American Culture

Blackwater and the Baby Boomer conscience…


There’s a now (rightly) forgotten “war film” from the 1950’s called Kiss Them for Me that stars Cary Grant and Ray Walston as Navy fliers on leave during WWII. It’s a slight piece of film making (mostly designed to appeal to women – with Jayne Mansfield and Suzy Parker as eye candy for their vet husbands). But there’s one scene that sums up the mentality of the military: after spending the entire time trying to weasel out of more combat duty (and finally succeeding because Walston is elected to Congress), the guys learn that their ship has been hit by a kamikaze and destroyed and that all their colleagues have been killed.

They all go back to active duty out of respect and affection for their fallen comrades. Their actions reflect the attitudes and beliefs of a generation of Americans well documented by both Tom Brokaw and Ken Burns.

Fast forward to yesterday’s Blackwater hearings.

Erik Prince, he of unlimited capital, Republican convictions, and evangelical dominionist beliefs spent much of yesterday morning defending the actions of his band of hired soldiers of fortune employees before the House Oversight Committee. The gist of what Prince said can be summed up in this quote:

We do not have the same rules of engagement as a US soldier….

The members of the committee clucked and preened and ruffled their feathers and acted suitably dismayed, defensive, or demagogic according to their political party affiliations. We heard lots of talk about accountability and controls and – well, oversight. This is all well and good, especially given Blackwater’s track record, its ever-growing forces, and its plans to become a domestic force. Somehow or other our “government” needs to find the political will (I’ll give you a moment to get up from falling off your chair laughing) to stop – or at least rein in – the ever growing power of what is becoming a state sanctioned private army.

Note to Baby Boomers: IT’S OUR FAULT….

Let’s think about history for a few minutes. In 1961 outgoing US President Eisenhower, a Republican, warns the American people about the growing power of what we now know as “the military-industrial complex,” the growing encroachment on our national defense thinking by corporate interests in the business of making war materiel. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, uses the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (and the subsequent Resolution), as big a pile of crap in its own way as the Bush administration’s WMD intelligence, to escalate the Vietnam War to phenomenal levels – and enrich the defense industry.

Of course, we know how that escalation was effected. A national military draft. A draft that affected, eventually, anyway, young men at every social and economic level. It even affected our most recent two Presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Their records speak to their belief in that conflict – and the necessity of their service in it….


That draft galvanized American Baby Boomer resistance to the Vietnam War. A generation coalesced around the war issue (well, that and great rock music and drugs and free love) and and eventually achieved an end to the conflict – kinda sorta. Protesters applied pressure to Congress and Congress applied pressure to the Johnson and Nixon administrations, and eventually the war ended.

More importantly, at least to the evolution of an entity like Blackwater, the draft ended. An all volunteer military began for the US in 1973 and continues to this day.

Such a force was fine for the first ten years or so. But the massive military buildup under Reagan created the seeds of the current Blackwater mess. It was during the Reagan administration that merger mania overwhelmed American business and “outsourcing,” that most beloved of corporate strategies, developed. As Reagan’s “strategy” of MAR (“mutually assured [economic] ruination”) ostensibly aimed at bankrupting the Soviets spread to the federal government, Reagan’s military adventuring (remember Lebanon? Panama? Grenada? the Contras?) stretched military forces and it became necessary to find ways to free up troops from support duties such as food/laundry/custodial service, etc.

Enter contractors.

You know their names – Halliburton, Bechtel, KBR – and they’ve achieved their own notoriety as symbols of the the cronyism and corruption of the current administration. But they generally have been involved in engineering, construction, and service provision activities. Most of their contract work has been for the Department of Defense. While they’ve certainly joined the military-industrial complex as major players, they’ve been involved on the industrial side, not the military.

Blackwater is all about the military. Founded by a group of former Navy Seals and initially capitalized by the aforementioned Erik Prince, Blackwater has avoided directly competing with the goods and services offered by the well known contractors mentioned above. Blackwater is about “protection.” As Prince himself explains:

Blackwater is dedicated, and its employees risk their lives to protect Americans overseas. Under direction and oversight, the company allows veterans to continue their service to the US. Blackwater employees are all veterans….

