Saturday, August 04, 2007

Heart of Darkness

From the LRB:

The founder and owner of Blackwater [which is, among other things, a mercenary placement agency], Erik not, legally, a villain. It doesn’t make him a villain that he is a privately educated, avowedly devout Roman Catholic, a former member of US Navy special forces and the father of six children. It doesn’t make him a villain that he has declared: ‘Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the postal service.’ It doesn’t make him a villain that he is part of the right-wing Republican DeVos-Prince dynasty of Michigan, which has bankrolled radical Christian evangelical movements that campaign against homosexuality, abortion and stem-cell research. The fact that he was an intern in the administration of the elder President Bush, but found him too liberal and backed the extreme right-winger Pat Buchanan to replace him, doesn’t make him a villain; nor does the fact that he has given a quarter of a million dollars in campaign contributions to Republican politicians. It doesn’t make him a villain that he donated half a million dollars to an organisation set up by Charles Colson, a felon convicted for his role in the Watergate scandal, to get prisoners to become born-again Christians in exchange for better jail conditions (in 1996, Colson floated the possibility of a Christian coup against the re-elected President Clinton). Nor does it make Prince a villain that, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when survivors were desperate for food, drinking water, shelter and medical supplies, his company flew ammunition into New Orleans to supply the groups of heavily-armed mercenaries it had rushed to the disaster zone. It is true that he helps fund campaigners against high taxation and welfare spending, while the hundreds of millions of dollars Blackwater has taken in fees since 2001 have come almost exclusively from the US taxpayer. Yet this does not make him a villain.

A man who hires a squad of elite lawyers to fight to protect his company from liability for anyone’s death, foreign or American, anywhere overseas, despite at least one incident of Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq shooting dead an innocent man; despite the death in Fallujah of four Blackwater mercenaries to whom the company hadn’t given proper armoured vehicles, manpower, weapons, training, instructions or maps; despite the death of three US servicemen in Afghanistan at the hands of a reckless Blackwater aircrew, who also died: well, casual observers might think this would render Erik Prince a villain. Yet it would make him a villain only in some liberal, humanistic, ethical sense. In the eyes of American law, Prince has done nothing villainous; on the contrary, he is a patriot and a Christian, which is to say, a good man.

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