The Business of Conflict
“When conflict becomes a business, a nation’s business becomes conflict. When mighty industries are built on war, only a fool will expect peace.” –Philip Primeau
Philip’s larger point – that a privatized national defense, and a national acceptance of mercenaries as a tool for the public defense is very, very troubling – is one worth heeding. I’ve made similar points about the privatization of other industries (our prisons for instance, where we essentially make crime profitable, and imprisonment an end within itself) but there is very little more troubling than privatizing the war industry, or transferring the common defense into the hands of corporations. The defense apparatus – that military/industrial complex Eisenhower warned against decades ago – is already too powerful. The manifestation of private armies will only compound this further, making the federal government even more dependent on contractors.
Tens of thousands of mercenaries fought alongside our proper troops in Iraq, and it’s hard to believe that soldiers of fortune won’t play a significant role in future military endeavors.
It’s a distressing phenomenon, a development that betrays a lot about the state of the American empire, including just how thoroughly militarized we’ve become. Once, we relished the ideal of the “citizen-solider.” Now, most people don’t so much as bat a lash at the thought of privateers fighting under our flag, even as their antics cross moral and ethical boundaries here and there, here and there. (But perhaps that’s the point exactly . . .)
A standing army of professional soldiers is bad enough. The emergence of a martial caste, with certain families giving generation after generation of sons to arms, is a problem for anyone who desires internal and external harmony. The public’s acceptance of mercenaryism further complicates any hope for a relatively bloodless twenty-first century.
The advent of private armies in Africa has only led to increased destabilization on that continent. The use of private firms in our own efforts abroad is a bad sign. Then again, it does fit into the mythos surrounding government’s inability to do anything properly; until now, only defense seemed impervious to this claim. With the rise of firms like Blackwater – what are they called now after their recent rebranding? – that last realm of public faith may start to crumble. If private companies can provide for the common defense more efficiently than our own military, then we will begin to see this sort of partnership more frequently. Make no mistake, I doubt that private firms could do a better job than our own military, but the larger fear is a trend toward further privatization and the creation of a “martial class” as Philip terms it, that would also add even greater voice to the already too-strong defense lobby. Whether or not these firms do a better job it’s hard to say, but it’s easy enough to claim they do.
Remember, in the private world, actions should be determined by supply and demand; but in private/public partnerships often the demand has to be created in order to justify the supply. Translate that in terms of defense, and you can see where this sort of partnership leads.