Hoplites were the citizen soldiers of the Greek city-states, drawn from the civilian population, something like the 20th century Swiss military, and they proved their worth in countless wars with the Persian empires to the east, who in contrast fielded highly paid mercenary hordes.
Throughout history, troops fighting for their ideals, rights and national interests have exhibited a zeal and commitment usually absent in their “show me the money” adversaries. Not all citizen soldiers are fighting for just causes – consider the Confederates in the Civil War, or the German Army in the Second World War – but at their best they represent the ideals of patriotism, the social contract, empathy between a nation’s people, and the common man as his own hero.
Alright, then: If all this is demonstrably true, then why are there 130,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars homeless on our streets today?
Why are veterans’ health care and pensions being sliced to the bone, and the dependants of our people fighting overseas treated like trash? It sounds neither wise nor righteous to me.
And why, at the same time, are Beltway banditos blindly doling out hundreds of billions of our tax money to private contractors like Eric Prince of Blackwater infamy, and Dyncorp (there are plenty more, trust me).
Prince’s enterprise got fat sending mercenaries, many of them trigger-happy machismo-obsessed drunks and criminals, into places like Iraq and Afghanistan and paying them at least ten times more than GIs get for doing the same job 1,000 times better.
Prince and company have now leached onto the CIA and the rest of our intelligence apparatus to the point where the parasite is larger and more powerful than the host. Privatizing a country’s intelligence and security functions is about as dangerous a notion one can imagine – recall the Blackwater goons gunning down black refugees from New Orleans during Hurricane Agnes, while Donald Rumsfeld withdrew all the assets of the military under his direct command – but no one seems to care enough to do anything about it. This must have been what it was like when Rome was falling: “Ho-hum, let’s order another platter of deep-fried peacock beaks and watch an elephant fight a lion.”
Dyncorp was paid over a billion dollars to train policemen in Afghanistan; they sent less than half of the trained personnel necessary to do the job, and cynically pocketed the cash. I met two Dyncorp guys in Afghanistan, rural law enforcement studs who were quitting out of disgust with the whole thing, despite the fact it would end up costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars. They described a Dyncorp presentation to Pentagon brass in which the company honcho, a retired general, was so falling-down drunk no one could understand a word he was saying, and worse, no one cared, and went on to tell me that they'd barely managed to train anyone since they got to Afghanistan because Dyncorp hadn’t recruited students, provided a training plan, anything. “We’re just wasting our time, and the taxpayers’ money. We just can’t take it anymore, ” they said. The lack of properly trained police is the main factor sabotaging reconstruction in Afghanistan and fueling the Taliban movement now, and it’s costing the lives of countless American soldiers. To quote Barry Goldwater, “None dare call it treason,” but if it isn’t treason, then what the hell is it? And having spent a lot of time in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I could give you innumerable examples of similar malfeasance.
But those examples pale compared to the billions we give contractors to pass on to Pakistan, where it's used to pay the rent for the likes of Osama and Mullah Omar, and to design bigger and better suicide bomber vests to kill our soldiers, Afghan women and children and aid workers. I’m sure some of our recycled tax money eventually went to paying the men who killed my good friend Dr. Tom Grams and nine other aid workers in Afghanistan awhile back, not to mention Sgt. Bob Paul, wit whom I worked with for six months with in Baghdad, blown to pieces by a suicide car bomber in Kabul. It’s an obscene outrage. Doesn’t anyone give a damn around here any more?
And here’s the punchline: When a Congressional committee asked a Pentagon contracting officer where our billions were going, he replied “The last thing we want is some Pakistani general coming in and giving us a cardboard box full of receipts.”
Yeah, who needs receipts from a country the experts call “Terrorist Central” and “our worst enemy on the planet”? Why hassle them? They don’t have to show you no steenkeeng receipts; they’re not like those greedy American schoolteachers, 9/11 rescue workers and PTSD-haunted veterans. The flag-waving Benedict Arnolds in Washington can’t wait to stuff dumpster-loads of benjamins on Osama bin Laden’s landlord, but they turn into Scrooge when it comes to our own heroes…. Unbelievable.
Why doesn’t anyone in Washington have the guts to demand that the executives of these criminal enterprises pay back the money that they’ve stuffed in their carpetbags and then march them off to the maximum security prison at Pelican Bay? Along with the Pentagon contracting officers who’ve helped run the whole scam? In fact, why aren’t you congressmen who’ve been co-conspirators and enablers in the whole sorry conspiracy hunkered down in Pelican Bay too, whinging and weeping while your cellmate Donald Rumsfeld gives you one of those a ballpoint pen jail tattoos of tears running down your cheeks?
Here’s a novel idea: take all the money being paid out to Blackwater et. al. and use it to radically improve conditions for our active duty and retired military, and fund a much bigger, more skilled corps of Civil Affairs, Special Forces, Special Ops and “psywar” troops for the occupation and reconstruction jobs that are our military’s biggest job these days.
And why don’t we deliver our next “military aid” package to our Pakistani “friends” in the form of a few hundred cruise missiles, Smart bombs and Drones, smack into the air-conditioned offices of the Pakistani Army intelligence spooks who invented Taliban, protect al-Qaeda and most likely helped plan the 9/11 attacks? That would be money well spent.