Sunday, May 02, 2010

Yes, Mercenaries Die. That's Why You're Getting Paid So Damn Much

Watched a documentary tonight about profiteering in the Iraq war by private companies like Halliburton, Caci, Titan, Blackwater, and others. I'm always amused that the same folks protesting using tax money to provide healthcare to their neighbors didn't raise a peep when Halliburton was charging U.S. taxpayers $100 a pop to do a load of laundry for soldiers, and whose blatant disregard for said soldiers' health resulted in death and dismemberment of troops and civilians.

But that stuff's old news. Halliburton and the private contractors' abuses are a rant for a whole nother post. Don't get me started.

In this instance, what struck me as interesting was the way they portrayed the civilian contractors as totally naive casualties of war. These folks went over there with a passionate desire to help, yes, and they felt fucked over when it turned out they were just part of a profiteering system.


The company I worked for back in Chicago was among those called on by Halliburton and others as subcontractors in Iraq, and you know what? The package they offer you is pretty sweet. 2.5 times your base salary plus combat pay, generous vacation time, and you only had to sign a 6-12 month contract. I'd have been getting paid almost $100,000 as a project assistant/glorified admin. I gnawed hard on this and finally decided that, you know, we made the mess, we should go over there and fix it.

That was the moral piece I needed to push me over there.

But let's be honest, folks.

It sure as fuck wasn't moralitythat got me interested.

It was that sweet, sweet, $100,000.

The morality just made me feel better about it when I sent off my resume.

Anybody who went over to rebuild Iraq as a private contractor was doing so as a mercenary. As a mercenary, there are certain things you're going to expect: 1) you'll be in a lot of danger, and there's a real possibility you'll come back dead or maimed,  2) because of this, you'll be paid an assload of money 3) because you're a mercenary and are expendable, your employer really doesn't care too terribly about your safety.

Time and again I was struck by these families' outrage that their son/brother/husband had gone over into a war zone to make 100-120-140K driving a truck or 200-250-300K setting up water sanitation sites and being absolutely stunned that they'd been hurt/maimed/killed.

Death is a horrible, horrible thing, but if a soldier dies in a war, do we ask why the government didn't do more to protect them? These days, perhaps we do. Why didn't they have better armor, better intelligence, better logistics? We demand amazing things from our government and rightly so. In a perfect world the war machine would run magnificently and folks whose countries we invade wouldn't fight back. But this is what war is. War is dirty and messy and horrifying and people die. Did we expect something different?

Maybe this is just because I've read and written so much about war, and because so much of my family has served in war (including the Iraq war). Maybe it's also because when I sent in my resume for consideration as a private contractor in Iraq subcontracted to Halliburton that I was very, very clear about just what kind of shitstorm that would entail. I would likely have been one of the folks in the video decrying the abuses of Halliburton as far as waste and endangering soldiers' lives, but I don't know that I'd have been upset because Halliburton put me in a war zone.

Halliburton didn't put me in a war zone.

I had a price, and Halliburton was willing to pay it.

That's what being a mercenary is, and it's not all candy and roses and "hey I'll drive a trunk for 100K and come home smelling like the desert."

Anybody who thinks they're getting paid 100K just to drive a trunk is woefully naive of what the fuck a war zone is, and has absolutely no conception of what it'd be like to be a member of a country that's just been invaded, no matter how right or just or patriotic the invaders feel.

Are we really all this isolated and naive? Do we all make the same sorts of moral justifications like the one I made back then,  ("wellllll... we broke it, so we really should fix i"t) to make ourselves feel better about being profiteering mercenaries? You can pretty it up any way you like, but if you were to offer the same job ("drive a truck and get shot at") to somebody for 20-40K, see just how many sign up for patriotism.

The ones who signed up for patriotism are the soldiers. You know, the ones actually getting paid the shit money to get shot at in the desert. Everybody else is a fucking mercenary.

Me included.

At the end of the day, I was not among the folks selected to go oversees. But I would have gone. For $100K to pay off all those student loans and credit card debt and come back with a fresh new start?

You're damn right I'd risk driving a truck across a mine field for that.