Thursday, 4 May 2017

DMZ Book 8: Hearts And Minds (#42-49) PART ONE

"So that was how it started...but this is how it ended up" - Tony

A quick reminder as to what DMZ is about. In a fictional noughties USA the country has split in half between the mid-western Free States and the rest of the country.  A second civil war blew up between them and a demoralised U.S army whose troops were mainly deployed overseas soon found them pushed back to New York.  They held the city until the accidental massacre of a peace march attended  by some of the half a million people left trapped in Manhattan caused them to withdraw and negociate a ceasefire between them based east of New York and the Free States lurking in New Jersey.  People in the DMZ have been carrying on with their lives as best they can as chronicled by journalist Matty Roth. Recently there was an election and a charismatic man called Parco Delgado and his Delgado Nation was voted in as a provisional governer. He immediately ordered out the various factions and used Matty to go and buy a nuclear weapon from the Ghosts of Central Park so he can shore up his position in the eyes of the world.  A somewhat bitter Matty has alienated his former friends and has got Parco to agree to be him being his sole media mouthpiece.  Now this volume contains two parts, a three part story called "No Future" and a five-parter called "Hearts and Minds".  It's my policy to split books when they have eight or more parts to them, so this first post is devoted to the "No Future" which is about a legendary cult of mercenaries occupying the Empire State Building and is illstrated by Ryan Kelly.

Inside the Empire State Building a group of men are sitting in a circle having a group therapy session. Our main character is a man called Tony, he speaks of what happened to him and his family on the day of the evacuation, he told them to lock the doors and stay inside.  He feels "retarded" saying all this out loud but the group leader encourages him to talk some more.
Tomy spills his guts.
Tony was a cop assigned to crowd control as the evacuation began, "it got ugly fast".  People turned into animals, he called his family and because he was a cop they jumped the queue and came straight through the barricades and the crowds got angry with them, even his baby  The crowd then rioted and Tony lost track of them, until it was too late.  The group leader tells him he losthis  loved ones, but "we're your family now."

Tont starts thinking about what it was like being there. Group therapy was six times a week, "it was always the same.  We'd take turns telling our stories, reopening old wounds, probing them, provoking, over and over."  It was a bonding exercise only in hindsight does Tony see how manufactured it was. They all had PTSD but didn't need to spend three hours a day reliving it. But it was the glue that held them together, "the raw material that fueld this particular insurgency".
Out on their destructive mission.
The windows of their bunk rooms were painted black, sometimes the didn't see daylight for weeks.   They operated in shifts, fired up by mission briefings, men who were "damaged and desperate for a solution to the pain".  There was a big armory, they were an insurgency, but Tony realised they were actually a cult.  "A death cult, composed of dead men.  Less interested in getting well than getting even".

Tony: "Kept in something not unlike sensory deprivation for fourteen hours a day, and then set loose in this dark playground of fear and violence.  We felt like gods".

There mission was to seek out signs of civilisation, signs of military presence, anything growing like a mushroom and kill it to spread their pain around.

He's out on patrol when they get orders to take down a helicopter, under fire they chase after it and crash their car thanks to an ambush.   They fight their way through the "street trash", Tony links up with the spotter team.  He comes face to face with the helicopter, it's the Liberty News one from Book 1 that came under attack and caused Matty to end up in the DMZ.  They fire a rocket at it and the chopper explodes.
Capturing Viktor.
However there is a survivor, the veteran journo Viktor Ferguson.  Tony is about to kill him when he gets new orders, which we can infer was to sell him to the Free States as seen in Book 2.  Later Tony is back at base feeling used for the first time, "The rules.  The mandate.  The mission. Orders.  Twitch, react". He wonders what was so important about the jounalist, he was part of the system that destroyed their lives, "the system that lived on long after we died inside.  Right?"

He asked around about Viktor and when he realises he's been trafficked he regards it as "another sin I have to atone for". In therapy he goes through his orders that day then talks about his dead wife and child "for the thousandth time".  We see in a group hug afterwards.  Later he takes out his anger in the gymn using a punchbag.

Therapy used for evil.
The leader of the therapy group finds him and says Tony must really be feeling it, and he checked the sign-in sheets and Tony comes here more than anyone else. He asks if Tony wants to talk about his pain?  He tells Tony he has the fire and he has something to show him.  Tony remembers it was the first time the "Boss Man" spoke to him outside the group.

