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Oct 16, 2007

Seeing The Enemy

(This is a post in two parts, one appearing here and
the other appearing at No Caption Needed.)

“If you stare into the abyss long enough …”

by John Louis Lucaites and Robert Hariman

He is the Prince of Blackwater, Erik Prince, founder and CEO of Blackwater, Worldwide, the largest and most notorious of more than 180 private contractors—mercenary firms— hired by the U.S. government to “fill the gaps” of security in Iraq to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.  He is something of a recluse, but in recent times he has become the public face of America's privatized, “shadow army” which currently hosts more personnel on the ground in Iraq than the U.S. military.

The photograph above, which appeared in this week’s Washington Post, is ominous and foreboding.  Shot through a glass door, the viewer is separated from Prince by an invisible barrier that is marked by the Blackwater brand.  Cast in dark shadows and apart from the contrasting light, he is framed at a slight but nevertheless low angle that puts the viewer just beneath the line of sight of his icy cold stare, a look which expresses his utter contempt for those on the other side of the glass, and by extension all that they stand for, including the rule of law.

It is easy to imagine the head of Blackwater as the Prince of Darkness, and the media have done a pretty good job of that.  But what if Prince is a scapegoat for our collective sins and the all too easy willingness of the American public to allow their government to fight a war on the cheap, or in a way that sidesteps accountability?  What if, when we stare into the abyss that is Blackwater and all that it stands for in Iraq, the abyss stares back at us?  What then do we see?

One possibility is the following photograph that we came across in The Daily Telegraph while traveling in England recently.


It is a rarely seen AP image of private security guards accompanying Paul Bremer on a trip to Basra in 2003.  We have no evidence that it was published when taken, and it is not hard to see why it might not have been on the front page of newspapers or on the nightly news.  Dressed in generic war garb, there is nothing that necessarily identifies national affiliation (is he American or Australian or South African?).  The facemask and dark glasses likewise hide the identity of the individual mercenary, and that also inhibits audience identification with the image.

The reason we are seeing it now (and again) is that it reveals something else: the mercenary is the mirror image of the terrorist.  Both are irregular forces operating outside the law, out of uniform, masked, able and willing to project power viciously without regard for civilian casualties.  One need not wonder what Iraqi citizens see when they look at the image.  And we wonder why they hate us?

The image has begun to crop up in newspapers and magazines, appearing recently as part of a story in the Washington Post, USA Today, ABC News,  and this past week in the print version of The Nation.  That’s certainly better than merely seeing photos of buff guards walking along with Bremer and other administrators, which were ubiquitous in the early days of the war.  If we see the mercenary as someone who wreaks terror in our name, we are getting closer to the truth.  But there still is plenty of room for evasion.

Look at the two images again.  In each, the mercenary is seen but not seen, there but withdrawn.  Whether looking at the prince behind the (bulletproof?) glass of his castle, or the soldier hidden behind his makeshift mask, there is a barrier between them and us.  They escape direct moral accountability, but we do as well.  We can continue to believe that they somehow are operating in another zone, off the radar, not really seen, ready to disappear once we no longer need them—not our problem.

But, of course, it is our problem.  They signed contracts with the U.S. government and they are being paid with U.S. tax dollars.  They may be mercenaries, but they are our mercenaries.  And the American public must share in the responsibility of their actions.  One of the definitive statements of the Vietnam War was, “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.”  That it came from a comic strip (Pogo) was all the more telling about the state of public discourse at the time.

This week we are seeing us, and it is the enemy.

John Louis Lucaites is Professor of Rhetoric and Public Culture in the department of communication and culture at Indiana University and a regular contributer to BAGnewsNotes. Robert Hariman is a professor in the program in rhetoric and public culture, department of communication studies, Northwestern University and the author of Political Style: The Artistry of Power.  John and Bob are co-authors of the newly released No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy, and the blog No Caption Needed.

(Photo Credits: Preston Keres/Washington Post; Karel Prinsloo/AP File)


Another interesting slant on Iraq war is what happens when the oil runs out? What commodity fills the void? Check out the below on YT. Some people are actually buying it.

Your ideas carry more weight when you spell the subject's name correctly. It's Erik Prince.

Thanks' Arty. I'll ask Michael to correct that for me. But do you really make judgments based on a single typographical error?


Yes, we see (the) Prince.....but we are looking through that glass darkly. We see our selves, we see a reality only partially. We cannot know what Blackwater is doing; we cannot therefore know what we are doing.

