Tip Diebæck’s Mentha b. Wild

Marc Phillips

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D addy got in a fight over a parking spot in front of Casa Olé after church one Sunday. I thought forever it was about a parking spot. I resented daddy for a while after I learned it wasn’t.

We were late arrivals to the party. The violence was already widespread. As in, “too many to jail.” Which is what they were repeating on the radio when this good looking blonde woman pinned a man against the CVS drive-through pillar with her Tesla. It was that same Sunday, on the way home. Pinned him until he dropped his sign. When she backed up, he dropped too. His legs folded like they were snapped.

Daddy said, “You can get mixed up in other people’s business all you want until somebody mashes you against the stucco. Remember that.” He winced when he tried to look at me. I’m guessing several bruised ribs. The guy at Casa Olé had an aluminum bat.

It is odd to know that you lived through a pivotal moment. It all but overloads your mind when you realize it while you’re in the moment. It took weeks for the violence to overload law enforcement, but not many weeks. I knew at eleven years old that something fundamental was in doubt. I just didn’t know why nobody else seemed worried about it. This was the day, for me, this was when our family of two crossed that line which is a high stone wall from the other side.

I remember the dust on the dash in the car that day, a big clean arc where one of us took a swipe at it with a rag. The crack in the windshield where the mirror hung. The sound just before a power steering motor goes out. The radio. The state police, it’s their turn to hold a press conference regarding the crime wave, they said, “Citizens, stand your ground. Criminals, we are watching. We will come for you.” I turned it off because we’d heard this. I wondered was it different in places like New York.

“Shit,” Daddy said, “watching through heavy lenses, maybe. I guess in the meantime we just decide who’s who.”

And that’s what we did, after we picked up some Advil and a cold compress. We made our decisions and we fought our fights and if we were wrong, sometimes we apologized. It’s what the dumb ones did too. It’s the only thing we agreed on, who the enemy was. Organized conflicts would flare up in predictable places. A rash of poisoning deaths. You had people home canning chunks of trash meat to cultivate botulinum toxin. Or there would be mysterious shootings and fires that seemed entirely opportunistic, then the inevitable riot would touch off and it would fall away under a coordinated National Guard assault. Then it was another city, another compound, another convoy. You could track it on a map like a storm front. People died on a regular basis but nobody went to jail. There was no room. There would have been no time. All the court cases would stretch out for decades.

Orbit-sml ><

E xcept it didn’t happen so suddenly, did it? I mean, to a kid it did. Kids don’t spend much time looking at the past. Why would they? And without the past, there’s no way to know how different an idea was back when we thought of it, or whether any of this was foreseeable, and there are fewer and fewer people able and willing to explain. It’s a flaw in perception at the exact moment we’re using perception to form durable models, if we’re left to do it ourselves.

It was a full seven years later when the war was declared, the Saturday after my eighteenth birthday. It took them a while. The confusion was whether— I mean, the police had stopped patrolling, what, three years earlier? You didn’t go anywhere unafraid, certainly not unarmed. If you had money, you hired professionals. If not, you learned to shoot first and reload on the hoof. I guarantee nobody was caught off guard by aggression at that time. So how is that state of affairs—this state of affairs—different from war and why, after seven years, did it suddenly need a name? We’ll get to that.

What I’m talking about, though, is the bigger picture, what the sociologists call flameout. I’m saying I witnessed the beginning. And that beginning was at least seven years before the war. Meaning? What we call the Peppermint War was merely a late symptom of societal flameout. And owing to the irreversibility of societal flameout, the Peppermint War could not have been avoided by either of the previous two administrations. You will encounter that theory many times throughout this section. It was once controversial only because the majority opinion must initially be wrong about these things. You need to be very familiar with the theory. In order to survive a fight, it’s handy to know you’re in a fight, and why it began. In order to prevail, it’s essential you survive.

I don’t guess it hurts to say that the compound was near Texarkana, parts of it in two states. I mean, maybe there once was something to see there, but it would make a disappointing pilgrimage now. Those of us within fifty miles, we grew up going to the market over there so we always knew the way without ever knowing the street address. We knew Judit too. Not like, from the stream. We knew her.

