Filed under: Nonviolent defence, Politics of Empire | Tags: Afghanistan, drones, military contractors, military draft, peace, peacemaker teams, Taliban
In April 2004 the world was awakened to a horrible scene in Fallujah, Iraq. Insurgents had ambushed a vehicle carrying civilian U. S. Government mercenary contractors and killed them. Two of the burned corpses were hung from a bridge in downtown Fallujah where they dangled for several days as photos of them flashed around the world. Commentators immediately compared the Fallujah footage to that of dead American soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. The victims in Somalia were American soldiers. The victims in Fallujah were American mercenaries employed by Blackwater Inc., renamed XE in 2007.
In this century we are entering a new era of mercenary warriors. From the strategic point of view, modern mercenaries fulfill a crucial requirement. They provide logistical and selected security support for invading forces in the field, and in addition on the political level they allow policy makers to engage in off-the-record, arms length and clandestine activities on the margins and outside of the law. This was formally called “plausible deniability”. In the recent past mercenary soldiers for profit have also served in Bosnia, Liberia, Pakistan, and Rwanda. They have guarded the Afghan President Karzai and built detention facilities in Guantanamo and elsewhere. On February 10, 2010, the Iraqi government ordered all Blackwater Inc. including subsidiaries out of Iraq or risk arrest. The order includes anyone involved with Blackwater in the deadly shooting incident in 2007 when they killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.
Due to a hostile local population the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan have required heavily armed guards, escorts, and sharp shooters to provide logistical protection for the millions of tons of military supplies. It is dangerous work and requires people who have been trained. The contractors, some from third world nations like the Philippines also staff the kitchens, the PXs (tax-free general stores for soldiers that offers rock bottom prices) and provide thousands of other support activities. Most mercenary contractors who carry out security related functions are former military. The Pentagon argues that despite lavish salaries, using military contractors is cheaper than training soldiers for the work. What is not said is that if the American armed forces were to carry out all these tasks the U. S. Government would have to implement a military draft which would be unpopular and set up the sons and perhaps the daughters of the privileged classes for the danger and inconvenience of military service.
Paramilitary units in Colombia, Philippines, Haiti, Afghanistan and many countries around the world perform similar functions to what private sector mercenary contractors do for the U. S forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. U. S. Operatives sometimes together with mercenaries have been involved in strategy formation, training, and sometimes in financing usually in conjunction with local government military groups. Even the Taliban got its start in the early 1980s as a paramilitary project developed and financed by U. S. personnel in conjunction with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Like the mercenary soldiers of Blackwater, virtually all of whom have had careers in the U. S. military, the Taliban grew up fighting and to this day this is the only profession they really know.
The Taliban and Colombian thug-like paramilitary units function at the margin of traditional customary law. Modern mercenary contractors often also function outside constitutional law. Both blur the lines between judicial process and police activity arrogating to themselves life and death decisions that any responsible society must legislate. These soldiers know the law of the gun. When or if constitutional government is restored they seek a place within the institutions of security work, but rarely leave their habits of threat, killing and improvised seat-of-the-pants law making. Former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld insisted that war by mercenary contract is cheaper but his calculations failed to include the re-education of the first generation of Taliban fighters back into civilian life from combat with the Soviets in the 1980s. Nor did his calculations include the cost to the American people of the expansion of its imperial culture of security.
Mercenaries working under private corporations also have carried out specialized tasks for the CIA including the loading of Hellfire missiles onto Predator drones. They have engaged in search, capture or assassination of enemy leaders in areas like the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Officially, the Blackwater mercenaries killed in the 2004 events in Fallujah were in the line of duty “to protect food shipments.” However there is apparently some doubt if there were in fact any food shipments on that day.