The Boss turns the TV on and it has footage of the evacuation, Tony asks him to turn it off, but the Boss keeps going and shows him a man in the crowd that day called Mike Costa.  He was there when Tony's family was killed and he's still here in the city.  The Boss gives Tony his address and tells him to consider it a gift.
Tony remembers how he has very little recollection of what happened next.   He suited up and got a weapon and off he went out into the DMZ alone.  He reaches Mike's flat and finds him cowering in a corner with his wife and four children.  Mike pleads with him, but Tony fires on them killing them all, he kept firing until the weapon clicked empty, then he switched to a pistol and emptied that as well, "like I said.  I shut off." Leaving the area he vomits against a wall.

Tony: "Did I feel better afterwards?  Yeah, sort of, I think.  The truth is I was mainly worried about coming back to base, terrified to see what was in store for me."

Sitting alone in a room he's handed an envelope with orders in them.  The Boss asks if Mike Costa is dead?  Tony affirms this.  The Boss says he knew it would be good for him.

He says the vengeance has prepared Tony for what he has to do next. Then he shows Tony his new room, with luxury furniture he says it's a "performance related bonus".  Tony ask if its because he murdered a man and his family?  The Boss says it's because he finally owned his pain, he "bucked the fuck up and took care of it".  It was extraordinary of him.  The others can barely keep it together in the group sessions, "you've graduated." Left alone he thinks he "didn't own shit".  Sadly he looks out of the window, then goes to floss his teeth and just stares at his reflection in the mirror.  He ends up slumped on the bathroom floor with his head in his hands.
A man in severe pain.
We see Matty and Zee together at the start of the chapter, fully dating this back to when Matty first arrived in the DMZ. Tony is still staring out of the windown, there is an attractive woman sleeping in the bed.  We join him at the group therapy session and all he can hear is "blah blah blah" and he snaps and punches one of the other men shouting "shut the fuck up already!"

As the group collapses in chaos, Tony throttles the man thinking he could kill him, he's been trained to. Calmly the Boss says to stop it, and Tony does so. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asks him.  Later Tony and the Boss are alone, the Boss stares out the window saying the city is really something.  Tony says it's seen better days.  The Boss asks if he thinks it can ever be the same again?

Tony thinks not.  The Boss agrees, the city will become another Mogadishu.  "The sun is setting on America.  We're just another failed state" he says.  Tony asks if he's turning Free States.  The Boss says there is no difference between all the factions.  He asks Tony what he wants.

Boss: "Food and shelter? You got it. Safety? Yep, as much as anyone can be safe in the DMZ.  Comradery? Got it.  Revenge?  You got that, right? What am I leaving out".

Tony: "Justice... peace?"

Boss says he'll be able to get justice by doing what he did to Mike Costa.   He says Tony has been on a journay from evacuation day to killing Mike Costa.

He thinks back to how the next few seconds played out, he ended up saying not what he meant to say but a different voice from different place. "What about my fucking family?" he snarls.  The Boss gives him an envelope with orders in it.  "Here's your peace Tony.  It was an honour to have known you.  See you on the other side".
His final mission.
He goes and straps himself with an explosive vest.  He ruminates how his years with the cult he did everything by his own volition.  He wires himself up, thinking how he was never talked down to, never preached an ideology, "and so we felt we were in control. Our decisions were ours".  All this was his own choice. He is given a car as the voice over his radio hurries him along.

Tony: "The seclusion, the lack of sleep, the emotional manipulation.  I'm not making excuses.  But in those moments, heading down town.  I'm not sure I realised what I was doing."

He arrived at one of the DMZ's shopping streets and suddenly it all clicks in his head. We see hm transported back to evacuation day, while back then he tries to fight through the crowd, Tony of the present looks down on his wife and child's corpse.  He apologises to them and thinks, "not sure it's ever really been about me."

He calls out a warning to everyone yelling he has a bomb. As people flee he thinks, "and so this is where it ends.  reliving my horrors, stuck in my emotional prison.  But this time for the last time.  I'm sorry Maribeth, I'm sorry girls.  I've been away from you too long".  And he touches the wires together and explodes, bringing this arc to an end.
Tony is finally free.
This is a very compelling story.  We've already had suicide bombings covered in Book 3, but this story goes into far more depth of the grooming and psychological manipulation it takes to persuade someone to take their life for the cause.  The cause in this case being a nihilist one, striking out at all sides, keepng a violent status quo and punish those trying to lead a normal life.  Tony is something of a sad case, prime material for suicide bomber, forced to relive his worst moment, over and over for years, the confessional part of group therapy abused to make people more suseptable to anything that can relieve the pain they feel. His sadness and guilt comes through very clearly here, that he couldn't save his home family, that murdering a man and his family who just happened to be one person in a massive crowd that day didn't heal him and indeed turned him into a death seeker even more strongly.  And yet at the end he realises that why he is ready to take his own life, he's not ready to tke innocent people with him. Part two of this volume in a few days time as we catch up with Matty's work as Parco Delgado's mouthpiece.