Judit was a dark skinned Iberian woman with a dangerously resolute face. She gave the impression that she had considered a matter more thoroughly than you so it seemed reckless to utter anything but questions. She ran the compound. In the philosophy practiced there, euphemism and diplomacy were maybe the most disrespectful things you could do with your mouth. Her manner was off-putting at first. Daddy said lies get slippery when she’s around, people get nervous. He and Judit began an unorthodox sexual relationship about two years after the virus took mother. As much as it pained a devout man like my father, he had to say it that way if anyone asked them. “We’re involved in an unorthodox sexual relationship.” Otherwise Judit would clarify and it would be much clearer than that.

Judit took over the compound from Abner Tovar when Ab shot that man’s dog and then set himself on fire in tribute. At the time, there were about a thousand residents out there, I think. Crater Farm. What they had, it was a little impact crater about the size of a lake you wouldn’t volunteer to swim across, and it was surrounded by dense old growth pine. Really fertile, damp soil inside this steep bowl and just an ideal place for shady crops like mint. In fact, there was a wild peppermint plant growing in there that would make your eyes water to cut it, and it was a devil to kill. Since forever, they burned it back in the spring to make room for their leafy crops.

The year Ab died, the honeybees told Judit that mint and lavender would be their salvation. She abandoned the wholesale clearing campaign and started selling these huge, waxy, hand trimmed leaves of mint alongside their honey and garlic and she started using the mint in some of their ceremonies. They had a reverence for it and it seemed to be contagious. That’s it, how the curtain rose on Crater Farm Mentha b Wild. Judit named it, of course.

Orbit-sml ><

O kay, so that’s the timeline. Sometime around the summer of my fifteenth year, the concept of war became ironic. And not in the way optimistic sci-fi people hoped. You didn’t see War is Hell anymore. That would be stupid. You saw Life is War. This section will attempt to shed a critical light on what followed, up to and including last week’s rolling four-way engagement in the San Joaquin. But don’t expect an adventure epic. It’s not nearly that complicated.

Botanists have known forever that peppermint plants leach radiation from contaminated soil. Mainly radon but, you know, still. There’s a name for how it does this. Anyhow, its stock rose when the microbursts began. Then comes Crater Farm Mentha b, this strong, gorgeous tasting mint that was sold by the six inch leaf down in Texas. It fell under the microscope everywhere. The Chinese figured out it was an unclassified subspecies of Mentha balsamea and it absorbed gamma rays. Not with its roots. The leaves, they counteract Acute Radiation Syndrome. And not in a curious geeky way. In a lifesaving way.

Gamma bursts were maybe one every ten years back then. The first ones, the microbursts, I’m not certain anybody really felt them. They say cancer rates went up. But everybody knew somebody who ate the Labor Day burst unshielded. If not, pictures of the aftermath aren’t hard to find. If a yard full of exotic mint makes you sleep better, you jump on it. The Chinese had, at that time, found two locations on their mainland with native colonies of the new Mentha subspecies. Every developing nation from sixty degrees north to sixty south, I think they all nationalized some private land in one way or another, or they were preparing to in order to cultivate and secure their own mint supply.

Then a lab in Wisconsin double blind tested 804 domestic samples of this subspecies and found only 3 had this gamma ray thing. One was from Oregon, remember? One was Crater Farm, and at that time they thought the other was in Mississippi.

Now Judit and her people are sitting on a gold mine. A five hundred acre gold mine with just under four miles of rugged perimeter to guard. They didn’t need or want the money. They started selling transplant sprigs solely in hopes of keeping theft and destruction at a manageable level. A pressure relief valve is what it was. Brilliant. Not often does the solution to an existential problem put nineteen million dollars in your pocket. And it kept trickling in. Meanwhile, the growth rate of the mint could easily keep up with damage from the few persistent trespassers. Daddy and I were both happily employed on the compound by now, but not living there as is sometimes speculated.

Then the ground shifted under us before anybody knew what was happening. That’s what it felt like. Faster than the stream. It seems like right there in the center of it, we were the last to hear. It was a German lab this time. They announced that Crater Farm Mentha b Wild, when cultivated offsite, has no special properties whatsoever. Likewise for the other two landrace samples. Therefore, it must be the soil.