In 2003-4 I made several trips to Iraq. At the close of the first trip, an Iraqi with whom I had consulted extensively, rushed to the CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) apartment. He insisted that I must meet with some very important people for an extended lunch 16 hours before I was to depart from Baghdad. Our CPT schedule was piled full of planning and projects. I didn’t want to go to the dinner because I suspected I was about to be the recipient of a mountainous request that CPT had neither the personnel nor the money to respond to. But I agreed to go with other CPTers. The dinner turned out to be a gathering of representatives from some of the senior families of Fallujah. I figured it out about two thirds of the way through introductions. The entire group was made up of leaders. I waited knowing that they wanted something.
They asked about CPT. I knew that they already knew a great deal because two persons in the circle had spent extended time with us. We explained our decision to focus on detainees, house raids and the rights of Iraqis. We gave two examples of cases we were working on. We were frank about our limitations. There was some silence, and then one person asked if we ever do anything outside of Baghdad. We said, “Yes.” Have you every been in Fallujah? “Yes we have visited Fallujah.” I thought I knew where the conversation was going so I didn’t ask anything further so that the conversation about Fallujah could not develop. I didn’t want them to ask if we could put a team in Fallujah. They persisted with broad hints about the needs of Fallujah.
As I left that meeting, the spokesperson of the group took me aside. He identified himself as a senior police officer in Iraq. As he prepared to say something to me his cell phone rang. It was his counterpart, a U. S. Colonel. I waited and tried not to listen to what was being said. The call ended. He looked at me and said, “The U. S. Forces detained my nephew some weeks ago. We can’t find him. Could CPT help us find my nephew?” I said we could try although our team was already over committed. We tried but we were not successful. I don’t know if his nephew survived detention. I don’t know if the police officer survived the last seven years.
This encounter took place six months before the first battle of Fallujah which followed the killing of Blackwater contractors. As I write this I wonder how many of the people in that circle on that day are still alive, still live in Iraq or have any normalcy in their lives. I wonder if an unarmed peacemaking team in Fallujah might have made a real difference to the U. S. strategy, leading not once but twice to the destruction of that city. I believe trained and disciplined unarmed peacemakers in good numbers could have done without arms what armed soldiers could not accomplish — protect the people of Fallujah.
The story does not have to end here. We are not condemned to surviving in a world where the law is decimated by successive generations of paramilitaries. But the answer will probably not come from the Pentagon nor from the White House which may not be able to escape the grasp of a citizenry whose houses of worship celebrate the institutions of violent intervention. Congressional efforts to rein in support for paramilitaries or mercenaries have been timid. We will know if unarmed spiritually based peacemakers can do this when we become even more resolved to create a corp that can be in the Fallujahs that are waiting to happen.
Every one of us is impacted by a dominant culture that insists that military or police force will make things right. Every day that culture tells us that dirty tricks usually done in secret are required for our survival. After all, it’s argued, someone has to do this dirty work. It’s called a noble work and the Blackwater mercenaries are required for the work. It will take an expanding world wide but grass roots culture reaching beyond national borders to fashion a body of Christian peacemakers to be an effective power to block the guns and be part of transforming each impending tragedy of war. Little by little there will be change.
Filed under: Digital/Star War, Peacemaker spirit | Tags: digital war, military contractors, military draft, pacifism, robotic warfare
Why I want you to read Wired for War: the Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P. W. Singer, The Penguin Press.
In 1958 when I turned eighteen years old I went to what was called Portage County Selective Service office in Ravenna, Ohio to register for the military draft. That board placed my name in the record as a conscientious objector which required very little paper work and I requested a student deferment. The deferment was granted with little problem. The Korean War had been over for several years but the Cold War was getting hotter all the time and Viet Nam was waiting in the wings. Five years later in 1963 when I completed college and a year of seminary I was ready ”to do service” as we said then. I contacted the Selective Service to request permission to do my two years of alternate service in Viet Nam. Again, no problem. Two years later after very little communication or accountability to the board I was informed that I had completed my service obligations, meaning I would no longer be drafted.
