bring it back

“Sacrifice is the law of life. It runs through and governs every walk of life. We can do nothing or get nothing without paying a price for it… If we would secure the salvation of the community to which we belong, we must pay for it. That is, sacrifice self.”

- Mahatma Gandhi

Whether you’re stepping into a fraternity’s musty unfinished basement, the packed common room at a small liberal arts college, or the sweaty living room of a college kid whose parents are out of town for the summer, chances are you’ll immediately notice several things. Bass beats thumping deep into your sinuses, girls wearing tops that could pass for bibs, and many of the kids either watching or waiting their turn to play a game that’s been synonymous with the college experience since their parents’ generation.

The game they’re waiting to play is the popular drinking-game known as Beer Pong. For anyone who’s not familiar: it’s played by two teams of two opposing pairs which are lined up across a long table. Each team has a group of plastic cups in front of them, and every cup is filled with beer to somewhere over about an inch, and arranged in either a six- or ten-cup pyramid, arrayed at each edge of a table.

Winning is nominally a goal, although the real point of the game is to get drunk.

The “Pong” comes from the fact that ping-pong tables are the playing tables of choice, and two ping-pong balls a requirement. Each partner takes turns lobbing one of the ping-pong balls towards the other pair’s cups and if the ball lands in a cup it’s removed and the beer inside is chugged by one of the partners. The first team to be forced to drink all its cups loses.

It’s a fun and engaging way to get a buzz, and most players take the time to codify a set of house rules applicable to the table the game is being played on. Great pride is imbued into some tables, as students will make a table their own by doing everything from covering all 4,500 square-inches with bottle-caps, to painting on intricate designs, to rigging up neon lighting underneath the table’s surface.

A quick search for “beer pong table” on can provide some choice examples. And there’re rules about bouncing the balls into cups, rules about which team shoots first, rules about puking protocol, rules about when the cups can be realigned. But nationwide one common rule is that if in one turn both partners land their ping-pong balls in the opponents’ cups, then they get to call for both balls to be sent back and each get another turn to toss a ball. Getting to make the other team “bring it back” is the easiest path to victory, since if you’re always doing the shooting your opponents never get a chance to shoot back.

By staying on the offensive, you never lose momentum.

Since you’re not allowed to interfere with an opponent’s balls, the only defense is a good offense – you can’t lose if your enemy never has a chance to get off any shots of his own. The winning team always stays on the table, and the longer their streak runs the harder it becomes for them to remain since they’re going to be drinking at least some of their cups each game and so getting progressively drunker. And as the night goes on, everyone eventually loses accuracy.

Before long balls are landing on furniture, ricocheting off spectators, crashing off the sides of cups and under chairs – haphazardly doing anything but actually splashing-down where they were aimed

Beer Pong is a regional game, with geographically proximate sections of the country generally playing by similar rules. Sometimes colleges at the outskirts of the country have odd twists on things, and college students at Dartmouth typically play not by throwing the ping-pong balls but for some reason whacking them with ping-pong paddles. Students at Dartmouth are weird.

And so depending on where you are in the country, you’ll frequently find beer-pong known by another name. In many colleges of the American northeast it’s called “Beirut,” although you’d be hard pressed to find a participant who’s able to tell you why that is.

As the civil war of the 1970s raged within Lebanon, nearby events in the Middle East would soon indelibly alter the course of Lebanon’s fate. While in Lebanon the Civil War was in the process of displacing over a third of the population and causing over 100,000 deaths, in 1979, just to the east of Lebanon, a force that would soon seed irrepressible violent movements throughout the region was blooming into a phenomenon that presents the most vivid threat to Western interests today.

As with any massive modern social movement, no one’s sure exactly why the Iranian Revolution happened.

It is most simply, and perhaps best, understood as the violent crystallization of a public saturated with discontent, frustration, and enmity around a charismatic and compelling ideology. The angrier and more frustrated the average Iranian grew with a government they saw as corrupt, immoral, and a puppet of the West – the closer they identified with the rhetoric of Islamic nationalism. Rhetoric which sought to return the Muslims of Iran to prominence by restoring the ideals and values of a pure Muslim society and expelling the outside Western influence that put Iran’s current leader in place. Unique to the Iranian Revolution was the fact that the driving rhetoric was for the first time delivered to the people not only on paper but via another medium of the masses – the cassette tape.

Recorded from his exile in Paris, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s taped sermons kept his physical distance from separating him from the thickening saturation of civil discontent in Iran. The literal translation of Khomeini’s title, Eye of God, provokes the sinister image of the malevolent all-seeing eyeball Sauron from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

And although this meshes nicely with the prevalent Western stereotype of demonic blood-chugging baby-eating Islamic clerics, it doesn’t really do anything to explain the nature of a title that, unlike any Christian equivalent, isn’t bestowed by an entrenched bureaucratic religious hierarchy but only by communal consent. Nor does it reflect the piety of a man who retired to a small and spartan Tehran apartment after willingly ceding authority to an – albeit highly controlled and explicitly limited – democratic regime.

The implications and history behind Khomeini’s moniker will be examined later, but for now what’s most telling is the fact he was able to incite only the third mass social revolution of the 20th century using only the power of his word, made virulent and pervasive by the rudimentary technology of the cassette tape. It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last that emergent technology would play a vital role in a massive social uprising.

A step beyond the written tract, which brought the fervor of an early religious revolution to Europe, the cassette tape took revolutionary rhetoric into the modern era. No massive Hilteresque rallies to demagogically rally the masses were needed. The Iranian Revolution was able to reach its Tipping Point and spread across the entirety of Iran because of the lowly cassette tape, which acted as the channel through which the social epidemic of revolution spread first across Iran and then into the rest of the Middle East.

This precedent, inciting proactive political action without making any in-person appearance, is a portent of al-Qaeda’s most potent threat a generation later. Now, with the internet’s increased muscle of multi- added to mass-media, an ideology’s potential virulence is far greater still, and the next Tipping Point may be reached even more suddenly.

A year after their triumph, leaders of the Iranian Revolution ordered the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran. This would lead to a botched rescue operation by a too-hastily planned mission of Special Forces soldiers, a failure that catalyzed the creation of a full-time and fully-funded Special Operations Command in the American military. And it would be these Special Forces who would later be at the front of the battle to suppress the machinations of Islamic extremism – with both groups tracing their origins back to the Iranian Revolution.

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