  1. You won't be surprised to know that I really enjoyed this. If that's the right word. I like how it examines what someone who's helping me with my little project calls 'the traditional trajectory of radicalisation' (that's actually her English translation of a French term she uses, but I like it).

    The writer does get it spot on though. It's all about fining people who have an 'emptiness' then giving them a surrogate reason to live and someone to blame for their predicament. Oftentimes it's the young targeted. They don't have the experience to realise why they're disillusioned and that, in fact, they're not necessarily going though anything unusual. It's possibly typical teenage ennui. But I don't need to explain incels for example.

    "All we wanted was a cause that we could fight for.
    One chance for the heroes to win the day.
    All we wanted was a chance to see the world in black and white,
    Instead of a hundred shades of gray"

    This is a bit different though. Tony is an older chap who's suffered a genuine loss. But that's a demographic also exploited of course. The writer seems to have modelled the tale in real world practice. Take Hamas for example. They obviously get a lot of people who are angry at the IDF because a family member has been killed. They offer similar support groups. That allows them to examine a pool of penitential recruits. One thing short as interesting is that they require a demonstration that the anger is permanent. They'll initially turn people down. You have to keep asking for a year or so before you get to bomb. They'll also often do tests like the one here with shooting the family. It's to see if there's a genuine commitment to fulfilling the obligation. Failed suicide attempts are not only a waste of precious resources, they're a security risk. That's why there's such a wave of stabbings in Israel. It's a simple test to see if someone genuinely is willing to kill (and it's a cheap low tech affair).

    And that brings us nicely back the the story. I've mentioned before that 70% of suicide bombings are interdicted. That's because a lot of the time people won't go through with it for their own sakes, but it's also that thing of empathy kicking in. Yelling warnings is quite common (cf 'four lions'). So I do find this tale continues with its well researched authenticity.

  2. Afore I forget, this is gyrojet ammo, which sort of ticks your 'bullets on fire' requirement.

  3. GUN PORN!!!

    ANyway I thought this one would appeal to you after the discussion we had after the story featuring Amina. I honestly didn't realise you had to "apply" to be a suicide bomber and jump through so many hoops as it were. So this story and you have really added to my knowledge again.

    ALso I found the abuse of the therapeutic process as a form of brain washing to be quite chilling. I've been in therapy off and on for 20 years now, and while you have to relive and describe all your worst moments and feelings, you do this so you can accept them and move on. Being trapped in a cycle of just reliving the bad over and over is horrifying. Of course it works with the cult like aspect of those who would use suicide bombers, breaking you down to rebuild a better monster. Scary stuff.

  4. Thought you might like that. Amazing technology. Hopefully you saw the previous post about it.

    Re: bombers

    I'm plagiarising a lot of this from a mate with rather more practical experience. He wrote a very interesting book.

    Grooming is a form of abuse of course, but that's what they exploit. Sometimes on the Incel forums you'll get someone who you could initially feel sorry for. Often they're just someone who's got social anxiety generally or a lack of social skills because of childhood. They'd probably really benefit from just talking to someone and getting a bit of reassurance and legit advice. But then you see the exploiters get their teeth into them "It's not you, these are the people to blame for your suffering" and you can see the standard radicalisation package kick in. Must confess find it hard to keep up the sympathy when they voluntarily sign up to it.

    If I was that weyland yutani weapons division in the Aliens universe "Building Better Monsters" would be my slogan.

  5. I'll be very interested in your analysis of Incels and radicalisation. I often give thanks for mass internet not really existing until I was in my 20s. I had so much volcanic fury bottle up inside me as a teenager I honestly think I might have ended up in a place that stoked that pain. Nothing to do with sex, I just hated the entire world. Fortunately university and figuring out I was gay helped a lot, then after that therapy when the feelings get overwhelming again.

  6. You don't strike me as prone to falling down that hole. You're too analytical and non dogmatic. Of course that might be something you honed later on, but I do think those skills, if not innate, break through pretty early. So I don't think you'd be susceptible to the sorts of techniques. You'd be too sceptical and challenging. I don't think you'd take them at face value as is necessary (or at least having the ability for Orwellian style self deception). Put it this way, if you ever did become a terrorist I think you'd know at the back of your mind you were just using the cause as an excuse.

    It's interesting, and a bit fun, though to let your mind run away a bit and imagine what you might have got up to if you didn't have a conscience. I think all good writers have that ability to explore their own dark sides. I wonder how many villain plots are secret wish fulfilment fantasies?

