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Private Military Ecology Blog
last updated 27-Mar-2016
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At Private Military Ecology we explore unfolding trends and alternative futures for the use and understanding of Private Military and/or Security Companies and services. Late in 2013, we opened shop at WordPress: --a nicer, cleaner and more elegant experience. At WordPress, we discuss the changing 21st century security environment in addition to private military and security issues. Private Military Ecology @Blogger, however, is our oldest blogging space and you might find many posts there not available here or at WordPress.
Scahill’s take on security contractors: ‘killer bees’ for the Google generation
Peter Singer’s Corporate Warriors. The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry was published in 2003. The timing was excellent, as that was the year the Iraq war started. I do not need to elaborate on the visible role Private Military Companies (PMCs) and Private Security Companies (PSCs), the focus of Dr. Singer’s book, have played in the conflict. Off course Singer or Cornell University Press, the respectable publishing house behind the book, did not plan the release date to coincide with the onset of the war. Yet that is what happened. Singer’s book symbolically marked a decade since the PMC/PSC subject has been the focus of dedicated study. This is what we otherwise may refer to as scholarship, i.e. systematic work aimed at a contribution to knowledge. Moreover, either because of the timing of the book or that the study of this subject was due to explode into mainstream debate, Singer succeeded in transcending the expert community and introducing the subject to a broader audience. There are disagreements about Singer’s various arguments and conclusions. However, for a subject so pivotally important yet complex and polarizing, this was a genuine achievement. In 2005, Deborah Avant published The Market for Force. The Consequences of Privatizing Security, a compelling contribution to knowledge. By the time Singer published Corporate Warriors, Professor Avant had been already working on her elegant argument about the ‘control of force’ for a few years. For it takes painstaking work and time for serious research and scholarship to be produced. In this light, the air miles that Robert Young Pelton put while researching Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, which spans four continents and three years, made the troposphere his natural habitat as much as the many war zones he visited. In the words of Singer, Pelton’s book is ‘always interesting [and] truly captures the cast of characters that make up our new ‘coalition of the billing’ in the War on Terror’. Other equally relevant titles have been published on the topic, including Private Military and Security Companies: Chances, Problems, Pitfalls and Prospects, an anthology covering the work of 34 authors. Some of them will be revised in future posts.

A different type of work altogether is Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, put together by Jeremy Scahill and aggressively promoted by its publisher, the Nation Books. It is difficult not to discern that the book was crafted to cash on some of the unease and ill feelings that the Iraq conflict have engendered in a large proportion of the public, particularly in light of the coming US presidential election. Nonetheless, because someone touches those concerns, the empirical evidence underpinning them does not necessarily need to ring valid or accurate. Take for example the figures often quoted by the author in his many public appearances: the firm in question appears to employ 100,000 men for $1000 a day each. Even the most bizarre understanding of capitalism and conspiracy theories one could entertain would render the 36.5B a year cost of employing this ‘army’ farfetched. As for its ‘mercenary’ nature, a large proportion of these employees are in fact Iraqis and many of them work in tasks that have nothing to do with the military. Mr. Scahill chooses vignettes of evidence that suit his investigative-journalism style and is an able speaker who knows how to work his audience. After his presentation of 4 May 2007 at Sacramento City College, a student was reported to say she ‘felt both inspired and horrified from what she learned’. While inspiration is a good quality that encourages learning and understanding, it is important not to allow oneself to engage in a suspension-of-disbelief trance when dealing with such a sensitive topic. This is not a defense of the firm in question, but an invitation to anyone who believes has learned about PMCs/PSCs solely from this book to broaden his/her horizons and examine the vast scholarship available on the topic before reaching ‘horrifying’ conclusions. Many honest folks who make a living in the private military and security sectors, feed their families, pay their bills and mortgages, save money for their children’s education, and can only dream about the possibility of a $1000 a day job, deserve the effort.

8 July 2007





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