Editorial | Outsourcing the war and forgetting its costs

Program News | Posted Jun 11, 2008

Editorial | Outsourcing the war and forgetting its costs
Posted: 12/3/07
The Tufts Democrats and the Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and Services (ALLIES) deserve accolades for the symposium that they put on this past weekend. Devoted to discussion about civilian-military relations in the 21st century, the event featured a panel on the contentious issue of private military contractors (PMCs).

Using private firms to help fight a public war is not unprecedented, but the extent to which private money and manpower have been employed in the Iraqi conflict is certainly unique.

Examining the conflict in the Middle East, two main problems emerge from our country's heavy reliance on PMCs: First, the public at home feels less of the war's costs, and second, our own government has less oversight over the actions of Americans in Iraq.

This embarrassing lack of American control was demonstrated earlier this fall, when the Iraqi government threatened to deal harshly with foreign security firms after guards from Blackwater Worldwide were implicated in the deaths of 17 civilians.

Regardless of one's personal feelings about integrating private businesses into public military operations, we should all appreciate the effort that Tufts students have shown to understand and to bridge the gap between the civilian and military sectors in this country.

This growing divide has arguably done the most to shape our generation's distinctive war experience. While our parents learned to deal with, and eventually protest against, a system that drafted their peers off to Southeast Asia, we have a noticeable disconnect between our lives and the plight of Americans in Iraq.

When private firms are hired out to further the U.S. war mission, the need to recruit civilians into the military diminishes, and young men and women feel a reduced pressure to volunteer and to serve their country.

While it is certainly nice to have the leisure to explore our academic and professional interests without feeling the need to take up arms in defense of the country, we're losing a valuable connection with the actions of our government.

We're becoming much more individualistic and much more consumed in the plight of our own lives than in the fate of our collective society. It's almost as if we have to make an extra effort simply to remember, between games of Beirut, the massive geopolitical conflict in which our country is engaged.

This isolation also means that individual Americans lose control over actions that are perpetrated in their names, as oversight slips from the hands of elected officials to those of private businessmen.

We haven't simply outsourced the production of food for our troops; we've also outsourced our responsibility, and the Blackwater scandal showed us that the consequences of shifting the war burden are not trivial.

For these reasons, the Daily is happy to see that some Tufts students are doing what they can - bringing experts in the field to a discussion on the Hill - to deepen our awareness of the important problems facing our generation.

Ultimately, it may be that there are some reasonable justifications for outsourcing army work to private firms, but there are no such justifications for doing so without thinking through the repercussions of our actions. If we're about to change the way we fight wars, our country had better be prepared to take the consequences, which, given the media headlines from the past few months, seem at the very least to be 17 needless civilian deaths and a smear on America's already-tarnished image abroad.

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