Friday, April 16, 2010

Big Boy Rules

On March 31, 2004, the newspapers were screaming with headlines about a company called Blackwater who had four employees working in Iraq that were killed, burned and strung up on a bridge in Fallujah. For many, perhaps even myself, it was my first exposure to what is probably most accurately termed a parallel war in Iraq. Our current occupant of the White House at the time, in his rush to invade another country before the evidence for biological weapons built from a house of cards collapsed, left our military woefully underpowered to provide even the most basic of support to the soldiers on the front line. Almost immediately, private contractors from all over the globe would enter the country to fill that void for various reasons. Many were ex-military people who just couldn't depressurize to living back in the states after various tours of duty, others were people who smelled the money that could be made and still others were escaping pasts in the U.S. from spousal abuse, drunk driving convictions, fraud, and many other charges.

This diverse group of people joined one of hundreds of private security firms doing everything from escorting food convoys to protecting our own military on missions. They were paid by our government and paid extremely well though were left to their own devices in obtaining vehicles and weapons. In the beginning, the preferred civilian SUV's brought over themselves and bought their weapons off of the black market. These days, they manufactured their own armored vehicles and ship in high tech weapons by the ship load. Until only a couple of years ago, they didn't fall under United States laws, military laws or Iraqi laws. In fact, they really didn't have any laws at all. These mercenaries for hire which now outnumber our own military had their own set of "laws" that they fought under called, "Big Boy Rules."

Steve Fainaru's book, "Big Boy Rules: America's Mercenaries Fighting In Iraq," is a haunting book that does a number of things. It follows a particularly tough time in Fainaru's life when his brother was facing a prison sentence for not revealing his sources in the Barry Bonds drug scandal and his father was dying from terminal cancer. The book also follows the life of John Cote, a young man who served his country honorably through 9/11 and the initial invasion of Iraq but just couldn't settle down and return to the life he had once led. Fainaru follows Cotes return to Iraq as a mercenary for hire and eventually his capture and death in Basra. Most importantly, this book goes inside this parallel war detailing the many abuses that were bound to happen when the rule of law is the one that you make up on the go and the people working for you are not screened in any way.

For me it was a wake up call in many ways. First, I hadn't realized how many thousands of mercenaries were over in Iraq fighting this war with no training but with billions of dollars of money flowing from our government. Second, this book graphically details some of the atrocities of war, that never make it back to the mainstream media where weak hearted people would surely have put a stop to this war long ago had they read about them. It paints a vivid picture of the true costs of war which is much more than the billions of dollars that we read about in the newspapers and the thousands of dead soldiers, the death toll that doesn't include the thousands of mercenaries that have died doing the dirty work our military can't do. Finally, this book shows the future of war in which as standing armies are further dwindled down, a new private army which perhaps conveniently isn't governed by military or any other form of law, fills the void and revolutionizes war much like guerrilla warfare changed precise military formations.

This book worked so well for me because it told this story in a very humanizing way through the story of John Cote and through the death of Fainaru's father. By putting a human face on a very inhuman activity, it sinks deep to the bone. I highly recommend this book.


R. Sherman said...

I'll check this one out.

Query, whether the logistical support issues were due to other longer-standing neglect of the military, as opposed to Bush II specific problems?


Ed said...

R. Sherman - Interpreting Fainaru, I would say that it was due to the rush to secure the country with too few of troops and huge extended convoys that had to travel hundreds of miles of roads just to catch up. So it would depend if you call that lack of troops due to Bush II's rush to invade the country or if you think we've been our gradual downsizing of our military throughout the years or perhaps a combination of both. My opinion is that the latter can be compensated but the former occupant of the White House thought that this was going to be a quick in and out mission which I don't think any serious scholar would have agreed with.

Eutychus2 said...

Ed... In any military situation there is always the 'rogue' element that is going to step in and take advantage of the situation. [History alone since the earliest days has proven that] To think that there is not going to be such a force is really naive, and to think that it is going to be accurately reported to the mainstream media is even more naive. I really appreciate your review and I believe it is much needed, and idealistically should serve as a deterrent to military war. Being one of those Mennonite objectors [even though I did my enlisted term in the service; and honor those who do] I am opposed to war. No military expedition should be undertaken without a full plan of extradition as quickly as possible. That's what happens when you put a cowboy in charge!

Ed said...

Eutychus2 - Although not opposed to war per say, I was against this was for a variety of reasons, chief among them I saw no quick was to get out of it if we indeed toppled Saddam Hussein. Another reason was because we were already involved in a war in another country and I didn't think we would have enough forces. Both of those reasons have sadly proven true. No matter how modern and sophisticated our military gets, war is and will always be an ugly business. I would love nothing better than for it to be the last war fought by us in my lifetime.

sage said...

THis book sounds interesting.

A few years ago, I heard a local captain in the National Guard speak (I may have blogged about it), in an engineering company that was called up, telling about being sent to Iraq and the disappointment his soldiers faced--instead of doing the engineering they'd trained for, they were guarding private contractors doing that kind of work and being paid 100-150k a year (compared to $25k for the soldiers who were trained to do the job but guarding them)

Ed said...

Sage - I've always wondered how we can plug so much money into our military complex and yet have soldiers raising families in poverty with what little money they get, even though it is tax free. Where does it all go?

Beau said...

There are many, many untold stories... not just in this war. The cost of "peace" is also quite staggering. Think of the millions who have died in Rwanda, or typhoons in Indonesia... and think of the Mexican drug violence, right across our border, with over 18,000 people killed since 2006.

Death and strife come in many forms. And as for military life, I lost count of the friends and shipmates I've known that died far from home even before 9/11, serving their country, unknown to so many whose lives were insulated from those events.