Expanding on his Pulitzer Prize–winning series in the Washington Post, Fainaru profiles employees of for-profit companies engaged in the Iraq War.
With the all-volunteer army perennially short of personnel, Fainaru writes, more military work is being outsourced. The mercenary companies are primarily concerned with minimizing costs and maximizing profit, in his view, and as a result don’t always provide their employees with the best equipment. They don’t bother to display much concern for the men either. When one of the soldiers spotlighted here died, no representative of the company attended the funeral. Their employers do assure these soldiers that they aren’t subject to the same international, military, U.S., or Iraqi laws that members of the regular military are. “We were always told, from the very beginning, if for some reason something happened and they were trying to prosecute us under Iraqi law, they would put you in the back of a car and sneak you out of the country in the middle of the night,” recalls mercenary Chuck Sheppard. When employees of Blackwater USA shot and killed three Iraqi security guards, possibly without provocation, Fainaru depicts American officials conducting a perfunctory investigation and interviewing no eyewitnesses, despite complaints from the Iraqi government. The book’s strongest sections describe the mercenaries’ cowboy culture and capture scenes at home that reveal the influences shaping their personas. Fainaru takes to heart the old journalistic adage, “show, don’t tell,” as he portrays men seeking to escape difficult personal circumstances, who crave adventure even if it means losing their lives. The battlefield scenes, by contrast, are adequate, but not as evocative as those in the books of his Post colleague Thomas Ricks (Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006) or New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins (The Forever War, 2008).
An informative, dramatic look at a significant, often unexamined, aspect of contemporary military culture.