Comic Relief

Reviewing David Rees’s Get Your War On


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Whatever sort of emotional response I may have had on hearing the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces was immediately confused by everyone else’s response. I was angry at the pundits who were suggesting this was perhaps George W. Bush’s victory, and the Republican politicians who immediately tempered their praise for Obama with warnings about revenge attacks. I was embarrassed by the crowds celebrating and chanting U-S-A on the streets. I was saddened by incredibly racist things being thrown around Twitter and blogs. Whatever clean sense of relief or gratification I would have expected to have was immediately clouded by all this extraneous stuff, and I had to shut down my computer before I threw it out the window.


  • Get Your War On: The Definitive Account of the War on Terror, 2001-2008 by David Rees. 256 pages. Soft Skull Press. 256 pages

It’s perhaps a fitting response, given that it mirrors my reaction to how this War on Terror started in the first place. Whatever rage, fear, and grief one wanted to have in response to the attacks was complicated by what followed: the attacks on mosques and anyone wearing a turban; the warmongering of George W. Bush’s administration; the rise of stupid, thoughtless, opinion-based news on television. Even conversations with right-leaning coworkers and family members became impossible, less the yelling prove impossible to stop once it got going. As the news grew grimmer, the patriotic drumbeat louder, and the march toward war more intractable, those of us who saw it all as ridiculous madness were carrying around a deep howl inside of us, an inarticulate bellow in response to what the world had revealed itself to be.

Then one man, with the mouth of a sailor and an Internet-news addiction, used that howl to form words. Hilarious, angry, motherfucking brilliant words.

“Oh my God, this War on Terror is going to rule! I can’t wait until the war is over and there’s no more terrorism!”

David Rees’ Get Your War On started appearing in the inboxes of those who felt politically estranged from the rest of the country, forwarded by friends with an unbelieving, “Who is this guy?” The comics were slapdash, seemingly consisting of the same half dozen or so clip art images of generic office workers talking on the phone and tapping on their computer keyboards. Launched less than a month after the attacks on September 11, the online comic quickly gathered a cult following.

The humor wasn’t always razor-sharp; sometimes it was like having a safe dropped on your head: blunt and obliterating. But that was perhaps the best thing about the comic strip. Rees did not temper his anger for the sake of the joke. Sometimes there was no punchline, just a string of “this is the most fucking ridiculous bullshit, would you look at what they’re doing” rampages. It was catharsis in the form of clip art.

Yesterday, after waking up to the news of bin Laden’s death, I started reading Get Your War On again from the beginning. The comic now exists as an online archive and a two-volume collection. I still marvel at it, a little. When I’m worked up and angry about politics, I turn into a sputtering child. In arguments with my Fox News-watching family members, my side of things degrade into, “Yeah, well, what do you know?” Rees managed to articulate righteous anger and despair, and reading his work is still weirdly comforting, despite its prickly nature and “motherfucker” leitmotif. It was the sense that someone else felt what you felt, that they were allowed a spot in the public discourse to express it. Get Your War On was incandescent while it lasted, and with so many things to still be angry and confused about, one wishes it was still around. • 3 May 2011