Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Soldier of Fortune

Posted by Gerald on September 22, 2007

News stories this week and a post over at ChenZhen’s Chamber got me thinking. 

When I was a kid I suffered from some mental problems.  The first was a congenital case of political conservatism that I grew out of in college.  The second was a case of militarism that still manifests itself in the form of my love of war films and my collection of JAG season boxed sets (here again, dear readers, you see how willing I am to expose my most painful and embarrassing secrets in the pursuit of blogging truth.)

One manifestation of this from my youth was an adolescent desire to purchase a new magazine found on our local supermarket’s racks called “Soldier of Fortune.”  This magazine, for any of you who might be unfamiliar with it, is still alive and well and touts itself as a journal for “professional adventurers.”  In other words, mercenaries.

Here I must give praise to the wisdom of my mother.  She actively discouraged me from wasting my money on this magazine.  She was as right on this occasion as she was when she discouraged me from watching “S.W.A.T.” some time earlier (her, rather disgusted, quote about the show was “They might as well just be sending the Army into the streets” – truly prescient in light of where we are now.)

In my own defense I must say that my interest in reading this was partly a reaction to my having started reading about Africa – especially the Congo Crisis – in the 1960s.  This pursuit would later leave me with a set of interests that caused me to study African history in grad school and become concerned about things like neocolonialism and social justice.  Life can be a tangled web even without lies.

I bought a few copies of this rag despite maternal disapproval, but it was cutting into my budget for purchasing many many many science fiction novels and wasn’t nearly as much fun to read as those.  Since I started earning my own spending money at age 12 by doing odd jobs where my father worked I learned about budgets and to consider my purchases in terms of how many hours of my life I cared to trade for something.  I stopped buying this thing that glorified being a hired gun and had articles about ninja training pretty quickly.

Why bring this up?

My mom’s objection to the magazine was that it glorified being a mercenary.  Now we live in an America where our diplomats are protected by a bunch of hired guns called Blackwater.  When – and why – did it become okay to be a mercenary?

I am puzzled by this sort of thing quite frequently.  I’m still trying to figure out when and why it became okay to be a “pimp.”  I actually think there is a relationship there, but back to Blackwater.  For years I’ve been noticing reports about these guys everywhere from MSNBC to the History Channel.  I kept waiting for some sort of outcry which never really came.  We aren’t supposed to have mercenaries are we?  Being a killer for hire is wrong isn’t it?  The US government isn’t supposed to be hiring people like this are they.  It turns out the answers are; yes, we are; no it isn’t; and yes they do.  There is this big outcry at the moment about what Blackwater operatives did in Baghdad while they were protecting a US diplomatic convoy.  No one seems at all surprised that they WERE protecting a US diplomatic convoy.  Don’t we have a small group of proud guys called Marines who do that sort of thing?  Doesn’t the State Department have its own security people?

The solution to all of my puzzlement is obvious upon reflection.  For years the political discourse of this country has been dominated by the idea that government is the problem rather than the solution.  Privatization of everything is supposed to make things better and more efficient.  Of course this was carried to the military as well.  First we privatized support services and technology.  The next step was to privatize non-battlefield combat functions – like rear-area security.

If it is economically efficient it is inherently moral.  Isn’t that the guiding principle of our country today?  Better we have people without health care than offer it in a way that doesn’t provide money to some business.  If something doesn’t make a kid into a better economic engine then we need to cut it from the school budget.  If people are suffering from intractable metal illnesses and cannot be efficiently converted into good little consumers and producers lets “mainstream” them into a refrigerator box in the park.  If we can apply the free market to warfare we should do so.  Whatever the market will bear.

The Senate passed a resolution condemning MoveOn.org for dishonoring the men and women in uniform by insulting General Petraeus in that ad.  How is what they did any more insulting – or demoralizing – to the average soldier than the existence of Blackwater?  When it comes to patrolling highways in the face of IEDs the job goes to the military.  When it comes time to protect the senior American officials in Iraq the job goes to Blackwater.  The soldier on the front line has to observe careful rules of engagement or wind up facing charges.  Blackwater is above all law and oversight.  You can bet that there isn’t a single family of a Blackwater employee who has had to apply for food stamps.  You can bet that no wounded Blackwater operative has to recover in a hospital full of rats and black mold.  You can bet that same Blackwater employee isn’t going to be denied necessary rehabilitation and long-term care.  Yet somehow the same government is paying for both the Blackwater people and the soldier.  One is a product of the private sector and is valued by our leaders.  One is serving her country and is the recipient of rhetoric and little else.

Our government doesn’t come from nowhere.  It reflects the society it emanates from.  We value profit over service and dedication to oneself over dedication to the group.

We love pimps.

And soldiers of fortune.

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2 Responses to “Soldier of Fortune”

  1. ChenZhen said

    Hey thanks for the nod Gerald. Nice post.

    BTW- the other issue I never brought up was the entire concept of quality control. Government contracts often times have very rigid standards that must be adhered to in order to be accepted. Think NASA, or anything involving national security. NASA, for example, requires these high standards for obvious reasons. If a part fails, it could kill a crew of a handful and destroy a billion dollar vehicle. However, that seems like a drop in the bucket compared to Iraq. Over there, you literally have the fate of a nation (and beyond)at stake and billions upon billions being thrown at this effort. The idea that a government contract could be thrown at a company like Blackwater -in a situation where the stakes couldn’t be higher- without any oversight or control should at least make people scratch their heads a bit. Actually, there should be a good deal of outrage.

  2. Gerald said

    I really think this comes back to the almost religious fervor the administration has for all private solutions. If they don’t want to “burden” business with “unneccessary regulation” why would they want to perform oversight on contractors? After all, the market is always right!

    I wonder if this isn’t part of why Bush is ignoring people in his own party – like Chuck Grassley – and even insurance industry groups who are calling on him to not veto the extension of SCHIP. He sees almost all government solutions as wrong and any private solution as superior by definition.

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