I recently watched a movie, State of Play, that raises the issue of the government's outsourcing military operations to private contractors. When exactly did this practice begin, and do you think it is a wise one?
In general, privatization of military operations began in earnest once we stopped using a draft and went to an all-volunteer force. Under Nixon and Ford in the 1970s, there was a trend towards deregulation too. This was accelerated under Reagan and Bush Sr. So you could say the Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf was the first war the US fought with an emphasis on private contractors. Today in Iraq the private contractors handle everything from food services to guard duty to security details to running the airports. They outnumber uniformed soldiers almost 3 to 1.
Military operations contracted out to private sources (mercenaries) are one thing; contracting for supplies is another. Since the War of 1812, the US has had the iconic figure of Uncle Sam due to the activities of a meat packer from Troy, New York (http://www.uncle-sams-home.com/)
When the government has to hire soldiers rather than volunteers choosing to fight, it reflects the difference between fighting for a cause versus fighting for a buck (which, incidentally, you and I are paying for.) It also affords the government the ability to "keep it all under wraps" and not necessarily have to answer to congressional committees about how the war is run, particularly since no one has been drafted. For a country founded upon the principles we were, this is an egregious practice, as it allows the "public" government to wage a private war. During Vietnam, there was a famous poster entitled: "What if they gave a war, and nobody came?" Sadly, all these years later, we've got the answer -- "Those in power will spend your taxes buying soldiers."
As Hamlet put it,
...for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so (II,ii,241)
Of course, in Hamlet's words, there is satire, just as Stephen Crane's poem "War is Kind" is satiric. After all, wars have been waged for economic reasons more than once. Since these contractors are essentially mercenaries, they are taking risks for financial profit. As the above post so cogently mentions, these financial ventures have been going on for centuries. Did not Dick Cheney's company make money in Iraq? And Johnson's in Vietnam?
It sort of depends on how you define private contractors and what you say military operations are. There have been private contractors working for the military ever since the Revolutionary War. Here's a monograph on the subject.
Good idea? Again -- which "military operations" are we talking about? Maintainance? Driving supply trucks? My opinion would be that the closer you get to actual combat, the more contractors are a bad idea.
I have not seen the movie State of Play, and I do not know exactly what kind of military operations are referred in the post#1. However I would like to make a general point that it is not possible or even desirable to completely insulate functioning of military from the rest of the society.
On one hand, military exists to protect and serve the society. On the other hand, the military must draw its power and strength from the society it protects. This society consists of private institutions and individuals as well as the the military establishment. It is inconceivable for me to to think of a non-oppressive military that exists without active support of the people. Therefore in principle, I do not see anything wrong in private business contributing to military operation, where ever it can do so effectively and efficiently.