Thursday, May 27, 2010

The World in Miniature: How to Become a Warlord

by Bryan Russell

How to Become a Warlord

The government was taking all the money and so Mamud Aboto thought he would do something about it. He became a warlord.

It was not so hard. Revolution was very popular. It was easy to get guns, and there were young men everywhere sitting around. There was no work, no food. Hungry men, Mamud found, were quite motivated.

Mamud called it the People’s Liberation Front for Freedom, or the PLFFF. He blamed everything on the government and said they were going to take it all back for the people. Money! Land! Jobs!

The government was in the City. Politicians were all rich. Industry was always owned by foreigners, and there was no intelligentsia. The only way to make a lot of money was in public office. Which was not right, not by Mamud’s thinking.

Soldiers guarded the City. There were checkpoints. The PLFFF grew, they raided the checkpoints but a lot of people got shot. Luckily there were more hungry boys and men. The guns were light. Anyone could shoot them.

There wasn’t much food. International relief was great, but it was always delivered to the City, and all the politicians took it. The hungry people in the country stayed hungry. But that was good for the PLFFF, Mamud thought. More hungry boys!

There were rivals, though. Mamud was upset at first. The United People for Independence Movement (UPIM) and the Freedom Fighters for the People (FFP) and the Independent Liberators Front (ILF). Some people said they should get together and take down the government but, what, was Mamud going to share the spoils? How would that work?

They each had their own areas, all the liberators. They declared their autonomy and Mamud shouted to everyone that this is what he had always wanted. Independence! Freedom! He felt very successful. Extra guns for everyone. There were little border battles for territory. More people died. The guns were light. Anyone could shoot them.

But the boys started coming to Mamud. “President Chief,” they said. “We are hungry. There is no food.”

Mamud did not like this drought, all the dust. He tried to spit, but there was not much moisture. “Go north,” he said. “Get some food there.”

“UPIM is there, President Chief. If we go there it will be lots of fighting because they do not want us to take food from there.”

Mamud drank some beer.

“We are hungry, President Chief.”

“You have guns, don’t you?” Mamud said, waving his hands dismissively.

The boys nodded and went out to take whatever they could. The City was guarded. The territories of the other liberation movements were guarded. The local villages were not. This was much easier for everyone. The boys shot people and took whatever they wanted. Food, beer. Everyone got drunk and killed some more. And there were women now, too, and so the boys were happy, and so was Mamud.

The problem, though, was that the people were poor. They didn’t have much, and the PLFFF took everything. The other liberation movements were doing the same thing. Soon there was nothing left in the countryside.

Mamud called up the other warlords and said they must do something. They all went to the City and started the peace process. The government invited them in and made them governors of their respected territories. They all applied for grants to the World Bank. Ah, the peace process! Democracy! Rebuilding! The money poured in and it all went to the politicians and the warlords.

Mamud was very happy. Indeed, he was very rich. Certainly the World Bank had much more money than a bunch of starving villagers.


JustineDell said...

Ah...this made laugh because of the truth behind it. Nice job, Ink.

I'm guessing you don't have to stay under your 500 word limit? This here is six-oh-five. ;-) Of course, your the sheriff, so you may do as you wish. :o)


Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

It's Dystopia Month and I'm FIGHTING THE POWER. Damn the rules! Overthrow the SOBs! Down with the oppressive State! Rage! Rage against the machine! Freedom, I say, freedom is a right for all men and women! Fight the machine, patriots of freedom!

Oh, wait...

Matthew Rush said...

Another good one Bryan. I'm beginning to get an idea of your thoughts on socialism/marxism/fascism/communism/timocracy/freedomism and all that. Or at least your narrator's thoughts I suppose.

It's kind of sad because a lot of these concepts have great ideals behind them, but when carried out by corrupt people they don't work out so well.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I'm a great believer of practical functionality. I believe in idealism and the power of words, too, as words guide and shape action. But not so fond of empty rhetoric and blind action. I mean, communism is a philosophy of equality but a tool of oppression.

(Though it shouldn't necessarily be said that my views always match the story, as you suggested. The World Bank isn't all bad, for example, but nothing is without flaws)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

And my loyalty, it should be said, is always to the story. I am, first and foremost, a storyteller, not a soapbox philosopher.

JustineDell said...

LMAO ;-)


Mira said...

“You have guns, don’t you?” Mamud said, waving his hands dismissively.


This is deceptively simple, told in a matter of fact, almost brisk and pleasant tone of voice.

"The government was taking all the money and so Mamud Aboto thought he would do something about it."

Very chilling underneath.

Nicely done, Ink. I always know you've hit a nerve when I want to argue with your story - 'no, it couldn't happen that way.'

But it does, doesn't it. So sad. Power corrupts and maintains itself.

As an aside, the same thing could be said about democracy - that it's a philosophy of equality but can be used as a tool of oppression. Depends on who has the vote, and who can vote honestly, and how much manipulation (i.e. lobbying, media bias) goes on behind the scenes.

Everything can be twisted, as your story so aptly shows.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thanks, Mira.

And democracy hasn't failed so completely as communism. As Churchill once said, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.

Mira said...


Well, Democracy is rather new. I don't think it's been put to the test yet, frankly.

We'll see. :)

But, actually, I thought you were talking about dictatorships in this piece, not communism, anyway. But maybe I'm wrong.

Did I misspell communism? I need a spell checker in my head. :p

I like this piece.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Well, I was talking about dictators in this story. :) But Matt brought out a point of people failing ideas... and I think communism is a perfect example of that. It can be very convincing theoretically, but in practice it simple doesn't work, at least not on a large scale.

