Sunday, May 15, 2011

Privatizing repression, terrorism and war

Milo Minderbinder, a character from Catch-22, is a resourceful US Army supply officer in the European Theater during WWII who contracts  services for both sides of the war effort. According to Wikipedia, Milo is "satire of the modern businessman, and beyond that is the living representation of capitalism, as he has no allegiance to any country, person or principle unless it pays him."

Fast forward to the 1970s. In the movie Network, Arthur Jensen is chairman and chief stockholder of the fictitious Communication Corporation of America (CCA). Jensen's news anchorman Howard Beale seems to have cracked the shell of the American public's apathy by rallying them around his declaration on the news one evening that he is "mad as hell" and he's "not going to take it anymore."

Jensen ignores the nightly rants, in which Beale defines "it" as a myriad of injustices perpetrated against the American middle class by the "powers that be." But when Beale's spotlight on a shady international oil deal leads to its demise, Jensen informs him in no uncertain terms that he has "meddled with the primal forces of nature." In the monologue that follows, Jensen declares, "There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today."

Fiction? In today's New York Times, Mark Mazzetti and Emily Hager write that Blackwater founder Erik Prince has been contracted by the United Arab Emirates to "put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops." The article goes on to say,

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts... Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.
Let's "get fictional" for a moment and imagine that events play out in the UAE as they have in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Libya. And now let's assume that the proponents of democracy in the UAE were being slaughtered by an "800-member battalion of foreign troops." Do you suppose America would come to the rescue? In this totally speculative universe, maybe there is no America. Maybe there is only IBM and ITT and AT&T... and Blackwater.

Milo Minderbinder or Erik Prince. Is there actually a difference between fiction and reality?

1 comment:

  1. Milo is a terrific touchpoint, without doubt. But he's meant in the novel to be, up to a point, a foil for Yossarian--the rest of us, who don't necessarily operate exclusively on the profit motive, but who tend to be, for better or worse, human beings. All of which may, in fact, tend to inform your observation. Thanks.