Blackwater, by Jeremy Scahill

February 3, 2011 at 13:19 (Book Reviews, Politics, Poorly Rated Books, War) (, , , , , )


Firstly and most importantly, this is not a comprehensive history of Blackwater, nor of mercenaries in modern warfare, nor even of the men behind Blackwater. This is a book with a very clear agenda, and Scahill feels comfortable enough to gloss over or entirely omit anything that does not contribute to his agenda.

It is rather painful to read a supposedly objective history that reads more like a bad graphic novel: his villains never “say” anything; they “bellow” or “sneer” their words, and there are far too many times Scahill feels obliged to make comments like, “although some might consider this a cynical viewpoint…” or make use of that magic bullet, “allegedly.”

His leaps of logic are astounding: he seems to expect his readers to accept that all Chileans were paramilitary killers under the regime of Augusto Pinochet, and therefore uses this as a stick with which to beat Blackwater for hiring torturing, murdering terrorists. That is, Latin Americans in general. When he admits that Blackwater use vetting procedures (“allegedly”) as strict as those used for hiring embassy staff, he does not back down, but continues to assume that all Chilean soldiers are paramilitaries, all South African soldiers spend their weekends killing black people and (presumably) all Germans great each other with a hearty “heil”.

A great deal of the agenda he sets is evident in the stunning amount of space and attention he gives to characters “connected with” or “associated with” Blackwater. While pointing to corruption in the Pentagon or denouncing already-denounced lobbyists might be relevant to painting a picture of generally suspicious motivations for the contracting of Blackwater, Scahill overplays his hand terribly in trying to wrap the whole thing into some kind of fundamentalist Christian attempt at a coup d’etat.

And that is the bottom line of the book, really. At one point Blackwater’s sinister side is demonstrated simply by the fact that their business has succeeded (pg. 347). Scahill provides a searing indictment of Paul Bremer’s style of governing (as if we needed another reminder!), but is so wrapped up in proving that the firm is actually trying to murder America in her sleep that he rather overlooks the fact that certain checks and balances have been sidestepped; and the fact that Blackwater certainly ought to answer various cases of criminal negligence and perhaps corruption.

These mistakes might be forgiven by a generous reader, but Scahill’s research is so tightly focused on his own private grudge match (and his campaign to prove the existence of evil by adding the prefix “neo” to every word he can) that he ends up with a rather shoddy and incredibly incomplete work. As a history of the Iraq War it is slapdash; as a biography of Erik Prince it is simply lazy; as a piece of investigative journalism it is third-rate.

1 Comment

  1. World Spinner said,

    Blackwater, by Jeremy Scahill « Library of Libation…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: