Peru is a wonderful place. It is also wonderfully weird. The first time I visited, in 1997, several people I met in Lima warned me to take extra care when driving, because local thieves had perfected an ingenious new robbery technique. Near isolated intersections, street urchins heated discarded spark plugs over fifty-five-gallon drum fires. When a car stopped at a traffic light, the young thieves pressed a white-hot plug against its passenger-side window, causing it to shatter. Before the driver realized what was happening, a live rat was tossed into his or her lap. During the ensuing wrestling match with the (presumably agitated) rodent, the thief helped himself to handbags or anything else that looked inviting. If the driver understandably chose to exit the vehicle, the thief hopped in and drove off with his bewhiskered accomplice.—Mark Adams, Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time
You probably remember The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951): A flying saucer lands in the park in our nation’s capital, and a worried crowd begins to gather. Not to worry, however, a Jeep full of Army officers pulls up, and everyone in the audience breathed a sigh of relief. Our boys are here! They’re invincible. The G.I.’s will take care of the alien menace.
Except, they don’t. Michael Rennie and his robot accomplice Gort have weapons at their command that could turn people and their property into something resembling a tuna melt.
I find it interesting that, after we’ve won a two-front war, we should suddenly feel fear. Was it because of the uncertainty generated by the atom? Hiroshima and Nagasaki appeared to have deeply affected the American psyche. All of a sudden, this relativity thing that no one seemed to understand could not only kill people, but do it in a way that was strangely alien. (Was that why Professor Barnhardt, the Alfred Einstein lookalike, was played by Sam Jaffe in the movie.)
We were right to feel fear—and not only because of the A-Bomb. With the end of the Second World War, we were entering a world we did not understand. First there was Communism, which scared the bejeezus out of us until it all unraveled like a cheap suit in 1988-89. But we didn’t get any kind of respite, because all of a sudden there was all this weird violence in the Middle East.
American Hawks were still around, except now they were called Neoconservatives. They kept having this “Jeep Moment,” where they would meet any crisis by sending in our troops with their Jeeps (though now I guess they ride Humvees). We’re still dealing with something alien that we can’t understand. We keep fighting wars with people who speak a strange language and worship strange gods and in general behave in bizarre ways. And they think nothing of blowing themselves to bits if they could take a bunch of us with them. (In the Arab world, being a suicide bomber is considered to be a good career move.)
It strikes me that there is a mathematical formula for success in a military action against a peoples we don’t understand: K/F=C, or Knowledge divided by Force equals the Chance of Victory. Either that, or a recipe for fried chicken.