Review of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”

Slog through the murky depths of scandal, controversy, and murder in Jeremy Scahill’s chilling account of Blackwater Worldwide’s ascension to prominence as the world’s most powerful private military company (PMC). Jeremy Scahill earns his keep as an accomplished investigative journalist by shedding light on some of the inner workings of Blackwater, refreshing perspectives on Blackwater’s notorious actions, and giving the reader a glimpse of the enigmatic man behind the mercenary army in this book while marinating a narrative that is both highly informed and very readable.

Your reviewer highly recommends Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army for those who wish to understand more about Blackwater, private military contractors in general, their impact on modern warfare, and their implications for the pursuit of peace in a dangerous world.

Scahill starts off Blackwater with an account of the Nisour Square incident that first brought the mercenary company out of the shadows of relative obscurity to international infamy, with the introduction entitled “Baghdad’s Bloody Sunday.” The account, which documents Blackwater’s murder of 17 innocent Iraqis, including women and children, and the following failed actions by Congress and the Iraqi government to hold them accountable. The narrative then moves on to outline in encyclopedic detail Blackwater’s beginnings, and how it grew to encompass mercenaries from all over the world and win no-bid contracts from the US government.

Jeremy Scahill’s intention in writing Blackwater was to expose Erik Prince’s private army for what it really was, and to this end he failed to disappoint. His book is the go-to source for understanding Blackwater. Painstaking effort is put into every page of every chapter to ensure accuracy, making this book an effective text for both historical and sociological value. Scahill works as an investigative journalist. He is a regular contributor to Democracy Now! and The Nation, and has reported from Iraq, Yugoslavia and post-Katrina New Orleans. He has a reputation for challenging the US government on issues of foreign as well as domestic policy, and to this end he has been a successful muckraking journalist in trying to raise awareness and bring facts to light about our government’s policies towards Iraq, Cuba, and domestically, concerning the response to Hurricane Katrina. Scahill has a bias, yet is able to give a clear journalistic account of Blackwater’s actions without that interfering, making Blackwater every bit as good (if not better) than any other text on recent history. Understanding the rise and role of PMCs is important to understanding conflict as it exists in today’s world, and the implications that has for the study of and progress towards peace. The traditional roles of state armies and private armies are starting to mesh in a way that we haven’t seen in the past. The US government is using contractors for virtually everything, from civilian work such as construction and maintenance, to protecting VIPs in war zones and conducting “enhanced interrogations.” At the same time, PMCs have created a legal vacuum in which contractors have been able to commit crime without being held accountable.

This has created new challenges for peace in countries currently being occupied by PMCs on the government’s payroll. Blackwater’s presence in Fallujah intensified the conflict and necessitated a number of bloody sieges that altered the case of the Iraq war. Crimes committed by Blackwater have served to create renewed resistance to the American presence in Iraq and for many to call for the PMC’s immediate withdrawal. The presence of private military firms have proven to have an incendiary effect on public opinion concerning the “war on terror” and have made peace a harder thing to come by.

America’s proverbial “praetorian guard” of hardened mercenaries from around the globe bodes more of a warmonger than a “peace maker.” Companies like Blackwater have enormous implications towards how wars are fought, and thus, how peace is attained in the aftermath. After all, if an invading country deploys an army of hired guns who shoot civilians at random without any legal repercussions within that country or the invaders country, how likely are you to want to sit down to peaceful negotiations with these people?

Are you going to trust in that country’s “good intentions” to “spread democracy” when they give war criminals virtual immunity from prosecution? The answer is no. Those interested in the study of peace, and in creating peace where there is conflict, need to understand the unique challenge that PMC’s like Blackwater pose to peace, and this book is an important in understanding these problems.

Recently, five Blackwater operatives have surrendered in a federal court and will be facing charges for the Nisour Square incident.  A sixth guard has pleaded guilty to a count of voluntary manslaughter. It now seems that Blackwater Worldwide is finally being held accountable for at least one of its actions. This is due in no small part to the awareness and insight provided by Scahill’s book. Jeremy Scahill put forth a monumental effort in conducting his investigation. He was able to find out more about the PMC’s activities than the congressional oversight committee, and exposed Erik Prince’s mercenary outfit for the shady group that it was.

Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army is a very important book, and I encourage everyone to read this chilling account.

Categories: Government, Imperialism, Imperialist War, International, Literature, Media & Culture

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