And on the subject of why the “government”needs Blackwater’s protection while in Iraq:

Bad guys just have to get lucky once. – Erik Prince

The State Department has been the principal employer of Blackwater. The State Department has defended Blackwater’s actions. But these are military duties, right? So why is a private group of mercenaries composed of guys who can’t get the military life out of their systems doing the military’s job?

The all volunteer military.

Since BushCo has mired us in not one but two quagmires (don’t be fooled into thinking that Afghanistan is any less a quagmire than Iraq), our military is now stretched to the point where it can’t cover actual military duties such as providing protection to diplomats and other government officials. And that can be traced back to…

Baby Boomers.

We didn’t want to serve in the military madness that was Vietnam, and we’ve made it abundantly clear that a draft of our well coddled little Millenials would be political suicide, so what’s a war mongering chicken hawk like George “Mission Accomplished” Bush to do?

Hire somebody to do the killing that the volunteer military can’t handle. And that’s what GWB has done.

Because that’s what we Boomers want him to do….

What was it Hunter Thompson called us again…?

Oh. Yeah.


30 replies »

  1. Informative.

    …you do not, however, ever include positive ideas as to how ones changes the direction that a country may be headed in…

    How do you change what is becoming established behaviour now world wide (the use of private security companies for protection – to enclude protecting humanitarian efforts in hostile terrains)?

    My belief is that a Nation is only truly a Nation when all of its people are in engaged and have a stake in important aspects of National life.

    When a people become divorced from their own protection…(how to fight/protect/take care of etc) then you allow for the rise of supreme individuals who will and do co-operate effectively and will put their “talents” into a company for hire…

  2. Elaine:

    I don’t include much about positive actions Boomers will take mainly because my generation hasn’t shown much interest in taking positive action. They focus primarily on cocooning themselves in their money and protecting their own kids. I don’t excuse myself from this – but I hope to at least foment some discussion.

    I agree with you that the nation has to engage – I would like to rile up Boomers enough to get them to do so. We have enormous economic and political power at our disposal. We have to use it – now – to stop this country’s slide toward imperial Roman style disaffected disengagement and accept some responsibility.

    That means making hard choices like bringing back a compulsory draft to force the conversation on what our geo-political and military involvement in the Middle East should be about. I don’t think it should be about energy resources. That’s what it’s about now. I believe that way lies catastrophe in both environmental and political areas.

    I also think we have to engage about how we’ll get renewable energy technology into the marketplace. We’re letting corporations bullshit us now. We should be demanding accelerated fuel cell development, alternatives to grain based bio-fuels, and whatever other technology will free us from dependence on fossil fuel and help us clean our environment.

    My job is to be like Tom Paine. I’m trying to fire up the populace to positive action.

  3. What’s odd is that Boomers are really acting like Xers. I get how it can all seem beyond your ability to do anything – the power of institutions is SO huge and remote. I get that.

    But your gen actually DID something, once upon a time, through the power of collective social action. And that was when it was young and had no money or resources to call on.

    Now Boomers ARE the power.

  4. “But your gen actually DID something, once upon a time, through the power of collective social action. And that was when it was young and had no money or resources to call on.

    Now Boomers ARE the power.”

    It was once said that the best negotiator is the child (because he/she has nothing so therefore has nothing to lose).

    If I had the power…I’d not give it up lightly or without a fight. If I was joined in forces with others…thenwe would act as a block.

    Jim: Nice answer.

  5. Funny, I was thinking that this explained a few reasons why I’ve felt disaffected by the the UU church political action group I was attending for a while there. Nearly everyone there were early Xers and Boomers (I’m a Xer, but close enough to Millenial to have some of the generational attitudes myself), and they came out of the Vietnam era with ardently pacifist views. I, on the other hand, was raised by two war babies (born during WWII), my dad served stateside in the Army during Vietnam, and was raised with the idea that sometimes force is necessary.

  6. You’re close to Millennial in what way? Unless I have forgotten how old you are you’re nowhere NEAR them – that gen started being born in 1980.

  7. As you yourself have pointed out on occasion, the dates are flexible. The last set I saw was 1976. Regardless, though, having read through the “official” list of Xer and Millennial personality quirks, I’ve got my fair share of Millennial quirks.

