The Best of War is Boring
Our most popular and influential stories of 2013
War is Boring launched on Medium in May. Since then we’ve published nearly 500 stories that you, our faithful readers, have clicked on several million times combined. What follows are the best of War is Boring in 2013.
by David Axe, July
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is an aerospace monopoly—soon to be the only major modern fighter jet in production for the entire Western world. Worse, it’s kind of a clunker: over-engineered, heavy and slow.
The jack-of-all-trades warplane is the product of a long chain of bad policy and design compromises. But it’s the Marine Corps that really wrecked the jet. Stung by some painful experiences during World War II, the Marines are obsessed with having fighters that can, in principle, take off vertically from tiny jungle airstrips—even though vertical-takeoff planes very rarely perform that feat in actual combat.
Unbowed by reason, the Marines have saddled the F-35 with the bulky vertical-takeoff equipment—weighing down the new plane and all but guaranteeing it will be an inferior fighter in close combat with Russian and Chinese jets.
My F-35 expose has been our most popular story to date, with more than 100,000 views and scores of comments. And it got us uninvited from a tour of the Lockheed factory that makes the compromised warplanes.
by Matthew Gault, December
The U.S. military complex—including the Defense Department, portions of the Energy Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs, intelligence agencies and Homeland Security—spend roughly a trillion dollars a year, a full 40 percent of the world’s military spending.
How much of that trillion dollars gets wasted is unclear, because no one has ever done a full, reliable audit. The Pentagon and its partners undoubtedly squander tens of billions of dollars a year on pointless research projects, unneeded equipment and redundant employees—and War is Boring film critic Matthew Gault doesn’t want you to forget it.
Gault’s survey of military waste in 2013 was a surprise hit, quickly racking up tens of thousands of views and inspiring some heated discussion on social media. “The Pentagon has lived too long without proper oversight,” Gault says. “I’m happy that people are as angry as I am.”
by Robert Beckhusen and Matthew Gault, November
American-German reporter Michael Scott Moore was grabbed by gunmen in Somalia in January 2012. A week later U.S. Navy SEALs parachuted into Somalia to rescue two hostages … but not Moore.
Cash-poor and self-employed, the skilled writer and surfer had slipped through some dangerous gaps in U.S. and German policy and military priorities—and is now essentially being left for dead by his governments. The media companies that employ Moore pressured other reporters not to talk about Moore, falsely claiming that silence is in the victim’s best interest.
But silence has only allowed Moore to fade from public consciousness … and from Pentagon to-do lists. War is Boring deputy editor Robert Beckhusen and co-writer Matthew Gault wanted to help change that. “I think it’s my best [story] because it detailed an individual and a kidnapping case that’s been largely ignored by the media for shortsighted reasons—at the cost of a journalist’s freedom,” Beckhusen says.
by Michael Peck, December
What if the giant World War II battleships Iowa and Yamato had gone hull-to-hull in close naval combat? In reality, such an apocalyptic at-sea showdown between the biggest American and Japanese battlewagons never took place. In game critic Michael Peck’s estimation, the two massive ships would have been closely matched, with Iowa perhaps narrowly winning the fight owing to her superior electronics.
Readers helpfully pointed out all the reasons why a battleship-on-battleship match-up is hopelessly over-simplified. After all, submarines and carrier-launched planes dominated the waning years of the battlewagon era and would have factored in any ship-on-ship engagement.
Regardless, it’s a fun exercise—and the clicks came by the thousands. “It still amazes me that these titans of the sea still fascinate us after all these years,” Peck comments.
by Kevin Knodell, September
War is Boring’s book critic Kevin Knodell reads … a lot. But few books left as deep an impression as The Tigers and the Taliban by Danish army commander Lars Ulslev Johannesen, whose reconnaissance squadron experienced bitter fighting and Afghanitan’s complex politics.
“The wars of today tend to be multinational in nature and are rarely just about two countries,” Knodell comments. “That’s why WIB’s profile of Danish soldier-turned-author Lars Uslev Johannesen was an honor and a privilege to write.”
“Lars and his men witnessed some of the most intense fighting of the long Afghan conflict under difficult circumstances,” Knodell adds. “He is a keen observer and has done a great job of reflecting on how the war affected him and the people he served with from many nations, as well as on the broader trials and costs of war and nation building.”
by Steve Weintz, August
Iran has one of the Middle East’s most powerful air forces. But for some reason Tehran is not content to project actual power—the Persian regime also orchestrates complicated yet somehow inept propaganda campaigns meant to convince the world that it possesses fanciful high-tech weapons.
The Qaher 313 is the best and most hilarious example. A supposed stealth fighter unveiled in February, the Qaher 313 is obviously a poorly-constructed fake. It’s too small for a pilot and lacks adequate mounting points for the weapons it supposedly can carry.
War is Boring chief model-maker Steve Weintz acquired a rare Qaher 313 scale model kit in order to illustrate the fake plane’s conceptual flaws. “The result was a signature WIB piece,” Weintz recalls. “Preposterous claims by the Iranians about their new ‘stealth fighter’ are visibly reduced to absurdity.”
by Peter Doerrie, September
The bloody assault on a Kenyan shopping mall by Al Shabab terrorists in September was a turning point for Africa and the world. War is Boring Africa correspondent Peter Doerrie detailed the attack and its aftermath in a series of disturbing posts. “It has been one of the most important events in Africa security-wise this year and could well be considered East Africa’s 9/11,” Doerrie says.
by Mitch Swenson, December
This popular recap of the 1939 Winter War by male-model-in-residence Mitch Swenson is a reminder of some important historical truths: fighting in the snow really sucks, and think twice before you fuck with the Finns.
by Kyle Mizokami, September
San Francisco bureau chief Kyle Mizokami specializes in obscure stories that touch exposed nerves the rest of us didn’t even realize were there. His profile of Fulda, a central battlefield in World War III battle plans, quickly scored tens of thousands of views by veterans of the NATO-Soviet standoff—and reminded us of the sheer bloody lunacy of Cold War thinking.
Happy 2014 from all of us at War is Boring!