Out Your Backdoor

Indie Outdoor Lore 'n' More

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January 10, 2005

Evasion by Anonymous is a great and rare look into the Straight Edge punk world. The author wanders the land, dumpster-diving and participating in youth-culture while avoiding various politically incorrect situations and mulling over the whys of it all. If you haven't really seen how much self-righteousness there is in the radical youth scene today, this is a total immersion experience of it. But it's not like the author had a committee of his peers critique his writing---which is what it seems like many of them would like, no, that would take work, they'd rather just argue and break-up. Anyway, the kid has nerve and is resourceful in a post-modern way. These kids really are hardcore about their views on justice and do their best to walk the walk. They don't go along one inch with the world their parents have created. But they'll use it to get where they're going. This book was passed around as a xeroxed zine among the punk scene for years before being released as a real book.

Despite Everything by Aaron Cometbus. Arguably the best zinester ever. This is a compilation book of his zinework. All done in his wonderful handwriting. A great window into the punk life, including music and band touring. Aaron is an observant, involved, productive, competent young person living la vida loca in that correct Berkeley, CA, way. It's sweet and beautifully written. A great document of today's youth, stretching back a ways even.

The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Manmade Landscape, by James Howard Kunstler. The margins of parking lots, malls and medians are some of the most significant places in my life, unfortunately---they're where I've often found both rest and escape in my suburban world. Not intentionally,
they're just where you have to go to get anywhere if you're not in a car.
Despite their desolation, I've found them to be places where you can make friends and experience a sense of place, unlike in a car. If you've ever wandered, bike toured or hitchhiked, this is where you've been.

The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad. If I recall right there are no other ethnic explorations of contemporary rednecks than this book. It's a fiesty, in your face read. But it's the only thing out there daring to explain why the huge rural America is the way it is. Everyone else just seems to scapegoat this group. Goad outlines why rednecks work hard, play hard, and pray hard. He's an oldschool 90's zinester who never backs down from social reality.

Cracker Culture by Grady McWhiney. Astonishing description of pre-Civil War southern culture and the stressful differences between northern culture. This is VERY strong and interesting stuff. The author has been occasionally criticized for his contention that the south was Irish/Scots-based and the north was English-heritage. Seemed all-around remarkable to me. Even the farm fencing differences between north and south would seem to result in conflict: the north fenced in animals, using fences as property markers adn creating trespassing issues, while the south fenced aside people, leaving the range free. Life priorities were also very different with northerners prizing work and wanting money and southerners prizing homegrown culture and wanting free time for same. Subsistence crops grown in the south were often self-cultivating, livestock was feral, houses were minimal: fun'n'games were where it was at.

War Books

Sometimes I try to get informed about big old events. So I read a bunch of Civil War and Vietnam memoir books to get a feel for what happened. It seems worthwhile to read both big-picture and elite and grunt-level takes on these things. So that's what I did. I also read with a view to understanding what's going on today around the world. Does war really change? After my reading, I'd say no, not overall. But the particulars do have big effects.

Here's an unusual link to a book being written about the current world situation regarding Islam. It's by Dr. Crane, a former advisor to Nixon who converted to Islam. He's Mr. East/West. A helpful, maybe unique perspective. Several chapters of the book he's writing are online and I think they give a good summary of the big picture details and challenges. I didn't realize that today's conflict is as much a battle of think-tanks as anything else. The different players ally with various specific worldviews then duke it out. But the worldviews are also trying to win the players to their sides.

Here's another East/West website by a Muslim-American professor---he challenges both sides clearly and explains much of the baffling behavior we see.

Now, on to the fighting...