Me and daddy were on the compound at the time. You could see it in faces as the news spread across the crater. They straightened from their work and listened to the message bearer and they scanned the horizon, some of them taking in the full circle, verifying they had nowhere else they wanted to go. A few of them evidently did, so they gathered their children in dustpan fashion and left. They didn’t have cars, most of them. The rest milled around with the realization among us that all those strangers, they’re coming back for the very dirt. We didn’t need to ask if Judit planned to sell the farm one bag of dirt at a time.

When I returned to the compound with our guns and two of my friends and their fathers, people had already started arriving to help on the fence line. They came from Shreveport and Little Rock, even farther. They were well armed, which was a nice surprise because Judit’s people were not. I’ve seen this billed as the first war fought with laser weapons. And it was, some of it. They were still big and heavy back then. Mostly chassis mounted. Firearms outnumbered them by a wide margin. At the end of the day, well placed bullets mattered most. Which was outstanding news for me and daddy and everybody we personally knew.

I don’t remember if we ate that day. I turned the animals loose when I went home for the guns and I didn’t tell daddy. Looking around, I bet I wasn’t the only one who left the front door open and the cat food on the floor. We were neither afraid nor fatalistic. We felt like we had agreed on a very high price to keep something we valued still more.

We had a spontaneous moment of silence for the other farming compounds. I guess you know the third one was actually in Kentucky. Anyhow, somebody mentioned Oregon, mentioned they had been to Oregon and the place didn’t seem aware of how pretty it was. And silence propagated until the huge Crater Farm Meeting Hall held a couple thousand people in brief suspension because nobody knew what to say. I’ve retroacted the significance of that moment because Oregon didn’t fare as well as we did, but they fought. In Kentucky, because of a festival the farm was hosting, dozens of dumb ones were already inside the fence when the announcement was streamed. They think the Kentucky compound fell without a shot.

The first dumb ones came our way late that afternoon.

Here I was thinking our biggest problem was where to make a stand. I mean what do we defend? I said that to daddy. I said we can’t possibly defend it all. And the crater itself, I don’t think we want to fight from a hole. He was about to avoid the question entirely and give me something to do, something just important enough that I couldn’t argue. I knew it when he drew breath. Judit was faster.

“We are not defending any of it because they are not coming to take it. They are coming to kill us because we claim to own it. We are killing back. I won’t have the romantic shit.”

Daddy was killed before dark and I lost both of my friends during the first night. Otherwise, we did pretty well there locally. It was purely survival, like Judit said, no other mandates. Don’t make an Alamo of it. You had a situation where reinforcements for both sides were arriving from all directions at the same time and none of them knew exactly where they were going or what the enemy looked like. The Caddo swamps on one side of us and the Ouachita Wilderness was on the other. I’ll bet there’s still a few hundred barricaded liplickers out there living on rabbits and water snakes.

Skirmishes surrounded us the second night and moved outward as new arrivals just assumed they were seeing the front line. So Judit, bless her, when people asked for a strategy, she said, “Spread out. Shoot the dumb ones.”

Strategizing would’ve killed us. It’s a mathematical certainty that we shot some of the folks who came to help but turning that light on us is insane. We survived because that’s what we set out to do. Obviously, the farm did not. They are pits now, all three, down to the Cretaceous layers. The digging in Kentucky produced these mammoth spoil banks of rocky radioactive material where nothing will grow so it always looks like the digging is fresh, when that corner of the state has been uninhabited for a while.

Anyhow, a few weeks in, over a month, less than two, the president did whatever it is he does to deploy the regular army here in the states. On a peacekeeping mission he said, like we were Mexico now. Whatever. They didn’t come with rubber bullets and tear gas. Some people viewed them as a third combatant. The rest thought the army was on their side, no matter which side that was.

The truth of it depends on where you were looking. Soldiers eventually take a side, independent of what they’re instructed to think, whether they tell you about it or not. This time, when their orders didn’t jive with their allegiance, they left. They were the same troops, no worse. We just hadn’t fought our own, on our own land, in a couple hundred years. There was certainly no institutional memory of something like this. They deserted sometimes in huge numbers, and they kept their uniforms and weapons. Vehicles. They often kept their rank. And they were likewise too many to jail. There was no rush to enlist, so the armed forces would eventually shrink back, over time, to less than a hundred thousand. They still had most of the money.