    Of course, given that all this generational stuff is another way to pigeonhole large groups of people as opposed to addressing individuals, its only reasonable to point out that any individual data point in the sampling may have very different characteristics from the sample’s mean value.

  8. There are exceptions in any large demo, obviously, but no serious analysis puts the break any earlier than 1979 or so. And I know you – we all have quirks that are like other cohorts than our own, but rest assured, you’re not just an Xer, you’re damned near a case study in a lot of ways.

  9. <>

    Jim, you’ve got a son or sons in their twenties, right? If a draft was made law, would you feel comfortable sending your sons to fight, and maybe die, in Iraq? It’s an honest question to ask.

    The conversation about our involvement in the Middle East is simple: It’s about oil and profit. Religious wackos like Prince hitch their wagon to the crusade for their own agenda, but in the end, all they’re doing is enabling the oil empire. The only way we can end that is to end our oil dependence as a nation, and anything short will be a Band-Aid on cancer.

    And regarding WWII, remember a few things that are glossed over in the history books: IBM and Henry Ford were all too willing to do business with the Nazi regime, due not least to the very prevalent anti-Semitic sentiment in the country. That came coupled with a streak of Monroe Doctrine-level isolationism that kept us from joining the war until Pearl Harbor quite literally forced the issue.

    Not to mention how many of the Allied forces treated liberated Holocaust survivors nearly as bad as the Nazis did.

    The heroic sacrifices and valor of the Greatest Generation cannot be underestimated, but let’s not forget that apathy and dehumanizing cruelty are not inventions of the modern era by any stretch.

  10. You’re missing a couple of points, Martin:

    1) Bastards like Ford and the IBM execs are readily available for every war – profiteering goes back to the pharoahs. As for the politics, that’s as usual the province of demagogues and weasels.

    2) When the call came (and we can argue about whether they should have done so sooner until the cows come home), the greatest generation stood up and did what had to be done to defend this country. My generation did, too – against the stupidity and greed that was Vietnam and the M-I Complex. Then we turned into money grubbing swine. We can, however, end well if we make some effort to stop Blackwater, Bush, et. al.

    3) I noted that it’s about energy resources. And that’s got to be solved with good old American ingenuity and technology – not with bullets, as I state. We’re on the same page….

    4) I’d advise my sons to resist the draft and protest like hell against this unjust war. I did against mine. Got arrested 3 times. Do I want them used for Big Oil cannon fodder? Hell, no. And neither will my contemporaries want their kids used so. THAT’S how to get some traction with these other issues. Nothing makes you politically active and committed to regime change like some dumb SOB trying to send you – or your kids – off to die for corporate profit…. If the Boomers step up on this, things will happen. We’ve got money and that gets power. What we need is motivation….

  11. Anyone who was really around remembers Vietnam ended largely because officers feared VC sappers less than a fragging from their own platoons. Plenty of available H allowed them to escape the horrors of their own deeds but put them at odds with “the mission.” If today’s volunteer army would spit out the mouthful they’ve been fed it would be a start.

  12. Jim,

    AHHHH! I get it. By imposing a draft, it’ll wake the young out of their slumber and push them to actively protest. Makes good sense. It’s a shame that it would have to come to that, but people are generally selfishly motivated, and war is a lot less attractive if you’re the one who has to fight it.

    Very nicely played. 🙂

  13. euphrosyne1115: True, except the Boomers started acting this way back in the early ’80s, well BEFORE they became the entrenched power gen.

    I guess you have to act the part of what you WANT to be, huh?

  14. What does a draft solve? You end up with more army available faster for foreign adventures; and a less professional army at that. I recognize the necessity of armies and wars. But Nam, with a draft, still killed many more people on all sides than Iraq, without one. It wasn’t the draft protesters who ended Nam, it was the damage to the national economy. We’re about the see the same motivation finally end the Iraq occupation.