Here's the most recent case of good old-fashioned primitive war-making: That Devil Forrest: The Life of General Nathan Bedford Forrest byDoc Wyeth. He's the greatest general that no one really knows about, at least in the North, or if they do they only know the slander and flaws. He was a Civil War Rebel general who was involved in a massacre where surrendering Northern troops, mostly black, were killed...after they kept being artillery-assisted by troops sent to rescue them, with a white flag up, with huge confusion on the field, with half the fort trying to escape out the back where rebels waited who hadn't seen the truce, etc. etc. He was exonerated in the trial, as being miles away, as stopping the bloodshed when the various parts of the battle were ascertained, but the taint lingers. He was also the first boss of the KKK, before the lynchings. When it got out of hand he resigned. The taint lingers. He did trade slaves at some point, yet even before the war he called the problem one of class instead of race. This dismissal is too bad and quite a case of karma and bad fate because he was also basically the best, most interesting and memorable soldier of the war. More to the point of objective history, rather than singling him out as a racist in a time of racism, Sheridan called him the most remarkable leader from either side. Lee called him the best leader of either side. Shelby Foote said he was one of the two geniuses of the war, the other being Lincoln. He was the only general to rise from the rank of private. He innovated continuously yet had no formal education and was basically illiterate. He prized his men and did a great job of keeping them alive even while winning more fights than any other. He killed 29 men hand to hand and had 30 horses shot out from under him. He was the world's last true fighting and charging general, always at the front. He has fine witticisms attributed to him. He started several campaigns with small groups armed with pots'n'pans and peashooters and ended up with full-size armies fully equipped---from captured supplies---and loyal troops with high morale. So why aren't we taught about him? Because he was the common man's genius par excellence, making establishment leaders look bad on both sides every way he turned. Wyeth's bio is dry---a bit like Grant's memoir---yet the story is so over the top that nothing can slow it down.

Fast forward to Vietnam, after reading a few memoirs I was struck by the respect and fear the VC earned from our elites in particular. So I looked for books about the enemy. There seem to be only 3. I read the only two scholarly books about the Viet Cong, both by Douglas Pike. There's also a memoir by one of their leaders, who of course was betrayed and attempted to be murdered. But 3 books to cover the guys who mopped up over there, using basically a DIY form of war, a no-budget approach? They were very scary and very effective. I suspect it's what the latest Al Qaeda types are into. One memorable point made was that an army using the VC approach has never been defeated nor can an effective defense be suggested by the scholars. It was wonderful to read the local people's history, from before and especially after our 'involvement.' Man, their suffering had only just begun! After we pulled out, their neighbors immediately attacked, sensing easy massacres. They had to fight a whole extra war right away. Whew!

I also read about our elite units over in Nam. I see their role and how they pack a lot into a few men, but they clearly aren't meant to win a war. They suffered nearly 100% casualties, not that they were all killed but they were all wounded, most repeatedly. Also, it appeared that most missions were quickly compromised. Everyone knew that doubleagents were everywhere yet top-brass refused to change. Early on it seems as though if the Berets' feedback was heeded the whole thing could've been remedied. So, there was War Story by Jim Morris. SOG: Secret Wars of Vietnam by J. Plaster. was already too late in the game. It does let us know about the betrayals that made all the cool operations moot. And like other elite books it did give me newfound respect for the VC. They did a lot with a little. Like that supply route of theirs that they kept functioning by walking loaded bicycles around hundreds of miles of bomb craters. They steered those bikes with a stick tied to a handlebar because the load covered the rest of the bike and they were pushing on the seat while they hiked. A great gimmick, that stick. They kicked our asses. They also didn't hesitate to do the worst torture, but 3rd-worlders are like that. That'll freak you out, which is a kind of respect.

Then there's the grunts. The Killing Zone by Frederick Downs If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O'BrienThese books seemed to contain fine lessons about the whole mess. It was amazing to learn that our own side was as dangerous for our troops as their side, but that's the whole point of the big thing called war. A bad decision from above might mean thousands of guys being dropped off in 12 feet of water. Or a friendly bomb gets dropped. Usually the danger is more mundane, as in O'Brien's story about getting a new CO who didn't have the "hunch"---he was nervous and ambitious and out of touch with ground reality. All the men were immediately aware of this. But he had them march on a route being used that same day by armored transport and two of his guys were crushed in the mud by passing trucks. Oops. A couple others were lost the same day by another bad idea that everyone but the CO knew was bad. Then the guy was replaced. It took only one day for an out of touch guy to get a bunch of his own guys killed.

Then there are the more artful books. I didn't read this one. I wanted unskilled writers. But it comes recommended. A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo

But I did read Something About a Soldier by a real writer, Charles Willeford, a solid dude who I do have a feel for. It's not about Vietnam but you know these wars, they're all the same. Heck, it's even about peacetime, but again in the military your enemy is basically "everyone else" than your unit. I'd say it's fine writing by a guy who's not been given all that much credit for what he did, and its diversity.

