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July 16, 2010

Tee Hee

The Rolling Stone article about Stanley McChrystal claimed that his staff (which it calls "a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs") "jokingly refer to themselves as Team America." According to the Atlantic, this is true, and there's more:

...the "collection" of people who identified themselves with Team America had a special patch made for their service. (It was created for them by a small company somewhere in Missouri.) Here, for the first time, is an image of the patch that cemented the camaraderie of Team McChrystal.

I will never get over how stupid power makes people. In Team America, the special American commando squad is insanely violent and massacres uncounted thousands of people in Paris and Egypt. It's a pretty funny movie, but any general actually trying to win a counterinsurgency campaign would immediately fire anyone on his staff who started referring to themselves as "Team America." That's not a genius PR move when you're raining hellfire missiles down on people while simultaneously trying to convince them you're on their side.

Of course, it's precisely because power makes people stupid enough to behave like this that all counterinsurgency campaigns are doomed.


—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at July 16, 2010 05:22 PM

When I grow up I want to be a general, oh wait...

Posted by: Rob Payne at July 16, 2010 06:33 PM

"Team America" was funny? Wow, I thought the puppetry was good, but I would have had to have been pretty stoned to get any real laughs out of that one.

Posted by: darrelplant at July 16, 2010 07:20 PM

"That's not a genius PR move when you're raining hellfire missiles down on people while simultaneously trying to convince them you're on their side."

--Yeah, that is almost Ramdo Stupid, which is a high level of stupidity, but counterinsurgency isn't really about winning the local hearts and minds just because the military PR machine says that a lot. That talk about hearts and minds is aimed at the US audience, because the hearts and minds that really have to be won are in the US or we might get another Vietnam scenario where the country quits supporting a war.

That Team America kind of humor, as in South Park, gets the job done here for a lot of people. Plenty of otherwise cynical people are big military supporters. And "Fuck Yeah" is pretty good shit for them. So maybe power makes people stupid, but powerful people sure do still manage to get away with things over and over again, and they seem to keep getting better and better at that. If crap like Team America helps with that, who is that's stupid?

Posted by: N E at July 16, 2010 08:05 PM

Ever hear of a poster called "lubyanka"?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 16, 2010 09:41 PM

There is power, and there is license. They may intersect. That's me being profound. What I meant was AAARGGGZZLLFLRBT!11!

Posted by: demize! at July 16, 2010 10:21 PM

I agree with N E here in that it is not stupid if you're talking about class/clique interest. Which is what they are into.

Such is certainly stupid in the long and short term interest of American people generally; but then, almost everything The Leaders do is.

Posted by: Cloud at July 16, 2010 11:41 PM

If crap like Team America helps with that, who is that's stupid?

Did it, though? That Rolling Stone article kind of seemed to paint Team America here in a bad light, and the consensus seems to be that they're a bunch of goobers.

Tbis kinda shit probably woulda flown back during Shock and Awe, but I don't see that it's really a good PR move here or abroad.

Posted by: Christopher at July 17, 2010 12:12 AM

"... all counterinsurgency campaigns are doomed."

Needs no further qualification.

Posted by: passepied at July 17, 2010 06:50 AM

The guys who made the Team America pointed out that the final playing of the "Fuck Yeah" song at the end of the movie was meant with less irony i.e. the moral of the movie is that we are ultimately the good guys.

I hated that movie, although I love South Park.

Posted by: godoggo at July 17, 2010 11:13 AM


What's bad PR for some target audiences isn't for others. There are different market segments in politics as in anything else, and Rolling Stone isn't aimed at the Nascar crowd. It is possible to criticize the yahoos and glorify the military at the same time, and that Rolling Stone piece isn't a harsh critique of the American military or our war machine. If it were that, a person should honestly want to puke after reading it. I doubt many people who read the article were disgusted with the miltary. The article was a harsh critique of war in the way Pulp Fiction was a harsh critique of violence in movies.

