‘Invisible Soldiers’ raises timely questions

“President Obama has authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 American troops to Iraq in the coming months, doubling the number of Americans meant to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces.” (The New York Times, Nov. 7, 2014)

The U.S. had been steadily withdrawing our troops from Iraq. Now we have suddenly doubled our uniformed military presence there. These soldiers are being described as “trainers” and “advisers.” Based upon past experience we should probably be wondering how many private military contractors will also become involved in this burgeoning conflict with the forces of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

In considering this issue one excellent place to begin evaluating the situation is the latest book from the investigative journalist (and former Daytonian) Ann Hagedorn. In her book “The Invisible Soldiers - How America Outsourced Our Security” Hagedorn provides readers with an overview of the robust growth in the privatization of our nation’s defense and security.

“The Invisible Soldiers” of Hagedorn’s title are the private military and security companies (PMSCs) that have been taking on expanding roles in fighting our nation’s wars, guarding our embassies, protecting our shipping industry from piracy, and supervising the drones that have become almost as ubiquitous as the private military contractors themselves.

It seems like we only hear about military contractors when there are problems. Otherwise they seem invisible. Last month four former security guards who were employed by the military contractor Blackwater Worldwide were convicted for their involvement in the 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians at the busy Baghdad intersection at Nisour Square.

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This was an unusual case, employees of PMSC’s who have been involved in other instances of murder and mayhem have rarely been prosecuted.

Hagedorn’s book was published before the verdicts were announced. “The Invisible Soldiers” provides readers with a moment-by-moment account of how this tragedy unfolded.

Hagedorn recounts that “within ten minutes, Nisour Square had become a scene of death and despair as grim as any in Iraq since the invasion.”

This event was a public relations nightmare for the PMSCs who had received lucrative contracts in Iraq. Hagedorn writes that “in the aftermath of the massacre, the industry braced for a storm of criticism.”

PMSCs obtained billions of dollars for work in Iraq. It was a contractors’ war. And some billions vanished without a trace. When employees of PMSC’s attracted unwanted attention through their actions it was bad for business. Hagedorn explains that “the murders at Nisour Square exposed what could best be described as privatized mayhem.”

The author is a seasoned reporter. She presents nuanced reportage in examining various aspects of this industry. She uncovers the origins of these firms and reveals the reasons why they have flourished. We discover that prominent political leaders like Hillary Clinton and President Obama have gradually shifted their policy views in regard to these PMSCs.

Most importantly Hagedorn will inspire her readers to wonder; why should this even matter to us? “Invisible Soldiers” is fascinating, unbiased, thorough, and doggedly well researched.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

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