Amid Blackwater, the tip of an iceberg
Privatizing war

Senior editor, The Last Ditch

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Recently four of Blackwater USA's "civilian" employees in Iraq were killed in action, and some on the Left (and elsewhere) are citing the activities of the mercenary company to warn that war is being "privatized." (Blackwater was founded by former U.S. commandos.)

But unless a complete communism reigns, all wars must be privatized to some extent.

Someone has to build the weapons — and be paid for building them.

Someone has to build the ships and planes — and be paid for building them.

Someone has to build the bases — and be paid for building them.

These are the traditional "merchants of death." But they are not alone.

Someone has to manufacture the food, the uniforms, the blankets, the mattresses and pillows in the barracks.

Someone has to be paid for whatever entertainment the troops get. Someone is paid for the medicines and some of the medical treatment they get. Someone is paid for the razors used to cut their hair. Someone is paid for the sun-tan lotion, the soap, the deodorant, the shampoo, the condoms, the contraceptives. Someone is paid for the magazines and books in the canteen.

Lawyers are paid for drawing up the contracts that make all this supplying possible.

And if there is a kind of Marshall Plan afterwards, someone is paid for the "rebuilding" of the defeated country. And again for drawing up the contracts.

Even if the companies providing these supplies and services are donating them or selling them to the military at a loss (hah!), they are employing people to make them — and those people are being paid.

In short, if there is a war, there must — necessarily, inherently, logically — be war profiteers.

But let's not lose sight of things. The war is not evil to the extent that it is privatized. The privatization is evil to the extent that it is part of the war effort. Private enterprise does not corrupt war; war corrupts private enterprise.

Put another way: You can't get rid of the war by getting rid of profiteers; but you can get rid of the profiteers by getting rid of the war.

April 12, 2004

Further reading. At TomDispatch.com, a project of the Nation Institute, there is posted an excellent essay by Chalmers Johnson, author of Sorrows of Empire, in which he elaborates on my theme (and which I believe comes from his book): "America's Empire of Bases." I particularly like his discussion of the subject because it is not his main point.

Readers desiring to explore the mercenary angle may wish to consult the following articles, recommended by one of our correspondents, an antiwar man of the Left:

"Mercenaries 'R' Us" by Bill Berkowitz, AlterNet.org, March 24, 2004.

"Chile: US Contractor Recruits Guards for Iraq in South America" by Jonathan Franklin of the (London) Guardian, March 4, 2004.

© 2004 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.


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