Laughing To Keep From Crying

"Whatever is funny is subversive, every joke is ultimately a custard pie." - George Orwell.

Whether we agree on the precise nature of the legacy of 9/11, one thing's hard to dispute: terrorism is the sun of the U.S. political universe - The Issue around which all other issues orbit.

And now, along comes Zack and Larry Arnstein's book The Ultimate Counterterrorist Home Companion - a welcome gift for the citizen-soldier. (Actually, it was a gift to me. The authors sent me a copy for free! It's one of the cool things about being a nerdy book-loving columnist. Lots of free books!)

The 165-page "manual" is a quick read, providing a hilarious antidote to the fear-mongering fueling the "war on terror," prodding us to lighten up, poking fun at the powers-that-be, while offering a subtle reminder that deserves to be taken seriously: nothing is more subversive to power than to laugh in the face of it - be it the power wielded by terrorists or the power abused by governments everywhere.

The Counterterrorist Companion begins by paying humorous homage to the most hyperbolic political slogan to come down the pike in a long time.

"9/11 has changed everything. No longer can America live the peaceful culture of mutual respect that we have been blessed with since the beginning of our nation," begins the first chapter, exposing the absurdity "changed everything" with another absurdity.

"We are more afraid than ever about terrorism, and rightfully so....terrorism has risen to become one of the Most Leading Causes of Death in America, preceded only by tobacco use, car crashes, and being eaten by a bear."

That's followed by a chart showing where terrorism ranks among other causes of death with the added caveat that "in order to make a nice looking chart, we have understated the number of deaths caused by tobacco use by a factor of 10."

The Counterterrorist Companion contains 34 short chapters, ranging from "Planning Your Family Antiterrorism Drill: What to Do When Little Lucy Can't Assemble Her Matador 25B Anti-tank Rocket Launcher in under 37 Seconds" on down to "the Religious Chapter."

Of course, there's a few corny parts in the book but you try writing 165 pages of side-splitting humor and I'd bet not every word is going to be the greatest satirical barb ever written.

But even when it seems the authors have gone too far astray in their comedic analysis - Chapter 9 ("Moats: How to Make Them, Are They Still Useful?), for example - the reader is brought right back home with an incisive, if indirect, insight into contemporary American culture.

Just when I was saying to myself: moats? - comes: "Yes. Before you begin the process of isolating yourself from society completely, you will need to read this chapter."

The Moat chapter concludes by snickering at the Hollywood-inspired arguments used by "war on terror" cheerleaders while highlighting an area where America is truly vulnerable - shipping ports.

Terrorists "prefer the more exciting skydiving/helicopter/snowboarding-type attacks. What could be more boring for a terrorist than launching an attack by a slow-moving container ship?"

The Arnstein father-son duo really hit their stride in their chapter on Iraq - "Invading Iraq: It's the Thought That Counts."

"The 2003 invasion of Iraq was a brilliant move in our government's effort to combat terrorism, filled with subtleties that are not often noticed by radical left wing organizations like CNN. Invading Iraq is the equivalent of avoiding a bar fight by pouring a milkshake on your head. Just when your enemy is so angry that he is ready to punch you in the head, you do something so unexpected and bizarre as to make your enemy reconsider his plan of action...."

"The invasion of Iraq was just like throwing a wild pitch every now and then to keep the batter guessing, and you know what? It worked. Our enemies and friends alike no longer consider us capable of rational thought, and that, friends, is right where we want them."

Unless you're as uptight and humorless as Ann Coulter, you'll find the Counterterrorist Companion an amusing reminder that the most potent weapon in the fight against terrorism is to not be terrorized.

And sometimes you just gotta laugh to keep from crying.

Sean Gonsalves is an assistant news editor at the Cape Cod Times and a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at

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