Note also the phrase's use in General Patton's poem (see it here )

When the typographical error is in the given name of the subject of a ten paragraph discourse, and appears in the lead sentence, yes, it's hard to gloss over. I suppose the same goes for misquoting Pogo's "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Pedantic considerations, aside, what I find so interesting about Erik Prince is how ordinary he looks, and how much like a junior executive in any corporation or office in America. And that goes straight to the (mis)quote of Pogo: Erik really is us, in a sense.

"the all too easy willingness of the American public to allow their government to fight a war on the cheap" CHEAP?! this was has been a tremendous success if you think about it terms of war profiteering. our tax dollars going to blackwater, dyncorp and much of it unaccounted for.

Kevin: Point well taken. I guess I was use the word "cheap" in a more cynical and oblique sense. I have never been a supporter of the war ... but if terrorism is the threat we are told it is, and if it can be fought against as a "war," then I would like to think that the government/American people would not hold back. That we would create the military we need to do the job -- not outsource it --and that we would make the kinds of sacrifices we made as a culture during WWII. The point has been made by many that we have stopped being "citizens" and become "consumers." I think there is a real sense in which that is correct and that the war/occupation of Iraq is evidence of that. By "outsourcing" the war, in other words, I think we are doing it "on the cheap" -- not making the sacrifices, taking the risks and responsibilities that the decision to go to war (and let's remember, deciding to go to war is the most important and most difficult decision a democracy should be making) should entail. JLL

Look at how the mercenary's arms are built up in that lower photo. These guys spend all their time in the gym. They are living a Rambo fantasy at best and at worst are psychologically disturbed. If you listen to interviews with them, they are all hooked on the rush of violence; makes you shiver for whatever wives and girlfriends they have.

as for Erik (that's Erik with a "K", the rock-hard Scandinavian lily-white spelling for all you race traitors out there), he does look kind of ordinary, doesn't he? I was surprised by how young he is. He looks like he's running a company filled with the kind of men he'd like to be. I would not like to be his psychiatrist.

He's the most famous alumni of Michigan's Hillman College, a hyperconservative little private school that doesn't except any students who have to use government aid, even Pell Grants. Parents pony up the required fees in the hopes of having their offspring injected directly into the arteries of power in the country.

Hey, wouldn't it be funny if a real power shift marginalized the whole group before another crop of these Erik-with-a-K Princes graduates?

There is an amazing discussion of group evil as it pertains to the US army and Vietnam in M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie. He was so very prescient about our all-volunteer military (in 1993):

'...twenty years from now, when Vietnam is largely forgotten, how easy it will be, with volunteers, to once again become involved in little foreign adventures..."

Not "except", it's "accept". Boy, I'm distracted today.

Me, too, People of the Lie was written in 1983, not 1993. More complete quote:

"Twenty years from now, when Vietnam has been largely forgotten, how easy it will be, with volunteers, to once again become involved in little foreign adventures. Such adventures will keep our military on its toes, provide it with real-life war games to test its prowess, and need not hurt or involve the average American citizen at all until it's too late" (p. 232).

Observing his recent congressional appearance, Erik exuded that arrogant self righteousness and contemptuous attitude so reminiscent of Ollie's deviant and defiant antics in the Iran Contra hearings.

I don't believe mercenaries generally wear masks other than for the reason stated in the photo caption.." his face covered against dust"
With regard to sunglasses all spooks wear them - to monitor others clandestinely, to shoot when facing the sun, to appear menacing - to hide identity-

I'm doubtful you can make a convincing argument that mercenaries are mirror images of the terrorists, Nationalists- insurgents - tribal members -irregular forces or individuals attacking the illegal occupying army would be foolish not to seek some camouflage given their adversaries high tech apparatus, overwhelming fire power and paid informants.
The problematic question: who is and how many are really terrorists, and that figure ranges from 30% to virtual all those resisting occupation forces dependant on which sources are referenced.

In the paragraph discussing mercenary's you link to regular US military personnel creating domestic havoc, are you suggesting the chaos created is the same ? (I have no problem with this) I just expected to find additional mercenary photos.

There's no difficulty seeing the enemy, I observed him as us (and US with convert help from fellow Canadians) with the opening light show of Shock and Awe .

Erik's logo is worth considering on a number of levels-starting with bears and fear and today's mantra of terrorism but remember when it was communism that was held responsible for everything.