At best, then, we had two warring factions and a third party potentially hostile to either of the two. That’s a particularly tough dynamic which you can learn a lot more about in Joe Garvey’s section. Right now, let’s agree to trust me on this: it’s more stable with eleven factions like we have today. That’s a more natural state, one which evolution prepared us for. Back then, when the peacekeeping mission failed, it wasn’t hard for regular army troops and tactics to overwhelm both sides and effectively destroy our cohesion. It wasn’t hard because it wanted to happen. Those initial two groups wanted so badly to be six, eight, ten groups, we would’ve done it by unanimous vote in another few weeks. Nevertheless, when they disbanded our leadership, peace was declared and the Peppermint War officially ended late one Thursday afternoon. We lost two women and one teenage boy in combat near Lubbock later that night, so I forgot to celebrate.

Orbit-sml ><

S ome of you took this section because you want the inside perspective on Judit. You heard from somebody that I was overly candid about our relationship. Maybe I was, but I rewrite this thing every year so you may be out of luck on the weepy details. Weirdly, I’m getting less sentimental with age. I hope you pay attention to some of the rest of this stuff, though. No matter where your loyalty eventually settles, what I’m teaching could save your life. It will definitely advance your cause. That said, let’s get on with the introduction.

Judit and I started an unorthodox sexual relationship when we relocated to the Sangre de Cristo. En route, actually.

On the outskirts of Lubbock, somebody hit us with a 50kw laser. We wanted that laser. The ambush casualties took us down to 297. If we met a battalion of regulars, we wouldn’t even have Spartan odds. So we were angry as well. Downtown Lubbock smoldered. It didn’t have a contingent our size but it wasn’t short on deserters and trigger happy neighborhood militias, which is what you would expect. You would not expect them to come miles outside the city limits and attack an organized column as it passed peacefully by. If you were me, at that time, you would not expect it.

Don’t ever charge a laser. Tattoo that somewhere conspicuous. We fell back as we had learned to do, with a minimum of covering fire. We’re just gone. I will teach you what Judit called the Cookie Jar, and it will teach your enemies not to follow you. Judit used to say, “If you can fight going backwards, you should always fight going backwards.”

We regrouped down in Woodrow, critically exhausted and still as professional as any troops I’ve seen to this day. We never had the opportunity to get good through training. Those of us alive at this point were good through attrition, a reticent kind of good that didn’t require remembering a bunch of names. We knew Judit’s name. On her go, we advanced northward like a fearful thought repeated on a dare.

Out of context, what we did in Lubbock looks a lot like a vicious brawl over a parking spot outside a Mexican restaurant. Reality is like that. Very rarely does it remain what you initially thought it was.

Judit said to me, “Do you know why Lubbock and Odessa got hit so hard?”

She meant in the beginning, before the war was declared. I hadn’t thought about it until then. I was emotionally depleted. If I reflected at all on the ruins of these old cattle towns, I probably thought it was no huge loss and in the case of Lubbock, fuck them.

“They went on like nothing was happening,” she said. “They thought nobody will come out here. They were right. Their enemy lived two doors down.” The passenger seat of the truck is fully reclined. She sustained retinal burns in the ambush and our medic bandaged her eyes shut, otherwise she would be looking at me and not blinking. “We all believed in some kind of future. What is happening now, this is the realization that we are the future.” She said, “I want to have sex with you tonight, while I cannot see. You smell like your father. You feel like him.”

Judit never regained her sight. She no longer looked at you like she was deciding something, so you suddenly saw the gold pattern in her hard brindle eyes and you noticed her tiny ears won’t hold all her hair back. It’s like you just discovered art on the wall and the art has been watching you the whole time. She told me once that sex is not a giving or a taking. It’s a truce between minds so the animals can interact. She said, “How you pollute that truce is up to you.” I let Judit teach me how to love a woman while I fell in love with her.

