(THE DAILY BEAST) — “Any war that requires the suspension of reason as a necessity for support is a bad war,” wrote Norman Mailer in Armies of the Night. That phrase, applied to Vietnam almost 50 years ago, has come back into my head any number of times during the eight months of the last year I’ve spent covering the Mexican drug war.
For most of that time I’ve been on the front lines of the conflict—often in and around the sun-scorched and cartel-dominated valley called Tierra Caliente—where the daily suspension of one’s reasoning faculties can be a useful coping mechanism.
Even so, at times I’ve found it very hard to support the Mexican government’s increasingly surreal approach to drug war tactics and strategy.
For example, on a recent trip to the village of Dos Aguas, high in the Sierra Madre mountains of Michoacán state, I was told by locals that there were no police or military forces present in the vicinity at all. Not even a sheriff. The town had formerly been protected by a group of vigilantes known as autodefensas, but the state government ordered the group to disband last February under penalty of arrest.
Now that the vigilantes are gone, Dos Aguas is run by a chieftain from the Knights Templar cartel, who calls himself “El Tena.” He travels the mountains in a caravan of more than a dozen trucks, led by a pick-up with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted in the bed. El Tena goes where he likes and does what he pleases—including running meth labs and illegal logging operations in the sierra.