    The boomers responsible for Iraq are the ones in the press, who should have known better than to enable another war on false pretenses. Specifically, Judith Miller, given the front page of the Times, set the tone that the rest of the media happily sang along with. It was a time when we needed to be at war, but Iraq was the wrong battlefield at the wrong time. So the pacifist boomers ended up being right about Iraq, but were overall wrong, so couldn’t be leaders. And the boomers cognizant of the need of war then didn’t have good information, since even the liberal press was criminally complicit in the Cheney disinformation campaign.

  15. It would be interesting to go back and find out how much Rumsfeld and Cheney had to do with the change from the draft to a volunteer force. They have certainly worked the system well in regards to war profiteering and influence peddling. In these free market=besotted times, few seem to recognize the folly of putting military force, whether for international or domestic police actions, on a for-profit basis and how that alters the likelihood of the new, purchasable power being used for obviously anti-democratic ends. To me it is as if Rumsfeld and Cheney are the Leopold and Loeb of our age, conducting a little experiment on the USA ( in the place of Bobby Franks) just to see if they can do it and of course to garner some loot in the bargain. Of course history would accord criminality of that magnitude a high place, assuring that Rumsfeld and Cheney–and perhaps their instrument ,Bush– would be remembered with the greats, in spite of their obvious limits and gutter-level aims, as the guys who took the USA down.

  16. When I was a kid in the forties the closest “four” letter words available were Hessians and Pinkertons. ’nuff said

  17. How about this: we pretend like we really believe all the BS about capitalism and free markets, and we pay the actual volunteer military a market wage –i.e. we pay our soldiers what we pay our mercenaries. Obviously, there are plenty of people willing to go to Iraq for the right money. Let’s cut Mr. Prince and Dubya’s other wacko fat-cat buddies out of the loop. Instead of using the lives of our children as bartering chips with a draft, make war more expensive by paying the military a market wage. Of course, really, all of this is pie-in-the-sky talk. We got a bunch of corrupt thugs entrenched in power, and they’re not going to give it up.

  18. I think if we paid our soldiers what these mercs make, you’d have no problems fielding a full military force for almost any engagement. It astonishes me to think that your average grunt barely makes enough to get beyond the poverty level, and yet we gleefully outsource the EXACT SAME OPERATIONS to companies that pay their mercs in the high five (and sometimes low six) figures–with our tax dollars.

  19. Martin,

    I wonder what the mortality rate is for a mercenary force versus a volunteer army? If you’re paying a competitive wage for skilled labor, it seems to me you’d want to protect your investment in trained fighters. Maybe they’d even have armor for their vehicles… oh wait. The mercenaries do.

    Meanwhile, the counselors at low-income high schools plaster the crumbling walls with recruiting posters. But that’s a different post.

  20. We’ll soon have no mortality. Our troops – public or private – will have telepresence, running remote-control aircraft, ground craft and robots. Their lives won’t be at risk. But the value of the equipment they’ll be controlling will be immense. At that point salaries will be a small expense compared to loss of equipment. When hardware, rather than bodies, is on the line, there’s little alternative but to fully value it – and pay what it costs for the best operators.

    On the other hand, smart, quick-reflexed teenage gamers might volunteer to fight our wars just for the fun of it, and all the free pizza and cola they could want. This will also open up new opportunities for cheerleaders, and for a lurking audience that can cheer them on as they kill the all-too-real-flesh-and-blood enemies in the VR immersion of the battlefield.

    Let our enemies play to their pretend audience of gods and angels; we’ll really be there, just as much as our troops will be (which is to say, with a safe and glistening realism from far away), lending support and encouragement.

  21. Whit: You’re perhaps describing the future, but you aren’t describing the NEAR future. Occupation – and that’s what Iraq is – requires bodies on the ground. Whatever we might think about the future of WarTech, we’re nowhere near having the machinery needed to accomplish what troops are doing in the door-to-door conflict right now.

  22. Sam: Depends on what “near” is. We’ve already got the robotic planes and some smaller robotic ground vehicles. And we’ve got “wheelchairs” that can walk up and down stairs, so the tech for robots on legs is current stuff.

    Since the discussion here is about whether instituting a draft would be good social policy, and since it would likely take longer to institute a draft than it’s going to take to withdraw substantially from Iraq, we need to be building our social policies regarding military service for the next war, not the last one.