Would You Go Camping With This Man?
covering burma and southeast asia
Monday, September 25, 2017
Magazine

BOOK REVIEW

Would You Go Camping With This Man?


By David Scott Mathieson MARCH, 2004 - VOLUME 12 NO.3


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Amid the flourishing published work on Burma—travelogues, memoirs, academic analysis and large and detailed NGO reports—Mike Tucker’s new book is a real standout. The Long Patrol is clearly the worst of the bunch. What is promoted as a "refreshing, overdue" book is nothing but a manual of male vanity written by an obnoxious tourist.

During a holiday to Thailand In 1992, Tucker, a former Marine, was overcome by the quest for freedom of the Karen people. In crudely written caricatures, he argues that they embody nobility and courage, and vows to help their struggle. Then he went to teach in Abu Dhabi for ten years. Now that’s commitment. Reminding himself of the "promise," the author returns to Thailand to report from behind the lines with the Karen National Liberation Army, or KNLA.

Tucker contacts the enigmatically code-named White Star, North Star and Deep Blue Sea, his Karen National Union, KNU, contacts who facilitate his mission. He is "inserted" across the Moei River and links up with a KNLA reconnaissance platoon. Shortly afterwards it appears that the Tatmadaw, or Burmese armed forces, are in pursuit. The unit winds its way through villages and mountainous terrain. Mike Tucker went on a short patrol with Karen insurgents, and got lost.

Tucker manages to keep up, spending some of his time "interviewing" civilians about Tatmadaw abuses, trying to procure a weapon of his own, and getting chummy with the soldiers. Conditions further deteriorate. Mike’s camera packs in, and his eyes get sore. He begins to suspect one of the soldiers is a spy for the Burmese, which creates tensions culminating in Mike calling the man a bad name. Another soldier gets stung by wasps and slows the column down, although Mike saves him from shock and certain death by administering aspirin and vitamin C.

Mike becomes nervous and demands to leave, ostensibly to buy a better camera. He vows to return, fitter and better prepared, so they all turn back. He alone is "extracted" over the river to safety. At about this point he detects "a complete lack of professionalism" on the part of the KNU, finding fault with nearly all their tactics. The patrol lasts just eight days and fifty pages. Not the longest or most eventful of patrols, certainly not for a fifty-five year war.

We are then subjected to forty pages of paranoia as Tucker slumps around Thailand. He spends a lot of time in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, even though there aren’t many Karen there. He revels in the skullduggery of his mission, seeing Thai spooks everywhere. He trains hard, physically and through research, which entails reading newspapers and human rights reports. He is then stunned when his request for another patrol is denied. Rather than question his own fitness, he blames his rejection on the KNU’s incompetent and spy-riddled organization. Conspiracy and betrayal cannot be discounted, but I might suggest another possibility. Perhaps they just didn’t like him? He certainly gives them plenty of reasons with this book.

Tucker demonstrates his deep concern for the Karen soldiers by providing us with 54 color photographs of them and their names. He also names the villagers who assisted the patrol. Presumably, this will interest the Tatmadaw as well. Tucker also provides information on tactics, radio communications and weapons that may not be in the Karen army’s best interests. He dispenses useful advice, urging the patrol to stage ambushes and blow up small wooden bridges, which the soldiers politely listen to but wisely reject. His strategic suggestions include Karen forces conducting raids on Rangoon, sabotaging the Yadana gas pipeline, and destroying the bridge linking Mae Sot and Myawaddy—all probably good ways to get listed as a terrorist organization. The human rights abuses against Karen civilians are given much less attention than we’ve been promised, and both the "evidence" and the KNU supplied pictures are subordinate to Tucker’s mind-numbingly detailed daily routine.

The author paints himself as a man in full: soldier, leader of men, poet and humorist, culturally sensitive. His muscular Hemingway-esque prose produces some memorably bad lines: "I carried my fear too, and without it my ruck would have been lighter." He calls men "cats" and "bro." He quotes liberally from a range of eclectic sources, generating a lot of confusion. What this overblown style attempts to conceal is a lack of substance. There is no deep insight on the Karen revolution, no analysis, little context and nothing new to add, except a plug for ego-tourism. The book reads like an advertisement for Viagra in Soldier of Fortune.

After his rejection by the KNU, Tucker seeks solace in clich้, rambling in a melange of military history and a patronizing appeal for the Karen to keep fighting.



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