I mean, democracy is older than communism, and still plugging along. Not without flaws, but at least attempts are usually made to remedy them. Communism pretty much failed from the get go. How long did it take for communist regimes, with ideologies of universal equality, to fall back on oppression, murder, torture and political imprisonment? Not very long.

With democracy, well, we're stumbling along. Maybe not flying faultlessly through the skies, but at least we're not tumbling straight to hell. :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Well, Ink, if you're going to quote Churchill, I'm going to have to love you more than I already do. If that's possible.

I'm not going to dive into the political debate ... because ... well, no time for it today. Otherwise, I would strap on my ancient Democratic Greek body armor and go to it. (wait. Didn't they fight naked? Hm.)

I love this piece. Your short snippets of sentences speak to the seeming simple-ness of the situation and the characters. I was just reading a blog that talked about the sounds of certain words eliciting certain feelings - and how synonyms can feel very different, because they sound different, not because they substantially mean something different.

Word geekery!

There is always something heart-wrenching in every one of your stories. This is also very fine, and (oddly) what I look forward to most in your writing. :)

Mira said...


You make a good point. Although maybe Communism is just a better idea, so it's harder to pull off. :)

Although, I don't want to be in the position of defending Communism! My real beef isn't Democracy, it's Corporate Capitalism. In terms of politics, I'm sort of a-political, really. I think the key to a political system is to create an emotionally and metally healthy populace/leadership. Then, it won't matter what system you have.

As long as we have Mamud's, we'll have corruption - in any system.

So that's my two cents. :)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...


Agreed. I was going to buy you a present to celebrate, but you're anti-capitalist!


Bryan Russell (Ink) said...


I love talking about diction! I don't think writers talk about it enough. It's like it's so basic that we forget to think about, in and of itself. What's the right word, the best, the clearest word, the most evocative word? These choices are so important. I think it's a big part of voice, too, the words selected.

It's like when I read Cormac McCarthy. Not everyone likes his style, and I can see why. His odd rhythms (which I love), his disregard for punctuation, etc. But I'm absolutely fascinated by his word choice. He picks unusual words, but they're so right. And it's not like he's just one of those writers who sits with a thesaurus on his lap. It comes from how he sees things differently, how he really thinks about the words that best express something. I think as writers we often select the easiest, most familiar words, the ones that come to us quickest while we right. But often those words are cliched or overused or simply assumed. This word goes with this, that one with that...

But a great word choice opens up the story in a whole new way, peels back a new layer on an event, a character, a place.

I sometimes use a word for its meaning, but also because it sounds a little like another word that might be used, and because of this sound-alikeness I think it absorbs a little of that meaning, that flavour. Not for every reader, certainly, but for some. The mind is always reaching out, making connections, little neurons snapping together to form new paths.

That's what the right word does.

Mira said...

A present? What present? I get a present? Is it something good? Is it money? Is it yummy? Is it something fun? Does it sparkle?

Oh goody. A present. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.

Were we talking about something else?

Oooo. Is it a dictatorship? I'd love a dictatorship. I'd be a really good dictator.

And I very much agree - completely - with what you said about diction, and the right word. Absolutely true.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Bryan - I was just struggling to kill off an adverb this morning. I struggled to find the right word to replace "carefully set" or "placed gently" and just couldn't do it. Finally ... "eased."

Ah. So much better.

The subtly of word choice is something that does show voice, I agree. Not that I've mastered this by any stretch, just that I can see it, now, in the works of others, and sometimes in my own.

Tahereh said...

wow this is so powerful, ink. so sad. and so dangerously close to reality. :(

Tahereh said...

and sorry, i know you've officially come out of the closet with your real name and everything, but "Ink" is the coolest name ever! and i'll always picture that little snoopie-comic-picture that was your avatar!

so if you don't mind, i quite like calling you ink. hehe

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thanks, Tahereh!

And I like Ink, too. And I kind of miss Snoopy. Greates failed writer EVAH!

But I figured when all the high-powered editors randomly descend on my blog ready to heap millions on me it would be bad if they were scared off or confused. I need those millions!

Hopefully one of them will show up by, oooh, noonish. I'll just wait here now.


Anonymous said...

Interesting blog. Makes you think.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thanks, Amanda. I'm all about thinking. And, you know, bad jokes.


Matthew Rush said...

Ink. First of all I love reading your comments on your writing and on your own comments. You're so thoughtful about what you do that I just hope a little bit of your dedication rubs off on me.

My favorite Winston Churchill quote: You can always count on America to do the right thing, after they've exhausted every other option (paraphrased because I don't have time to look it up).

A great quote about USSR/Communism: Anyone who doesn't miss the Soviet Union has no heart but anyone who wants it back has no brain (anonymous or at least I can't remember).

Anyway Ink (I totally agree with Tahereh that that is the COOLEST screen name EVER) I love your writing on these topics. Stalin's Boots was great too and I forget the name of the one about the country invading The Country Next Door, but it was great as well. Anyway I see your point about the loyalty to the story because your not arguing anything here, just giving little snapshots of life and society in a way. Still I love it.

On Cormac McCarthy, I have only read The Road, and only just this year, but it is by far the best book I've read in that period. The language is incredible, it's so simple, so against the grain and expectations of lyrical style and yet so ... right. I don't know how to describe it properly even except to say that in the novel the characters are not incredibly complex, not much happens in the plot and yet the language guides you through, like a tugboat in the fog.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Now I feel a bonus post coming on...

Matthew Rush said...

Unh, nah nah nah nah ... cryptic. Can't wait.