We traveled west from Lubbock at moonrise, augmented with a brand new laser too big to hide. We would remain on the move almost constantly. During the day we watched our backtrail and scanned the skies. At night we ran dark and quiet, spread out like peach cobbler so a single ambush would have to be miles long to catch us all. We veered south to avoid Roswell, crossed the Mescalero Apache Reservation and dropped into the vast Tularosa basin in the middle of the abandoned White Sands missile range. It was off-road for two hundred miles northward to Santa Fe. On a clear day, you couldn’t follow us even with a drone out there, not without us knowing.

You’re already aware that we took Santa Fe and held it, along with the Sangre De Cristos north to Taos. We were 250 strong at the time. Some of us had decided to stay on the reservation. We will delve into how a force of 250 accomplished all this and why. Some of it will surprise you, regardless of what you’ve heard.

Our camp was northeast of Santa Fe. It was designed to be struck and moved on short notice, but our protocols were such that no dumb ones ever found that spot. To my knowledge, that’s still the case. We will talk about how to keep your most vital secrets, and we will talk about the fallacy of territorial control. We will talk about the disastrous siege of Los Alamos and the Denver Accord two years later. I was there for all of it. Judit was not.

She said, “My life has been a fucking blast.”

For those of you well-read on her, this won’t sound like Judit. I don’t know what to tell you. It came from her mouth. With half a year of blindness, she quit trying to look at anything specific. She was always facing the brightest light as though she was waiting for the rest of it, and when that light source wasn’t in your direction, it was very difficult to tell if Judit was talking to you. Sometimes, she talked.

“I need to kill myself and I think it’s time,” she said. “I have felt a call for some months, a call to go somewhere and to do something that is not here and is not this. When I pay attention to that call, the things around me seem like trinkets, even you. All of this seems like a distraction. Serious things, they seem funny.”

It wasn’t a proposition. Advance notice, maybe. We had lamb and potatoes that night. I never saw her again.

Orbit-sml ><

I fought on for eight years and watched my friends have children who had the option to fight. As a leader, I made some mistakes. As a soldier, I did some unnecessary things. I’ll share most of those.

We’ll talk about the alliances. Early on, we were big into alliances because this thing was scary and we were scared. We got over it. We realized that independence from these people is what we are fighting for, not alliance. Organically, around the country, people started to realize, influential people, that maybe we had found a better way. The last Uniform Crime Report issued before the FBI disbanded, it classified violent criminal offenses as either predatory or domestic combat. And when you add those together, they totaled not even ten percent of the violent crimes reported before the Peppermint War. Property crimes were no longer included in the UCR because there weren’t enough to be statistically significant. There were subjective social benefits as well, ranging from the personal to the incomprehensible, so the case for reunification was hard to make. It remains so.

Guymon Errol reached out to me when he got funding for ECI, partly because he had been a friend to Judit and partly because I had the chance to overrun Albuquerque and seize his east-west trade route on several occasions and I did not. I’m sure you will quiz me about that. You should. Guymon also thought we shared a secret ideology despite his Institute’s claim to be apolitical. He believed this is why I came. So far as I know, he believed that until he died. I took the professorship because I was tired of fighting but I was still good at it. I took the professorship because I was scared to go the way Judit did. Ideology didn’t come into play. Clearly we intend to keep fighting; therefore, I prefer that we know how to fight efficiently.

In forty-seven years of teaching Section 1, “How To Fight”, the course name never changed and the principles withstood the most rigorous and public scrutiny. You are here because the other schools weren’t good enough for you—that’s why I stayed. When I retired, I agreed to allow the Institute to continue the section with an artificial intelligence based on me. This is where it can get confusing. I did both. I retired, I continued. I’ve long since died. Try to keep your head out of that. Experience has shown it’s easier to see me as never having lived or never having died. It’s the other information you want. In exchange, I’ll try to stay away from the predictive tense.

On the practical side, the ideas in this section are numbered and available to you on the section stream after you close this introduction. You are welcome to absorb these ideas in any order, though they were composed in sequence. My schedule is also available to you now and I look forward to your questions.

Please note: you are eligible for a full refund only if you do not open any of the ideas in the section.


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Marc Phillips

Author image of Marc Phillips Marc Phillips is a security contractor from Texas.

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