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Outsourcing Sacrifice and Decreasing Accountability

Soldiers sometimes make the “ultimate sacrifice”. Such a loss is a terrible loss for both the soldier’s family and for society. But should we care when a private military contractor dies or is injured in Iraq or Afghanistan? A common cynical conception is that working as a private military and security contractor is a vocation, a career choice. People that decide to be part of this industry and to work in conflict areas do so on their own volition. Therefore, the risk is on them. It is a personal decision and as regretful as it is those individuals decided to put themselves in harm way for extra pay. If that is the case, is their loss less tragic?

However, this conception simplifies a complicated issue and obscures the scary implication of outsourcing sacrifice. Private military contractors go to conflict areas because the state sends them there. It is part of a broader policy that prefers to send private contractors over soldiers, outsourcing security. While it is the government prerogative to prefer private companies over soldiers it is also the government’s obligation to be accountable for its actions and policies. Outsourcing sacrifice reduces accountability, which serves the state’s interests. When soldiers die the state is obligated to record and report it. Soldiers’ death receives media attention and later popular grievances that can have political consequences, such as anti-war sentiments, peace protests, and political pressure to end the conflict. This is often not the case when private contractors are harmed.

This is an unexpected result of the democratic mechanism; one of the checks and balances that makes politicians accountable. It means that they cannot send soldiers to die without a just reason. This accountability mechanism is circumvented when using private contractors. The government or the military are under no obligation to announce contractors’ death or injury. The department of defense began reporting contractors’ casualties and injuries only after the congress’ intervention in 2007. Moreover, most of contractors used to promote United States’ foreign policies are not American. This means that they have no voice in the American public sphere. It is the ultimate outsourcing; letting foreigners kill and die for one’s policies. Foreigners that have no right to vote, are not protected by the American political and legal systems, and that we don’t know who they are. Outsourcing sacrifice means a war without noticeable cost, at least in the public eye.

Without popular knowledge on the conflict, and particularly on those who fight it, policy cannot be challenged and politicians cannot be held accountable. Without accountability, the privatization of war can easily turn into a war that profits the few rather than a war that is only meant to protect US interests and people. So, who cares when contractors die? I guess it is about time we should care.

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