Defining and shaping the contours of public discussion involves more than one type of marketing. That doesn't mean Fort Bragg tells Rolling Stone what to write, or that there is a vast conspiracy to control everything in a coordinated way. But Fort Bragg knows what kind of pieces Rolling Stone reporters will write, and it knows that society isn't just composed just of yahoo fundamentalists who want to sing about Jesus before going into battle. The article took out McCrystal, but that's not such a big deal. So we get Petraeus and McCrystal goes into the private sector to make a million a year or so on various boards and consulting on assassinations. I'm sure he'll be okay.

I became sensitive to this mostly from Doug Rushkoff's books, especially Coercion, which is really cheap because it's almost a decade old now. Media Virus was Rushkoff's first book in the mid 1990s, and as Rushkoff himself has said, it was very optimistic about the democratizing and liberating effets new technologies would have. But in the preface to Coercion Rushkoff recounts how he was originally a leading optimist about "the interactive age" and then noticed that the people who had become really interested in Media Virus were advertisers and PR executives who had taken his ideas and made use of them for corporate purposes to manipulate people. The corporate advertising folks loved him! They had already learned a lot from his book Media Virus about how to use the new interactive media for THEIR purposes. As Rushkoff concluded, "[i]t's not a conspiracy against us, exactly; it is simply a science that has gotten out of control."

Posted by: N E at July 17, 2010 11:20 AM

When I first heard about this I thought it was a coincidence they used the title of the movie. The "Fuck Yeah" part of the patch makes it clear, however, that they really are refering to the movie. This seems to me pretty deluded-- to style yourself after characters in a movie and imagine that is what you are. Movies don't have to have any connection to reality; drawing lessons about reality from movies is a dubious process and it suggests to me these people were not that serious or hard-headed about the war.

I think, however, that the ultimate bad PR is the cavalier way these people kill, with or without the slogan.

All of this reminds me of the other military PR trailblazer, Gen. Boykin, and such remarks as "my God is better then your God".

Posted by: Edward at July 17, 2010 12:05 PM

My god is better 'cause he eats Ken-L-Ration.

Posted by: MC Squared at July 17, 2010 12:55 PM

Every bit of power these handpicked poltroons, parasites, masochists and cowards have has been taken from the people they claim to protect and serve. The coward McCrystal was afraid to tell Pat Tillman's mother about her son's death and it is to him and his lickspittle fanboys, ersatz patriots and wannabe warriors that we give the keys to our imperial car. Who is stupid? We are. Fuck yeah!

Posted by: drip at July 17, 2010 07:05 PM

@Edward - our US Senators talked about Jack Bauer and "24" as though it was real and good policy.

Posted by: Susan at July 17, 2010 07:57 PM

For all their faults, and they were many, it's simply impossible to imagine men like Eisenhower or Marshall, Patton or MacArthur, wearing something as infantile and insipid as this patch on their uniforms and thinking this was a good thing.

From the heights of greatness have we fallen, to lie in the fading shadows of giants.

Posted by: NomadUK at July 18, 2010 09:54 AM

Okay, nomaduk, you're great and I want to enjoy my beer and your fine company someday, but let's not make the leap from an absence of insipid and infantile patches to 'the heights of greatness'. We haven't fallen so far. We're just more crass and insipid and infantile now.

Macarthur was a crazy old racist with a God-complex whom FDR called one of the most dangerous men in America (oh for the days when politicians could say such things), and though I'm sure he took a dim view of profanity and other low-class behaviours more appropriate for coloreds, those behaviours he objected to didn't include detonating a series of nuclear weapons in and around North Korea to create a huge radioactive belt that would have made it impossible for the Chinese or Russians to meddle in Korean affairs. That was Macarthur's idea of a good resolution of the Korean war, and if the war expanded because the commies didn't get the message or objected to us using all those H-boms, we'd teach them an even bigger lesson. I'll take "Team America Fuck Yeah" over that insanity any day.

