‘The Total Idiot’s Guide to War’

By Maralyn Lois Polak

What if there really were a book called “The Total Idiot’s Guide To War” – what might it contain? So I polled a cross-section of loyal Americans for pithy apothegms to pass onto our head of state, his generals, his defense advisers … in current arenas of war, or others surely to follow!

Those familiar with Sun-Tzu, Von Clausewitz, or Machiavelli were encouraged to contribute their favorite wartime wisdom! Or, in the spirit of “Total Idiots,” just devise their strategy as they go along!


Trout, author and auto industry communications, Detroit: Dominick “Dom” Russo was a service manager at an Olds store in the Bronx where I once directed a training-video program. His take on war – “It takes two fools to fight” – continues to summarize my views on the subject.

Meg, social worker and activist, Philadelphia: War! The act of killing people quickly by use of weapons or slowly through starvation, poisoning, exposure, etc. in the distorted belief that this will create peace. War! An immature egocentric act or response, from an early and primitive stage of development. Usually related to the personal inability to regulate hormones and impulses and the refusal to share toys and play areas.

“Moses Latke,” attorney and essayist, Massachusetts: It’s not a Holy War or Jihad if you set arbitrary quotas. You kill till you win. Those are the rules of war. Preparation is everything. Think through what the consequences are. We have to be the first nation going to war and getting overly concerned about the quantity of dead enemies. War is brutal, it’s defined by brutality, and it’s obscene.

AnneAdele, anthropologist, editor and poet, Philadelphia: I’d really like to tell [the president] we’re not here to shed each other’s blood, but he wouldn’t listen. If he must wage war, I’d remind him Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo because he underestimated the enemy.

Ed, poolman, Orange County, Calif.: Rule #1: “War is too important to leave to Republicans.” See Roosevelt-Truman vs. Eisenhower (we’re still in Korea), Nixon (don’t get me started), Reagan (need I say more?), and now Gorgeous George “Well I missed Viet Nam so now I can make up for it” W. Bush. Rule #2: We haven’t really won a war since it was called The War Department. Think about it.

Janet, writer, animal caretaker, Philadelphia: How about an alternative – a peeing contest around a bonfire of our es-steamed and steamy – at least in the bathroom – world leaders … If I sound jaded, it’s because I am … just so sick of the patriarchy.

Captain Trash, gonzo journalist and pilot, Los Angeles:

  1. Don’t bother putting safety switches on guns or activating devices. Enter locked and loaded.

  2. Behead your prisoners with a rusty saw in full view of the others.

  3. Send the head to the nearest family members, signed “Thinking of you, love [war criminal].”

  4. Shift the defense fund from gazzilion-dollar missiles to informant fees. If the info doesn’t pay off within reason, see steps 2 and 3.

  5. In general, as an overall improvement suggestion, quit mucking around and start inflicting some serious fear … it’s the prime motivator.

Fran, author and teacher, New Jersey: A sociological-psychological solution where society will allow men to move from playing childhood war games to grown-up, mature men who put aside their egos and become nurturers.

David, accountant and author, New York: In the words of the late Corporal Monteleone of South Philly: This is my rifle. This is my gun. This one’s for shooting. This one’s for fun.

Marlene, cartoonist-illustrator, Chicago: “LIVE TO YOU FROM [name the place of war].” War is war, not entertainment. Never send in the media to do a general’s job, and never televise the fighting. This is the surest way to breach national security, expose secrets and hiss off the enemy. Promising coverage of the war makes the viewing public expect to be told everything, like – um – when is the next attack planned and where will it be? What do you mean you won’t tell us where the vice president is hiding, and when can we expect this war to end so we won’t have to miss “Jeopardy”?

“PREMATURE EVACUATION” – Oh yeah, let’s go into a country, drop our bombs, push back the enemy and defend that country against invasion, call for new leadership that is no better than the attackers, tell the attackers to mind their own business and then doff our hats and tell them all to “have a nice day.”