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The Arrival of the Warrior Corporation
Posted on Feb 25, 2012
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
Meanwhile, in those war zones, the Big Corporation would take over the humblest of soldierly roles—the peeling of potatoes, the cooking of meals, the building of bases and outposts, the delivery of mail—and it would take up the gun (and the bomb) as well. Soon enough, even the dying would be outsourced to corporate hirees. Occupied Iraq and Afghanistan would be flooded with tens of thousands of private contractors and hired guns, while military men trained in elite special operations units would find their big paydays by joining mercenary corporations doing similar work, often in the same war zones.
It was a remarkable racket. War and profit had long been connected in complicated ways, but seldom quite so straightforwardly. Now, win or lose on the battlefield, there would always be winners among the growing class of warrior corporations.
The all-volunteer force, pliant as a military should be, and backed by Madison Avenue to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to insure that its ranks were full, would become ever more detached from most of American society. It would, in fact, become ever more foreign (as in “foreign legion”) and ever more mercenary (think Hessians). The intelligence services of the national security state would similarly outsource significant parts of their work to the private sector. According to Dana Priest and William Arkin of the Washington Post, by 2010, about 265,000 of the 854,000 people with top security clearances were private contractors and “close to 30% of the workforce in the intelligence agencies [was] contractors.”
No one seemed to notice, but a 1% version of American war was coming to fruition, unchecked by a draft Army, a skeptical Congress, or a democratic citizenry. In fact, Americans, generally preoccupied with lives in which our wars played next to no part, paid little attention.
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Although early drone technology was already being used over North Vietnam, it’s in another sense entirely that drones have been heading into America’s future since 1973. There was an eerie logic to it: First came professional war, then privatized war, then mercenary and outsourced war—all of which made war ever more remote from most Americans. Finally, both literally and figuratively, came remote war itself.
It couldn’t be more appropriate that the Air Force prefers you not call their latest wonder weapons “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs, anymore. They would like you to use the label “remotely piloted aircraft” (RPA) instead. And ever more remotely piloted that vehicle is to be, until—claim believers and enthusiasts—it will pilot itself, land itself, maneuver itself, and while in the air even choose its own targets.
In this sense, think of us as moving from the citizen’s army to a roboticized, and finally robot, military—to a military that is a foreign legion in the most basic sense. In other words, we are moving toward an ever greater outsourcing of war to things that cannot protest, cannot vote with their feet (or wings), and for whom there is no “home front” or even a home at all. In a sense, we are, as we have been since 1973, heading for a form of war without anyone, citizen or otherwise, in the picture—except those on the ground, enemy and civilian alike, who will die as usual.
Of course, it may never happen this way, in part because drones are anything but perfect or wonder weapons, and in part because corporate war fought by a thoroughly professional military turns out to be staggeringly expensive to the demobilized citizen, profligate in its waste, and—by the evidence of recent history—remarkably unsuccessful. It also couldn’t be more remote from the idea of a democracy or a republic.
In a sense, the modern imperial age began hundreds of years ago with corporate war, when Dutch, British and other East India companies set sail, armed to the teeth, to subdue the world at a profit. Perhaps corporate war will also prove the end point for that age, the perfect formula for the last global empire on its way down.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of “The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s” as well as “The End of Victory Culture,” runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, “The United States of Fear” (Haymarket Books), has just been published.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
© 2012 Tom Engelhardt
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