I had just started my senior year of high school in September of 2001. I was eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch in front of the tv when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I went to school without really knowing what was going on, and in every class that day the teachers had the TVs on. I remember at lunch a classmate saying, “A whole lot of people are going to be dead, now.” My neighbors were Saudi and kept their kids home for a bit. Their older kid was harassed at college. Some of my friends were for the war, and some were against it. The guys I know who went overseas came back pretty different. How does a teenager make sense of all of that? Perhaps more importantly, how does a government? Enter Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater.
The book, which was originally published in 2007, was an NYT bestseller and one that I was aware of but skipped on purpose. Reading about private security contractors and their controversial dealings with the Bush administration didn’t sound like fun. Since my day job involves so much of the political realm, I don’t love coming home to read current events. (Hence all of the comic reviews!) However, some friends of mine recently agreed to read this one based on a Scahill interview and so here we are.
Blackwater is about Academi, which was previously known as Xe Services, which was previously known as Blackwater. The organization was in the “private security”/mercenary/training business, although if you look at their website now they highlight “managed support services” with images of a buffet, a port, and a man at a computer.
Scahil tells the story of Blackwater to tell a larger story of the privatization of what have traditionally been core government roles, such as war (Iraq), foreign policy (Sudan, South Africa), and humanitarian work (New Orleans).
While Scahill certainly understands the dangers of privatization and “theocons” and mountains of money influencing legislative behavior, I found the writing style to be simultaneously sensationalist and dry. I’d prefer a more Woodwardian style.