Ronald Reagan TV Ad: "The Bear" 30 seconds

Cactus in case you forgot, it featured a brown bear wandering through a forest accompanied by ominous narration that suggested that the Soviet Union (traditionally symbolized by a bear) was a serious threat to global stability, which Ronald Reagan recognized and was better prepared to deal with than his opponent. Then the image shifted to a hunter facing the bear...

I'm looking forward to arty's comments, once he has completed his editing assignment.

As per the Bear Paw logo--reminded me of Ted Nugent's dumb song "Fred Bear" about walking the trails with his trophy hunter hero. Just another link in the conservative circle jerk IMO.

Gosh, "arty", I have finally met someone more irritable than I am. I can relax now. :)

"Blackwater" itself is a term used to describe waste water that is highly contaminated. Why would you ever choose that as a company name??

Read more:>

I have an edit, too. Tina mentions the college Prince attended after he withdrew from the Naval Academy. It's Hillsdale, not Hillman.

Nothing to do with Prince, but this might be the school that "suffered" a huge scandal in the college president's office some years ago. Had to do with adultery and murder, at least that's the gist of the scandal, if not the school.


As long as americans accept the disgusting behavior of their soldiers occupiers in Iraq and defend and also support the troops like "true patriots" the world will be disgusted with the everyday citizens of the us too. It is they who enable the blackwater and military invaders to keep Iraq occupied. It is they who through their "righteousness and christianity" keep supplying the bullets and bombs for civilians. It is they who keep the criminals in top places of their government. It is they who are the "good germans!"
I say, sleep no more!

There are, so I have heard, a certain number of military types, whether voluntary or drafted, who become so high on the excitement and violence of war that they cannot easily return to civilian life. In the past, the worst of these cases found others through magazines aimed at them and joined with rogue forces all over the world. Prince is the cynical user of these men much like a drug dealer. Probably some of them do sign up 'for the money' or maybe just tell themselves that's what they are doing. But the rest are hardened war and violence junkies. The anti-social behavior shown here comes easily to them, yes? I saw part of Prince's cutsie 'interview'(?) on 60Minutes and he appeared to be quite a smooth operator and manipulator. My fear is what they will do when they return to the states......

Cactus: What you point to is not just a problem with Blackwater or mercenaries per se, but with war in general. It used to be said that in order to win wars you had to socialize "men" to kill, and this was no easy thing. But having done this--and we got very good at it --it was then somewhere between impossible and very difficult to reintegrate them to a world of civility. The problem today is that we have constituted a war culture in which "killing" has become normalized as a fantasy of autonomy and control; the line between barbarism and civility is no longer so easy to see or maintain. And so your fear might be more than you imagine.

Yup, same college. That's the one. Don't know how much it's "suffered" though, lot of big money behind it, incl, Pat Sajack (yes the game show host) who is on the board. people who think Hollywood is liberal have no clue. It's really not.

As for the name, these guys love that stuff. I met an arms dealer once in Bangladesh who had named his company "Armageddon, Inc." I still have the business card. A guy like Prince would name his company Dead Babies R Us if he could get away with it.

John, your reply makes me shudder. I wonder if the all volunteer (?) army has self-selected a higher quotient of this type of person. In addition, when you speak of the line between barbarism and civility, I wonder if this 'conflict' makes that even more tenuous than Vietnam because of the secular modernism of Baghdad as opposed to the jungles of SE Asia. Of course, I'm just conjecturing here, not having been to either place.

Changing the graphics of big game hunters.
And don't you just love that word scrubing .

"Blackwater Softens Its Logo From Macho to Corporate "... the company’s roughneck logo — a bear’s paw print in a red crosshairs, under lettering that looks to have been ripped from a fifth of Jim Beam — has undergone a publicity-conscious, corporate scrubbing."

"...he is framed at a slight but nevertheless low angle that puts the viewer just beneath the line of sight of his icy cold stare, a look which expresses his utter contempt for those on the other side of the glass, and by extension all that they stand for, including the rule of law..."

Or maybe he's just going to take a dump?

What will you people do when Blackwater is walking down your street? Sounds crazy but the way things are it could happen. You know what I mean too. You all have that funny feeling something just isn't right in America and its only getting worse. Im sorry, for all the FOX News watchers everything is fine go back to sleep.
Our President can declare martial law and suspend the Constitution if he likes, our economy is crumbling(just look at all the bank failures)and now they want to get us in another war???
The writing is on the wall its up to you to read it.

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