  7. You may be correct, also I have always had the support of my mum and two sisters tethering me to the world. I think you're right, my inner voice is pretty resistant to being told what to do and I'm pretty well trained to "own my own shit" as it were. But I do often imagine what it would be like just to run amok, let that voice inside take over and just annihilate everyone. This is where videogames that let you play the bad guy are a great pressure valve!

  8. Yes, you do always strike me as very grounded. And I think you have that bristle when people try to tell you what do do. So I don't think you'd be vulnerable to any sort of conditioning. By definition they pray on the weak and hopeless. That's not you.

    In released news (it might be handy when you go on your killing spree) you got me reading Art of War again. Do forgotten just how damn interesting it is. Especially the version with the historical commentaries and annotations.

    Found it on Gutenberg so you can indulge at your leisure once you've done your auntie duties. (One of my friends has just dropped so I'm clicking 'like' on all her baby photos; as you do.)

    I do think you'll enjoy. There's loads of context there. This version also incorporates all the contemporary and historical commentaries on the original work. So it's quite an interesting insight into eastern ways of thinking. From a feminist perspective it also has the anecdote about how Sun Zsu proved his point, and got the gig as general, by testing the principles on the emperor's concubines.

    I've also been reading up a bit more about Gal Gadot. Two years in the IDF as fitness instructor; certified Krav instructor and also by all accounts a dab hand at BJJ. So she's probably more of a real life badass than most male action stars. I can't wait for the whinging to begin.

  9. Art of War is of course Chinese. The Japanese 'equivalent' is The Book of Five Rings. I'm not sure they are comparable really. AoW is a general strategy book, 5R is really just a sword fighting manual; albeit with ideas that have a potential wider applicability.

    Still, you might find it interesting if you're stuck for something to read. Here's a version with a decent commentary (and some pictures):

  10. Thanks for the recommendations, and I'll be able to read them now. My sister gave birth a few hours ago and I am now proud auntie to Thomas as well as Joseph. Off to see them in a couple of hours, feeling really chipper again after a week of being a bit worried as she got further past her due date.

    You're right about the whole "bristling" thing. I think that's why, unlike my sisters I never joined Brownies or Guides and my schooldays were full of me constantly pushing against authority (got the school to finally allow us girls to wear trousers after I point blank refused to come to school in a skirt anymore). Mind you my grades were great which is why I could get away with it, lol.

  11. Congratulations! And to your sis.

    That due date thing does seem highly variable. Must be a relief though. Especially for your sis. I was two weeks late, but apparently that's common with first kids. Which makes me wonder why they don't just factor that in.

    You are quite the rebel. Suits you though. Like I keep saying, you seem born out of your time. You'd be better suited to swinging a sword to free the villagers from some oppressive overlord. Or just stealing treasure, whatever works for you really.

    Hope you enjoy the reading. I'm very interested in hearing your thoughts on both books. I'm back on 5 rings now. It's funny, some of the stuff you've taught me about modern Japanese culture is giving me a new perspective on the work, so it's like reading it afresh. I suspect Wilson has read AoW, especially the bits on statecraft. The way he's biding his time to let the other parties fight it out whilst he takes advantage of the results. The gold plot also resonates. Sun Zsu does some calculations about the ongoing costs of warfare. He makes the point that you can spend a fraction of one day's operating costs to achieve a result that might take weeks or months of fighting with no risk whatsoever.

    Hmm, come to think of it, a major difference between the two works is AoW very much scoffs at 'honour before reason'. He's very pragmatic. In fact he makes the point that the best generals will get no praise whatsoever because nobody will even notice they're being successful. 5R was written by a bored ronin who just went around picking fights for no reason but the glory of winning.

  12. Thanks! Just got back from seeing her and he's lovely though not actually blonde like his brother. Got quite the mop of spikey black hair which makes me wonder if he'll favour our side of the family unlike his bro who is basically his dad's mini-me. His brother seemed fine with his new sibling but happier with the small electric guitar he got given. He loves AC/DC so he struck a pose and said "I can be just like Angus now!" and I was dead from the cute.

    As for the school uniform rebellion, I mean it was going to happen sooner rather than later. Skirts in Buxton where it's barely in double figures temperature for more than a couple of months of the year. I just forced the issue :D Man, though it would be awesome to ride a horse, wield a sword and be a real Social Justice Warrior.

    I shall definitely read those books in a couple of days, I think my brain needs sometime to get itself straight now I'm not worrying. Also SNAP! I was two weeks overdue as well. I think Chloe was lulled by Joe arriving bang on time. That said Joe ended up being a forceps delivery while Tom "practically surfed out" in her words. The miracle of birth etc etc.

