August 04, 2010
Hoist by Our Own Pétards

If this excerpt doesn’t get you to read the whole dispatch, nothing will. It’s by Ann Jones, a writer of a certain age (she submitted a scan of her Medicare card to the Army to prove she had the medical insurance required of embeds). Further reason to follow the link: “As Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple knows, people will say almost anything to an old lady they assume to be stupid…”

On the base, I heard incessant talk about COIN, the “new” doctrine resurrected from the disaster of Vietnam in the irrational hope that it will work this time. From my experience at the FOB, however, it’s clear enough that the hearts-and-minds part of COIN is already dead in the water, and one widespread practice in the military that’s gone unreported by other embedded journalists helps explain why.

So here’s a TomDispatch exclusive, courtesy of Afghan-American men serving as interpreters for the soldiers. They were embarrassed to the point of agony when mentioning this habit, but desperate to put a stop to it. COIN calls for the military to meet and make friends with village elders, drink tea, plan “development,” and captivate their hearts and minds. Several interpreters told me, however, that every meeting includes some young American soldiers whose locker-room-style male bonding features bouts of hilarious farting.

To Afghan men, nothing is more shameful. A fart is proof that a man cannot control any of his apparatus below the belt. The man who farts is thus not a man at all. He cannot be taken seriously, nor can any of his ideas or promises or plans.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at August 04, 2010 11:52 AM
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Well, I guess these backward Afghan peasants will just have to adopt some Western style and politeness.

Posted by: Peter on August 5, 2010 7:34 AM

Fun fact: "péter" is the French verb for "fart". When small explosive charges similar to hand grenade were invented, they came to be known as "pétards." So there actually is a military connection here. The etymology of "Petraeus" is unknown, but may be relevant.

Posted by: Aitch Jay on August 5, 2010 10:34 AM
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