Coastal Post Online

August 2001

The New Corporate War

By Carol Sterritt

It may well reveal one's dinosaur status, to mention the way that the present now imitates a certain past. Headlines buried in the back of today's newspapers seem to possess a certain "deja vu" similarity to things that have come before. It's not just that some kids are wearing bellbottoms these days. It's a more sinister thing I'm suggesting.

Much of the knowledge I gathered about Vietnam came about from my habit of interviewing anyone who admitted their involvement in that landscape. No two people shared the same experience. I knew one young man who created his own "Glam 'Nam" by employing a cynically smart mode of avoiding the drudgery of the real war. Upon arriving in Saigon, he attached himself to one of Saigon's mid-level officials. By acting as valet and personal assistant, his war was glamorous rather than bloody. For him there were no battlefields but instead a playground of cocktail lounges and their bar girls.

A medic I once talked to explained how he had spent the days of his 'Nam tour mending the wounded in a Cam Ran Bay hospital and his nights practicing his roller skating on helicopter landing pads while tripping on LSD. The artillery blasts that marked local battles served as so much fireworks.

Some of the stories that engaged my mind as being the most fantastic were those related by my former husband, James Sterritt. In his early days in 'Nam, he was assigned to an engineering platoon. On a daily basis the flatbed truck loaded with young soldiers would drive off the Army base and head for an area of fields and rice paddies. The truck would pull over and the GI's would be ordered out.

They would comply eagerly. Jim understood the order to mean that he should grab a handy metal detector, and begin walking the fields, searching for mines. His army buddies did not follow, but slouched against the side of the truck, pulling out their packs of smokes and talking. None of them showed the least interest in mine detection.

War was not Jim's thing, but the endeavor at hand seemed rather benign. He found himself disapproving his army buddies' stance. At some point, after a day or two of following orders while the others were slacking off, Jim blew his top. He demanded that they explain why they were so resistant to accomplish their mine detection mission.

The query was met with guffaws and derision. "Just what do we make our mines out of, Private?" replied one short-timer. "Plastics," answered Jim. "So just what do you think the Vietnamese use in their mines?" "Oh-h," said Jim throwing the metal detector onto the back of the truck and joining the others. He didn't bother minesweeping for the rest of his 12 month tour.

That story became an allegory for me. Somewhere in the halls of Washington DC, a corporate lobbyist had finagled a contract for mine detectors that purported to serve American troops and our war effort. But with profit as a motive, the detectors brought that company record earnings, but served no purpose beyond that. With corporate profit shaping war policy strategies to ensure product placement rather than any military genius guiding the war effort towards victory, it was hardly surprising that the war in 'Nam was won by a third world nation and lost by the United States. But for Corporate America, the whole thing was win-win.

Now a similar thing is happening south of our border in Columbia. A corporation located in Reston VA has become a major player in the US-controlled war in Columbia. This firm, DynCorp, is responsible not just for minor pieces of war equipment, but also for such things as personnel. If any "Coastal Post" readers are retired Army and feel a hankering to roam the jungles and foothills of the Andes, DynCorp has a job for you.

On its website, the firm promotes itself as an "Information Systems, Information Technology/Outsourcing and Technical Services Firm." But it is all that and more. The company does not limit its market potential to the Columbia war. Instead it outsources its people to such diverse government agencies as the US Bureau of Prisons, FBI, Drug Enforcement, and the Office of National Drug Policy. (With its recent acquisition of GTE IT, this writer has given some thought that perhaps it is DynCorp whose ISP address is occasionally intercepted by my computer's security protocols, as the ISP address always ends up being a firm (not identifiable) in the Reston, VA area.)

So if you are a senior policy maker inside the foreign policy arm of our government, just what can DynCorp do for you? Well, perhaps you need some more choppers from which to spray RoundUp by Monsanto onto the food crop and drug fields of Columbian peasants. And you might need personnel capable of cropdusting operations, and also helicopter pilots, medics, technicians, administrative personnel and the like. According to "CorpWatch." the contracts DynCorp has signed with the State Department indicate that DynCorp involvement includes "mission deployments" in which DynCorp "participates in eradication missions, training and drug interdiction, but also participates in air transport, reconnaissance, search and rescue, airborne medical evacuation, ferrying equipment and personnel from one country to another as well as aircraft maintenance."

And why is this outsourcing an advantage for our government? Well, in the event that things do not go as planned, the camouflage cover offered by such an arrangement is obvious. Our government spokespeople currently deny that we have any more than about 300 hundred American "advisors" in Columbia, and we admit to having no ground troops or combat personnel stationed there. Should a whole squadron be returned to our shores in body bags, it would be DynCorp's loss, not ours. This is a corporate mission, not one involving American military.

So what's in it for DynCorp? The US government, circa 2000, has already approved a 1.3 billion dollar war package to throw at companies like DynCorp. But wait, that's not all. The House is about to consider a $15.2 billion dollar foreign operations bill. Encased in the language of that bill is an additional 676 million dollar purse that will be available, perhaps for further "unlimited" mercenary troop columns, and just as importantly, the language of the bill invokes this mumble-jumble provision: "These funds are in addition to amounts otherwise available for such purposes and are available without regard to section 3204(b)(1)(B) of Public Law 106-246: Provided further, that section 482(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 shall not apply to funds appropriated under this heading." Translated from legalese into English, the meaning of these words is hair-raising: these mercenaries would not be limited in terms of the kinds of weapons that they could choose to use.

But discussing this issue raises questions beyond the mere undemocratic dispersal of mercenaries to another third world country. In the days of Vietnam, every red-blooded American knew that the big lie detailing our involvement could be summed up in four words, Communism and the domino theory. In Columbia, the situation is way more complicated: is the American government officially there because of our drug war, or is there a need to choose sides in an thirty-five year old civil war, or have we chosen sides among the many players: the "narcotraficantes", the paramilitary death squads, the central government, the Columbian national military, the "desplazados", or various insurgent groups.

Right now the way that things are playing out in terms of battle strategy can be summarized thusly: the helicopters maintain an agreed-on schedule to rain herbicide down upon those areas where there's a strong possibility for the indigent peasant to be planting his field in coca; before they begin their operation, the helicopters require a "clean sweep" of displacing the population before the spraying so that "guerrillas" do not shoot them down (though of course sometimes the shooter is not some militaristic guerrilla but rather a pissed-off farmer who does not want his family to starve because of helicopter and aerial spray poisoning whatever he has planted, be it potatoes, squash, corn or coca).

So where DO I think this war is going? On a slippery slope heading straight up, I'm afraid. The money is there, and growing. Therefore the Corporate War structure has followed. Monsanto will get a fair market return for investing its poison RoundUp, Bell will gain more wealth for its choppers, and Dyncorp will expand its empire. These will be the winners, regardless of how the frontlines of battle fare. The losers will be the same as they ever were: a loss to the environment might be considerable -- many bird species and other wildlife could be made extinct by the overspraying of RoundUp. With much of the resources from our government to the Columbia war effort ending up in the pockets of dubious paramilitary groups and corrupt drug wars, civil rights in that country will perhaps become extinct as well. Also the third world national, just the average man and woman in Columbia attempting to raise their family in a safe and healthy way, and the average American citizen, who may someday find that DynCorp has replaced even the neighborhood cop on his or her beat.


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