  13. "No. Sleep. Til Buxton!" to quote the Macc Lads. Was reading something last night that reminded me of you. I've mentioned that 'Maureen Birnbaum Barbarian Swordperson' character before. This was a crossover where she's in an Asimov story. Very funny. But she soooo reminds me of you.

    Aww, sounds cute. I'm glad you get to dote. I like the sound of your nephew. Is he old enough to have an opinion on the Bon Scott vs Brian Johnson controversy yet? Still, if you hadn't been so down on school uniform that could have been *you* instead of Angus.

    You'll probably plough through the books pretty quickly. Even with all the commentaries they're pretty compact. I am really intrigued to see what you think. You'll appreciate 5rings more than me cos you'll understand the technical sword stuff.

  14. The current front page of the Macclesfield Express tells me The Macc Lads have reformed and started gigging again.

    As for Joe, he doesn't have an opinion yet on that. But he knows what he likes, and he much prefers the Live performances to official videos and "Thunderstruck" is his favourite track. He's a perfect son to his dad who also plays guitar and a couple of other instruments and was in a band for a while in his twenties. I'm wonder if Joe and Tom will be the reverse of me and Chloe. In our teens she was the Rocker and I was the Raver. Most rock music I like tends to be poppy and/or punky - Buzzcocks, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Radiohead and early Manic Street Preachers.

    I did ask if Joe will have a uniform when he starts school, but probably not. Still he's getting good at the hopping walk, gonna be cool when he can play along.

    I have to admit Sun Tzu I mainly know through his Discworld equivalent. I'll probably get more of the jokes in "Jingo" once I've read the book.

  15. I love that that's front page news in Macclesfield. Quite right though.

    Thunderstruck is one of my favourite songs. It's actually the "our song" for one of my LTRs. Who says romance is dead? One of the few things that can make me 'squee' is that scene in 'Battleship'. It's so perfect. The dialogue is spot on and it's so heartwarming. Could be really cheesy but pitched just right so it works. But Thunderstruck is what sells it. Also like the '2 Cellos' version. Check the vid for that if you get a chance.

    "Na na na nah na...Bang bang!"

    You have good musical taste. I'm pretty eclectic with music; there isn't a genre I don't like. I still get a visceral tingle thinking about some early gigs I went to. It's like a physical memory. A proper rush, just like I had at the time. Got to see Nirvana live once. It was just as they were moving into grunge. We'd got used to them as a sort of Killing Joke tribute act. Still great though.

    The best thing for 'getting' stuff in media I did was learning poker. Lots of scenes make much more sense when you know what's going on. Although we're still debating Bond's strategy in Casino Royale. One thing in fiction is people always end up with brilliant hands like full houses and straight flushes. In real life the winning hand'll be something like ten high or two sixes.

  16. In a weird bit of synchronicity...

  17. I'm jealous you got to see Nirvana Live. Also my sister a couple of years back went to a special concert by the Manics where they were going to play all the tracks from "The Holy Bible" for the first time since Richey went missing. That's my favourite album. Much envy. That said if you looked at my record collection you'd see a lot of variation with a large amount of electronic trance, electro, ambient and house. I was always down at Vinyl Exchange in Manchester every week thumbing through the 12"'s. The Sabres of Paradise being my fave band in the electronic music genre.

  18. Ooh I'd never heard of sabres of paradise. A quick Wikipedia though shows I'm familiar with some of their remix work. I'll have to check them out. I do like a bit of electronica. Depeche Mode probably being my favourite, if a bit obvious. Do like trance and ambient though too. That dates back to Tangerine Dream, and even Delia Derbyshire. Mark Shreeve and John Serrie are probably the best inheritors of that tradition for me, but I like the more poppy stuff too. Moon Safari is I think the best shagging album ever. There's also a track called the machine thinks that I love. That's just so spooky.

    Nirvana were pretty good. I do prefer their earlier stuff though. The later stuff is very technically clever. All that dischord. It's almost prog rock at times. But the raw energy of the Bleach era was pretty punk. Mind you overall I think I might prefer foo fighters (but I like Wings as much as the Beatles, so what do I know).

  19. Phew, that was a long sleep. Yes there was quite a bit of crossover betwixt trance/ambient and prog rock. I actually got quite into prog thanks to that. I in fact do own "Tales of Topographic Oceans". Although actually I liked Steve Hillage's stuff best.

    I like all Nirvana's stuff, but my favourite choon of theirs is "About A Girl" from Bleach. Amazingly catchy little number. I always liked how Kurt Cobain never shied away from the "Pop" label.