U.S. Wars Used to be Fought By Privates — Now, Increasingly, They’re Fought by Privateers

  • Share
  • Read Later

Privateers, strictly speaking, are private individuals who have been granted the power by a government to attack enemy ships in the government’s name. Privateering was a key part of naval warfare from the 16th to 19th centuries. But a pair of Congressional Research Service reports, released Friday by the invaluable Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy Project, shows it’s making a comeback:

Notes the report in the dry, technocratic language that is the CRS’s style:

From December 2008 to March 2011, the number of U.S. troops and DOD contractor personnel in Afghanistan increased. However, the number of [private] security contractors [PCSs] increased at a much faster rate (414%) than total contractors (26%) or troop levels (207%)…

Adjusting for the difference in the number of PSC personnel compared to troops, a PSC employee working for DOD in Afghanistan is 2.75 times more likely to be killed in action than uniformed personnel.

According to DOD, as of March 2011, there were 18,971 private security contractor personnel in Afghanistan. This represents the highest recorded number of private security contractor personnel used by DOD in any conflict in the history of the United States.

This blows me away. We can’t be honest enough to send the troops we need off to war, so we hire nearly 20,000 to wage it in our name. Even better: only 1 in 20 is an American, meaning the PSCs’ higher death rate is a sorrow for citizens of other lands. Talk about a coalition of the willing.

Someday, we — or, more likely, our grandchildren — will reflect on this peculiarly pecuniary way of waging war with the shame we should feel today. Until then, we’ll just keep on shelling out the big bucks to make it possible (come to think of it, our grandkids will also be paying those bills, seeing as we’ve been borrowing so much money lately):