These latest wars haven't drawn me in yet. I suppose they should. I was looking for a few candid, ground-level reports by non-career writers, or non-careerists in general. They're not out there that I see. Some Vietnam books were written before the movie-tie-in was invented---but not the more recent ones, be forewarned! Desert Storm ground-reports seem all compromised, by politics if not movies. But darn it looks like there are some important books. (Maybe you can read them and let us know.) I don't really read important books but I probably should. Just to measure the various lies. That seems too painful. Anyway, there's the "Clash of Civilizations" which Powell believes. This is a 'big' one, like the 80's "The End of History." There's Bush Sr's book of his experience with several big events A World Transformed. It also covers the NWO which his kid is REALLY trying to make happen, break the bank or not. This website lists a bunch of others on Desert Storm: members.aol.com/VonRanke/gulf.html

But getting back to the literature of the lowly, Pierhead Jump is about life in the merchant marine. No big deal, right? Hey, any job in the belly of a beast will teach you all you need to know about things like war and armies. Funny and dark. By a true hardboiled writer, Donn Pearce...of Coolhand Luke. --A writer who was never heard from again. Hollywood scared him like the armpits of the world couldn't.

Actually, a fine insider's view of war life, that'll shock you is Heart of Oak about life in the British Navy in WW2 by a candid, fearless crusty old Welsh sailor, Tristan Jones. It's not too far removed from Lord Nelson's age of totally expendable sailors...wait...or WW1's...or WW2's... Gulp. He spent time on a destroyer, which is basically a cramped submarine with huge engines that doesn't have an oxygen system. They just blast that lead sled thru the waves and humans inside be damned. And humans lived thru this. Except when shit happened and they just sank, still in their bunks, whatever. Cramped and helpless. What a lovely feeling this book gives! Yet they had their pride. How is beyond me. Yank, Limey relations weren't very good either, given the Limey's starvation diet compared to the steak'n'taters of the Yanks. And the no money for shore-leave compared to the Yank's cash. The UK citizens don't come off so pretty either: they'd take a Yank anyday over a broke and starved one of their own. Ah, what hard times do to people.

Back to Our Normally Scheduled Culture...

Once Were Warriors ~ Ships in 2-3 days
Alan Duff / Paperback / Published 1995 ---Candid story of Maoris in New
Zealand. Better appreciation for responsibility, life and fate than in
ANY modern American writing by or about minorities. Our Price: $8.80 ~
You Save: $2.20 (20%) HREF="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D0679761810/7028-7117846-953592">Read
more about this title...

Catapult: Harry and I Build a Seige Weapon, by Jim Paul. A couple buddies
cruise the junkyards and hearn about history while they build a big thing
for an art project, supposedly. The ladies at the art place don't approve.

One-Upmanship: Being Some Account of the Activities and Teachings of the Lifemanship
Correspondence College of One-Upness and Games Lifemastery ~ COLOR="#990033">Usually ships in 24 hours Stephen Potter,
et al / Paperback / Published 1997 ---Very funny and will remind you of
you and your pals and then some. Red Green goes to Oxford. Our Price: $7.96
~ You Save: $1.99 (20%)

The Theory & Practice of Gamesmanship Stephen Potter / Hardcover /
Published 1993 Read
more about this title...

The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship, Or, the Art of Winning Games
Without Actually Cheating Stephen Potter / Paperback / Published 1998 Our
Price: $9.95

Hopping Freight Trains in America, by Duffy Littlejohn. The only how to.

Rolling Nowhere, by Ted Conover. Fine and perhaps only 'inside' modern book
on hoboes, tramps and bums, from a guy who lived with them for a year and
got a little too close--just right.

Tiny Houses by Lester Walker.

Cabin Fever by Marie-France Boyer. Cute tiny dwellings galore, great photos.

Shelters, Shacks and Shanties, by D. C. Beard, the guy who brought the Boy
Scouts to the US.

The American Boy's Handy Book: What to do and How to Do It, by D. C.
Beard. A lifetime's worth of fun DIY projects for your boy and not a CRT
in sight. Learn more than by any computer in this book! Easy, creative,
historic...and most projects are probably illegal now due to liability worry.
(Heck, isn't a kid building something a vioation of child labor and NAFTA?)

Wilderness Visionaries: Leopold, Thoreau, Muir, Olson, Murie, Service, Marshall,
Rutstrum, by Jim Dale Vickery. Writings by some heroes.

Whiteout: Lost in Aspen, by Ted Conover. Young newspaperman gets caught up
in the hustle (authobio!)...for all those who spent some time up there and
out there.

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