Today the decision about participating in organized military violence is incredibly diffuse. The long arm of military service reaches into every industrial sector, to contractors or subcontractors, into educational institutions including high schools and think tanks. Production of components for advanced navy, air or ground-based fighting takes place in most industrial areas. Military contracts, sub contracts, sub sub contracts and consulting services pay well, and on time. You can even become a highly paid modern mercenary, and guard supplies or provide specialized security by signing up with Blackwater or one of the other military security contractors. No part of the military complex is more dispersed throughout industry than the development, production and maintenance of the thousands of digital systems that wire the new armed forces, guide robots in battle where they defuse explosive devices, collect pictures of the enemy, shoot at the enemy and directly bomb or shoot people from unmanned digitally controlled vehicles.
Wired for War is not a 400-page book about how to lead a pacifist life. It’s a book about how war and advanced killing is unfolding. Singer tells us how the Talon robot “saves lives” by going places that are dangerous with its rapid fire gun, and how a warrior robot uncovers hidden roadside bombs. He introduces us to unmanned submarines that are increasingly used in the most dangerous underwater situations, and insect-like bioinspired robots that can fly up to windowsills, perch and stare inside, climb up walls or even into pipes to look things over for security purposes. And the revolution has only begun. Someday, in this century wars could be fought by Terminator-like machines. In fact, science fiction is here.
Singer, a Brookings Institution thinker and consultant for the departments State and Defense, CIA, and Congress, introduces us to the pilots, caretakers and commanders who are challenged to adjust their management ways, technical styles, and chat room manners to killing in the 21st century. Singer frequently returns to the ethical questions of where the transition to digital warfare will take us. He experiments with answers anchored in just war thinking. The uninitiated will be introduced to the vigorous reflections on the meaning of robotics for management (read Generals), tactics and long term strategy in military journals. He tells the reader that these new creatures or machines, already affect police work and hints that they will affect our larger culture in ways that will change us forever.
In my growing to adulthood the process of becoming a conscientious objector, performing alternate service and getting on in life was clearer, easier, and more cut and dry than it had been almost any time before American history. I have been in countries where young people, usually males, are rounded up on the streets and pressed into military service. By the time I had completed my alternate service there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans who found themselves in the throes of moral decision making about the Viet Nam war. Their choices were – join the military and get it over, try to get classified as a conscientious objector and do alternate service (where you then had to prove you were doing it for religious reasons), go underground and just disappear (estimated 500,000 draft offenders), flee to another country like Canada where you may be welcomed (estimated 100,000), or prove to the military that you were too sick or disabled to serve.
As the Viet Nam war unfolded the sleepy offices of the Selective Services where I moved through with nary a question were overwhelmed with petitions for exceptions. Things eventually got so far out of hand that in1973 under President Nixon the draft was ended. He had campaigned in 1968 to end the draft. The draft really ended because of the expressions of moral discontent from young people aged 18-26. The political costs outweighed whatever military gains once thought to justify a draft. The Selective Service System that administered the draft remains in place until now. The powerful influence of those draft resisters forty years ago can provide inspiration and perhaps deeper insight into how we organize to resist war making in our new context.
The Selective Service Board and exchanges at their offices once served as a rite of passage for millions of youth like me. My successors now entering the workforce are confronted with a plethora of decisions that will last a life time. Are they assured that they have a support structure of friends, churches, instructors, chat rooms, mentors and even families to cheer them on? Choosing to be pacifist in all these life decisions can feel like one is saying “NO”, to many opportunities and perks and sometimes not even realizing there is a decision to be made. .
Our lives today are honeycombed with the tentacles of the military infrastructure and the choices are not very sweet. The old one time decision to do alternate service is gone forever if it ever really existed. Today being pacifist is an exercise in repeated examination of industrial products, taxes, consumer goods and most of all the work place. And, this is just the outward journey, a walk that only makes sense if there is an inward journey of the spirit that informs our hope for the wholeness of all things. This complexity would have completely overwhelmed me as a young man 50 years ago. This is why all of us are invited to take responsibility to investigate and help sort this out.