As the Iraq war moves toward its fifth anniversary (which gift experts say should be commemorated with keepsakes of wood or, for the more modern couple, silverware), a weary nation is crying out with one voice: It’s time to bring our contractors home.
Yes, it’s time to hang out yellow ribbons for Blackwater, to cover our cars with bumper stickers that support the mercenaries, to wear with pride the red, white, and blue wristbands that say, simply, “You’re either FOR our soldiers of fortune or for the terrorists.”
Let’s be honest here. Since the war began, it’s been the contractors who’ve borne the true risks of bringing democracy to the people of Iraq. While U.S. soldiers perform their missions in full battle gear and armored vehicles, contractors do their duty with only sunglasses and a nasty attitude. They rarely use their weapons, except in extreme cases, such as when they’re held up in traffic. And who can blame them? During rush hour, who among us hasn’t wished we could spray a clogged intersection with sustained fire from automatic weapons? (If ever there was a justification for driving a Humvee bristling with AK47s, it’s when you’re late getting home to watch Oprah.)
Unfortunately for Blackwater, its employees have gotten some bad press lately, mainly because they look like former members of the World Wrestling Federation, where the key job skills involve breaking chairs over each other’s heads. (Admittedly, these were fake chairs, but the bravado was very real.) No question, these men are a little rough around the edges, but what better place to put them to work than in a foreign country desperate for the benefits of democracy and the free market system. And without capitalism, “freedom is just another word for nothin’ left to bill for.”
“You know, billin’ was good enough for me,
good enough for me and other war profiteers,
such as Lockheed Martin.”
I know. They don’t write folks songs like they used to.
Before the war , Blackwater was a small North Carolina company providing security guards to the night shift at the local Piggly Wiggly. Now it’s a billion-dollar international security firm with a bold new plan to privatize the military in times of war and—worst-case scenario—should peace break out, privatize local law enforcement. Which means that some day you could be pulled over by two big guys in an unmarked van and charged with “driving while under the impression” that you lived in a free society. Then they’ll break a chair over your head.
In fairness to Blackwater, its employees lack marketable skills for many mainstream vocations. Most are retired military, often from the Special Forces, which are trained to “own the night,” to kill quickly, silently, and with impunity. It’s hard to find a job doing that stuff in your hometown.
Oh, sure, they could work for an HMO, denying coverage for medical care. Who’s going to argue with a guy turning the pages of your medical records with a ninja knife? Bill collection is a possibility, for obvious reasons. (“Pay up now and I’ll give you back your arm.”) But dental hygienist might be a stretch. “You could floss, or you could not floss. It’s your choice, maggot.”
Nope, the best employment option for these ex-soldiers is in the mercenary forces, which in earlier times often meant the French Foreign Legion, a destination of choice for troubled men angry about life and unlucky in love. (Because nothing eases the pain of a broken heart like propping up petty dictators or corrupt businessmen. Or, in the case of Iraq, both.)
Which brings us back to Blackwater, a company named for the ideal condition for undersea combat missions: water so dark a soldier is invisible to the enemy. Either that or they named it after the catchy Doobie Brothers ballad. You remember, “ Mississippi moon won’t you keep on shinin’ on me ....”
Okay, maybe not.
IN RECENT hearings, Blackwater founder and former Navy Seal Erik Prince gave a calm and reasoned response to congressional nitpicking about Iraqi “innocent” bystanders, who, through no fault of Blackwater, always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Prince’s basic point was that his company executes its mission within the legal limits allowable for a major Republican contributor. Not to put my spin on it.
Be that as it may, the hard question remains: Should we bring home the contractors now and risk leaving Iraq in chaos? Or do we keep them there for the foreseeable future, to help manage the chaos, particularly at busy intersections, until Iraqis are able to choose their own path? (Tip for Iraqis: When choosing your own path, try not to look suspicious, or make any sudden moves.)
Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.