stronghold in Falluja, the Leila Khaled All-Girls Orphanage and Advanced Training Center for Suicide Bombers. They figured there were at least a thousand insurgents there. Unfortunately the surrounding area had been leveled by General Armbuster so there wasn't much cover. Spanky signaled to Butler and Parker to move around to the enemy rear while he, Charlie and Smitty created a diversion in the enemy front. This was accomplished by lobbing mortar shells into the orphanage. At least that got the orphans out of the way. Bosh, the Pulitzer Prize man, whispered into his microphone: "We are witnessing a tremendous assault on the last enemy stronghold in Falluja. I can't begin to describe what I'm seeing here. Bodies are literally flying out of the woodwork as a beautiful phosphorescent shower rains down from the clear blue Middle Eastern skies. We're going to take a commercial break now but we'll be right back for the body counts."

Butler and Parker moved cautiously into the deserted corridors of the orphanage, jerking their rifles around like those robotic clowns you see on TV trying to look like SWAT people, while an unidentified voice in the background kept saying, "Go, go, go..."

As all the bodies they encountered were burned to a crisp there wasn't much for them to do other than marvel at American firepower. They met up with Spanky out front. "Guess that takes care of Falluja," Parker said.

Spanky checked in with Headquarters. Next up was Mosul but no one seemed to know exactly where it was. "Me an' the boys are gonna grab ourselfs some grub," Spanky told the General. "You know where to find us." He shared a chili dog with Jamila under a date palm tree. It wasn't long before she was telling him her whole tragic story. It had all started when her dad put in a bid for a local McDonald's franchise and ran afoul of Saddam's wife's second cousin, who also had his eye on the location. Quick as a wink he found himself in Abu Ghraib. Jamila hastened back from London, where she'd been studying international banking, only to discover that her entire family had been wiped out, leaving just her and her little brother, Hakim, who'd been living in the city's sewers with his English tutor. Jamila then made contact with the A-rab underground and went on a number of daring missions, blowing up railroads and things like that. Saddam tried to trap her by having one of his sons pose as a CIA agent but Jamila made him immediately as he spoke fluent Arabic. She'd been on the run ever since. By the time she finished she was sobbing hysterically. Spanky said, "Easy now, honey, no one's gonna hurt you anymore. We're the good guys," and before they knew it they were locked in a passionate embrace and Spanky was pulling down her pants in a tasteful romantic interlude. Butler saw this and turned away. It was clear that he too had now become expendable, though he would first have to redeem himself through some heroic act.

After Jamila had straightened out her clothes and given Spanky a loving look the team moved out again. It turned out that Mosul was in the north, 250 miles away. Pepito stepped on the gas and they were there in less time than it took to fry a tortilla. Mosul had been having its problems, everyone was killing everyone, but now that the B Team was on the scene, order was expected to be restored by early afternoon. This was Dervish territory, as they'd been told by Intelligence, so they didn't know what to expect. Hakim started knocking on doors trying to find out where the insurgents were holing up. As luck would have it they were right around the corner, at the Morris and Minnie Feinstein Center for the Performing Arts and Advanced Biochemical Weapons Research. This was a huge complex that had been turned into an impregnable fortress. Spanky called in an air strike. The extras started arriving in tourist buses and had to be sorted out. General Dudley P. Hartburne was overseeing their deployment. Spanky was glad to see him though they'd had a few run-ins in the past. That's the kind of guy he was.

General Hartburne said, "We'll give you all the support you need. We're all counting on you." This showed that the men had won the respect and admiration of the military by just being who they were: plain old-fashioned free-spirited rough-and-ready no-nonsense Americans who knew how to take the bull by the horns and get the job done without bothering about the rules and regulations made up by stodgy bureaucrats sitting on their fat asses in Washington.

Jamila squeezed Spanky's hand and looked at him in a special way so that you knew that once the caper was over they'd be tying the knot. As the men made their final preparations there was some martial music from an unidentified source. There was also some horseplay with Hakim so you knew that the men had taken him under their wing and would see to his future. That tied up all the loose ends. They were ready for the big show.

But just then General Hartburne came running up and said to Spanky: "The Vice President is on the blower. It's top priority."

Spanky picked up the receiver and heard the Vice President's tremulous voice: "We've just been informed that the A-rabs have planted nuclear devices in all our major cities that are going to be activated by remote control from the Morris and Minnie Feinstein Center for the Performing Arts and Advanced Biochemical Weapons Research. You've got to get in there in one big hurry."

"How much time do we got?"

"Four minutes and thirty-one seconds."

"That's a pretty tall order, sir."

"The future of the free world and the safety of our nation depend on you."

It was up to Spanky now. There was little time to waste. The music got louder. He sent Butler and Charlie around to the enemy rear. This time they had to scale a wall and drop down silently to the ground using complicated snappling gear. Parker laid some charges around the eastern perimeter where the main assault was going to take place. Everything was perfectly coordinated so you got a sense of how tough and efficient Americans were when the chips were down. The music of course helped. Pepito brought up the jeep for no special reason. Spanky grabbed a passerby and interrogated him about the layout of the Center with the assistance of Hakim. The kid knew his stuff. Spanky called in another air strike and set off the charge at the eastern wall. They were all moving now, on the run. A-rabs were popping up all around them and being blown away with tremendous visual effects. They were in the main building now. Spanky led the men through the Doris and Henry Weiss Auditorium. There were some props on the stage but no insurgents. They ran past the refreshment stand and down a flight of stairs. Pepito started jerking his rifle around but Spanky told him to cut it out and fast. Then they heard the A-rabs jabbering away just down the hall. Spanky put his finger to his lips and signaled to the men to proceed with caution. Charlie and Butler joined them. This was it. The team rushed forward with a burst of fire. There was a horrendous racket as the A-rabs went flying all over the place, slamming against walls and bouncing off the ceiling. One of them of course got away. Spanky chased him into the men's room and there it was sitting in one of the stalls: the remote control timing device. "It's too late," the A-rab said, showing his yellow teeth. "Nothing can stop us now." The timer showed 46 seconds remaining. Smitty tried to deactivate it but to no avail. Butler said, "Give that to me," and started cutting wires. Then he saw it: a secondary charge set by the A-rabs to go off if the last wire was cut and exact its vengeance on whoever foiled their plan. Five seconds remained. "I'm gonna do it," Butler said. "No! No!" Spanky cried, but it was too late. The timer exploded in Butler's hands and he sank to the ground with a beatific look on what was left of his face.

"He's earned that reprieve," General Hartburne said. "He was a true American hero."

Things aren't always as simple as they seem, especially when you don't know what you're doing. It took the B Team seven months to hunt down Saddam and it took seven years, 4,000 American lives and a trillion dollars to turn Iraq into another Lebanon. "We better start tooling up for Afghanistan," the Vice President said.

1 comment:

  1. This is certainly one in the eye for those who suggest 'Americans don't do irony'! I found the piece hilarious, and laughed out load. But there were strands of the tragic too since the pathetic ignorance of the great and the good amongst our political super stars is not a million miles away from the Washington chiefs in the story. The notion that everything is really a gung ho movie works with brilliant acerbity. Very well done and thank you,
    Ceinwen

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