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Filling “the Gap” in a Field of Dreams

Note: This is the second of a two-part post on the “shadow army” of mercenary forces in Iraq. To see the first part, “Seeing the Enemy” go to BagnewsNotes.

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Blackwater Mission

“Build it and they will come.” Those are the words that Erik [the] Prince of Blackwater used in a recent interview with the Washington Post, referring to his 7,000 acres, “Blackwater Lodge and Training Center,” as a “Field of Dreams.” Field of Dreams, of course, is an endearing but not so subtle, surrealistic parable for the American dream cast in the mythic registers of Christian redemption and our national fascination with baseball. When Prince quotes from the movie he invites consideration of the darker side of the national mythos, rooted in the imperialistic pretensions of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny. His firm, Blackwater, Worldwide, formerly Blackwater, USA—and the change of name is notable in an age of empire and globalization—is a “private contractor” with multi-billion dollar government contracts to train U.S. military and paramilitary personnel and to provide independent security forces who serve, in Prince’s words, as “gap fillers” with the “skills the U.S. government needs to operate domestically and abroad.”

“Gap fillers” is a euphemism for “private armies” or “mercenaries,” terms that Prince steadfastly rejects. But there can be little question as to what Blackwater imagines its continuing “mission” to be, as indicated in the poster titled “The MISSION Continues,” available for purchase at the Blackwater Proshop for $15.00 (along with a catalog of “Apparel,” [Tactical] “Accessories,” and “Gifts” for “that special person in your life”). Shot from a low angle that accentuates their presence, the “gap fillers” are decked out in generic military gear, accompanied by a German Shepherd (vaguely reminiscent of the dog in the infamous torture photographs from Abu Ghraib), and supported by an array of high-tech weaponry and equipment, including helicopters, jets, tanks, and armored vehicles. The Blackwater brand in the upper right hand corner makes it clear who the agents represent. And at the bottom the poster announces, “Coming Soon – Global Stability.” The claim is as arrogant as it is wrong.

But there is a bigger point to be made, which has less to do with Blackwater per se than with the fantasy world within which the ad/announcement operates and the way in which it contributes to the larger normalization of a war culture. Blackwater casts itself and the problems of global instability within the fictional world of hyper-masculine, shoot ‘em up action movies in which the “hero” has access to an endless supply of high tech weaponry that he uses with impunity to destroy terrorists, aliens, and other barbarians—in addition to anything else that happens to get in his way—by day and then returns to his home and family by night, leaving a smoldering world in his wake. The only thing missing in this “mock” movie poster is the star power of a Bruce Willis or Keifer Sutherland.

And there is more, for the appeal here is not just to an action narrative driven by an adolescent attraction to pyrotechnics, but to a visual aesthetic of color, angle of view, background and gesture that draws directly from the lucrative, fantasy world of single-shooter video games such as Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction.

Mercenaries

The visual analogy is both uncanny and frightening. But it should not surprise us. For we have seen this combination of militaristic fantasy and the realism of war over and again in recent times, whether it is with announcements of missions accomplished, government officials shooting weapons in high tech military simulators, or private citizens playing soldier at paintball parks. Erik Prince deserves our derision, there is no doubt about that, but what should really draw our attention is an increasingly normative culture of war that fuels and enables a world in which entities like Blackwater can prosper as they give new meaning to phrases like “Playground of Destruction,” or in which the fantasy that “global stability” can be accomplished by “gap fillers” is anything more than a surrealistic “field of dreams.” And that is something we all share a responsibility for.


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Filling “the Gap” in a Field of Dreams

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8 Responses

  1. NoContest says

    Nice analysis John, I’ve noticed that Prince always strikes this pose. The little bad ass killer man, James Bond, Hollywood, lethal at any moment (and you better give space) kind of persona. Sending a visual message like a street gang member, “you may be able to mess with me now,.. taking my picture, scalding me in an article or an expose, BUT, I will remember you and I don’t get mad, I get even”….

    His body language signal is that you are now on the list. And if he ever gets the chance to wrap his hands around your neck, or assign one of his $150,000 per year (tax free) minions to do it, you will rue the day you crossed him.

    The firm, Blackwater, as you know is filled with ex-soldiers, rogue cops, self-styled adventurers. And you know, I don’t see much of a difference or a problem with them verses the modern uniformed soldier. If you assume that the standards of behavior of either are that much different, I personally doubt it. I know many uniformed soldiers and they all have taken on this vigilante killer persona. It is dangerous for our country at large – as you point out, for the rage and lifelong bitterness it causes. Which will translate into revenge at some point in time. I also wonder what these trainer and experienced killers will do when they “retire” and return home as cops or security guards or even managers of McDonalds. You better be ready. There is a good chance you will face off against one of these monsters at a future point in your life…. and you should prepare in advance for what you will need to do. (Dialing 911 will not be one of your options).

  2. matt says

    do you know what blackwaters primary function is? training cops and national guardsmen in how to respond to crisis and this function has picked up becuase of katrina. before that it was all about training police officers how to handle a violent situation with as little violence as possible, merciless killers all the way.

  3. Mark says

    In this world there will always be evil, there will always be violence, there will always be war. We’ll always need the “good guys” to fight the “bad guys”. We need the good guys to be stronger. So whats the problem? When somebody comes up with a solution for violence that doesn’t involve some weird chemical supression(which would be an infringement of human rights/abuse of power in itself), let me know. It is definitely NOT a perfect world. Even the “good guys” aren’t perfect. And just for clarification…”bad guys”=People that commit violent acts for selfish/in-humane reasons(i.e. Sadaam killing thousands of people with his chemical WMD’s that he “didn’t have”). “Good guys”=People that try to avoid casualities(i.e. Most Democratic Governments).

  4. Hariman says

    Mark, it’s not a perfect world, and it’s not a simple world either. Saddam was a bad guy–whom we supplied with weapons, including chemical agents. Democracies are much better than tyrannies–but our occupation of Iraq probably has killed and displaced more Iraqis than were persecuted by Saddam. And if you want to take a realist view of the world, fine, but then read Machiavelli, who warned against using mercenaries.

  5. A V says

    Hariman, if Machiavelli would have employed mercenaries he would have had a chance in Prato. “But our occupation of Iraq PROBABLY has killed-“, wow, you must be a reporter for CNN. Like Joe Friday says, “just the facts ma’am, just the facts.”

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