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.