Sunday, February 12, 2012

DOD Outsourced Dying Long Before Afghanistan

The New York Times has a piece about military contracting in Afghanistan which notes how war risks are shifting to contractors:

Even dying is being outsourced here ... [the Afghanistan conflict] is a war where traditional military jobs, from mess hall cooks to base guards and convoy drivers, have increasingly been shifted to the private sector. Many American generals and diplomats have private contractors for their personal bodyguards. And along with the risks have come the consequences: More civilian contractors working for American companies than American soldiers died in Afghanistan last year for the first time during the war.

The war in Afghanistan is actually not so unusual in that regard as many commentators seem to think, because the U.S. military has used contractors extensively going back to before World War II. The Defense Base Act, which provides insurance coverage for civilian workers on defense contracts overseas, and which is cited several times in the NYT article, was passed in 1941.

So, military contracting in war, and private sector casualties, are nothing new.

To take one example, there were some 1,600 military contractors on Wake Island in the Pacific when the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Most of the contractors were from Morrison Knudson, a large construction company that was basically the KBR of its day. When the garrison on Wake surrendered to the Japanese on 23 December, the civilian contractors were taken away as prisoners of war along with the military, except for some who were kept on Wake to build fortifications for the Japanese. When those fortifications were finished, the Japanese executed the civilian prisoners. One of the men escaped briefly and etched a message on a coral rock to mark the spot where the Japanese killed "98 U.S. [civilian] P.W. 5-10-43." See more details about the incident here.

A little historical context always helps me to place the news in perspective.


Anonymous said...

Great post TSB! So they aren't reporting those contractor deaths in the papers along with the soldiers? Yesterday I saw somewhere that with the Pakistan supply route close we are paying
up to 6x the cost. With fuel at $400/gallon before the closure I wonder what it is now and if history will record it as a monumental boondoggle? gwb

TSB said...

GWB: I think the reporting of contractor deaths has been spotty, although the Dept. of Labor has good figures on deaths of U.S. citizens that come under the provisions of the Defense Base Act. Deaths of local and third-country contractors, I think have been handled more casually.

The cost of fuel and everything else is staggering, but that's the way DOD rolls. We are paying so many people in Afghanistan that our payroll accounts for about 90% of their gross national product.

Anonymous said...

TSB: Education Problems? How bout cash awards? "The school is trying out this new idea after the Ohio Department of Education designated the school an “academic emergency” on its report card. About 14 percent of students graduated from Dohn during the 2010-2011 school year."

I presume everyone we're paying in Afghanistan is via Visa as well? gwb

Anonymous said...
Excellent analysis by Juan Cole on the attack on Isreali diplos in India. He points out how useless US
journalists are because they just repeat the Isreali propoganda. gwb

Anonymous said...

Well I'll B, TSB... The Egyptians don't want our damned taxpayer billions! Now what are we going to do for a foreign policy? gwb

TSB said...

Money motivates, and we've bought some good foreign policy over the years. Those Muslim Brothers might not be so indifferent to our filthy lucre as they want us to believe. God knows the Palestinians aren't.

High School kids, on the other hand, I think should be bribed with pizzas and video games, if at all.

Anonymous said...

That's it!! Video games will bring them back! And why aren't we teaching "Tatoo Artistry" in high school these days? They must have let the curriculum slip into irrelevance. Aarg! gwb

Anonymous said...

Ring of Iranian Bases Threatens US
Juan Cole Feb 18
I love this map from 2005 TSB: OK!
We've got all the oil surrounded here... What do we do next? Maybe we should just get Hillary to dress up like a cowgirl and tellem:
"Throw down your guns and your money and come out with your hands up!" gwb