Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Part 2 of 3: What to do with the Department of Defense

If you read the Guardian article from yesterday's post, you'll notice that most of the problem seems to be military contractors. Certain types of military contractors (those that can accurately be called mercenaries--like Blackwater and similar companies) have been declared illegal and banned by international law. Unfortunately, the United States did not sign that particular treaty, so we continue to use mercenaries.

Consequently, we have problems like Blackwater employees shooting civilians at a random intersection in Iraq (more on that story here and here and here), or cases like David H. Brooks, a military contractor who was reimbursed $6 million for personal expenses, including a $100,000 belt buckle. I want to highlight just one paragraph from the article:
A lawyer for Mr. Brooks, Kenneth Ravenell, told the jury on Monday afternoon that his client represented the realization of the American dream, someone who made money while helping his country “when the military called.”
From what I've read, this sort of attitude pervades military contractors and the supporters of their behavior. This short clip from the movie Iraq for Sale details some of the worst problems with companies like Blackwater. This video may be a bit of an overreach, it uses the tone of conspiracy, but I think it also provides an interesting perspective.  

Though it seems clear that there are significant problems with combat military contractors, I think other types of military contractors are also problematic. Actually, anyone who has eaten in the Walla Walla University cafeteria can understand the problems and limitations of profiteering contractors. We have contractors doing everything from washing our clothes and serving our food to guarding our generals and training local law enforcement. These four articles outline the problem even more explicitly (here and here and here and here). And this blogger talks candidly about his own experience as a military contractor and the problems with the system. In short: contractors care less about quality service than they do about making money and this translates into a lot of problems--bad service, fraud, etc.

Instead of hiring contractors, why can't the military perform more of these duties in-house? Why do we have to pay a corporation to do our laundry? Why can't our own soldiers guard high-ranking officials instead of private security that get paid far more, but don't do a better job? I think they can and they should. Not only would we save money, but we'd also increase morale because our soldiers wouldn't have to fight alongside private contractors who are making several times more than they do.

I think we're giving money to the wrong people. We ought to be paying the members of our armed services who signed up to defend the tenants of our democracy, rather than military contractors who signed up to make a buck.

Note: This is part 2 of 3. 

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