Eisenhower and Marshall were both savvy political generals who learned discretion of necessity because the army wasn't popular in the 20s and 30s(Eisenhower was much savvier than he is given credit for). However, the much-loved mentor of both Marshall and Eisenhower was General George Van Horn Mosely, who himself had been Macarthur's Deputy Chief of Staff. Moseley said in a 1939 speech in Philadelphia:

“The war now proposed is for the purpose of establishing Jewish hegemony throughout the world,” and “it has the support of the man in the White House.” It is therefore necessary to exterminate “from the life of this nation all traces of the New Deal, the principal backers of Communism”, the “New Dealers, Brains Trusters, Communists, CIO’s or what not.” As to fascism and Nazism: “the finest type of Americanism can breed under their protection as they neutralize the efforts of the Communists.” . . . “If the administration went too far to the Left and asked our military establishment to execute orders which violated all American tradition, that Army would demur.” --March 1939 speech at the Philadelphia Women’s National Defense Committee of General George van Horn Moseley, mentor to and friend of Generals Marshall and Eisenhower. (Note that what Moseley said was treason, but hey, it was the acceptable kind.)

This view of General Moseley's wasn't that unusual for army officers of that era. The 1928 Army Amy reserve officers' Training Manual defined 'democracy' as

"a government of the masses. Authority derived through mass meeting or any other forms of 'direct' expression. Results in mobocracy. Attitude toward property is communistic—negating property rights. Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice and impulse, without restraint or regard o consequence. Results in demagogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.' (Cited in Bendersky, The Jewish Threat, at 11. The continuing admiration of Marshall for Moseley found at 274-276, 310 of that book.

These fascist tendencies in the officers' corp explain why the army throughout the whole 20th century had exprss plans to respond to domestic insurrection and labor trouble whenever necessary, the army "White Plans." The military was never neutral politically.

My own view is that 'Team America' is just as dangerous as the old coots who came before them, but in a modern form that permits insipid and infintile a lot more readily than it permits openly racist and bigoted. But 'fuck yeah,' they'll still do a whole lot of killing when they think they should, and that is now. There always have been and always probably will be a lot of dangerous ideologues in the military, whether Macarthur or van Horn Moseley or LeMay or Boykin or the many navy admirals like "Ulysses S. Grant Sharp" (an admiral named to be crazy who was in charge of the Pacific during Vietnam and wanted to 'expand' the war during the 60s).

So let's not get dreamy about the 'heights of greatness' compadre! The military is basically what it always was but too powerful now.

Posted by: N E at July 18, 2010 11:08 AM

Susan (and Edward)

'Jack Bauer' is not just a TV character; he is an embodiment of one of those types of 'truth' on Irving Kristol's sliding scale. No matter what Kristol intended, in practice he was really talking about mass persuasion, not truth.

Posted by: N E at July 18, 2010 11:21 AM

breaking news: rock stupid military types don't understand satire!

Posted by: mike at July 18, 2010 02:06 PM

"This seems to me pretty deluded-- to style yourself after characters in a movie and imagine that is what you are."

For some reason, the image that immediately came to my mind was Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos - a pretty frightening idea.

I suspect that those with the patch took it both as a joke and also dead seriously, as I suspect they take the war itself.

Posted by: steve the artguy at July 18, 2010 02:46 PM

Mike, is this what you are talking about?

Posted by: grimmy at July 18, 2010 05:35 PM

grimmy: Funny in a dark sort of way. There is a poster by the name of "lubyanka" over at digby's Hullabaloo. The poster's final words on many posts are "fuck yeah". Said poster FITS into the Stanley McChrystal fan club PERFECTLY.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 18, 2010 06:35 PM

It's "stupid," Schwarz?

God, how long will you hang onto this delusion of yours?

How is it "stupid"? If you are one of McChrystal's Gang, how is it "stupid" and not:



To them it's far from "stupid." And the only frame of reference is to see it as THEY see it.


Because Jonathan Schwarz's view doesn't carry the day in the Dept of Defense, does it?

So whether J Schwarz thinks it's "stupid" is completely irrelevant.

If you said "arrogant" instead of "stupid," then YOU would look un-stupid.

But you actually just look the STUPID that you are accusing them of being.

Which isn't too smart, is it?

Posted by: CF Oxtrot at July 22, 2010 11:31 AM

CF Oxtrot: It ALL a matter of perception and point of view. When Stan looks at that patch, and WE'VE all seen the movie, it "may" look rightous. When I look at that patch (I've seen the movie too) it looks---eh???. Of course, OUR HOST, sees something else, maybe. APPARENTLY STAN'S point of view doesn't carry the day at the Dept. of Defence either.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 22, 2010 01:38 PM