Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Saving the World? Um......What?

A while back, in response to my post about being worn-down and tired of Afghanistan, a commenter asked me if I was here because I "wanted to be a world-improver, or just because of a job?" A fair question, and not one with a quick and easy answer.

To be clear, I have no illusions about "saving the world,"* And if I did, this place and this job is certainly not where I would start.

*I know, a HUGE shock to those of you who know me.

The world has always needed "saving" in one way or another, and somehow those efforts never seem to pay off quite as permanently as their advocates would like. From the Peace Corps in the 20th century all the way back to Roman efforts to civilize the barbarians in the 2nd century BCE, people have been trying to "fix" the wide variety of misfortunes and ills of the world. Whenver I'm confronted by one of these well-meaning but tragically naive do-gooders extolling the virtues of their NGOs new program to bring Pashto-language Sesame Street to school girls in Kandahar or whatever, I always ask the same question: "So how's that working out for you?" The answers are usually disappointing. So no, I'm not here to "save the world" or even rescue a small Afghan portion of it.

And I'm certainly not here for the money.* In fact, I venture to guess that most PSC contractors are not in it for the money. Sure, back in the crazy days of Iraq in 2003-4, a handfull of guys were getting paid big bucks to put their lives on the line, but pay scales aren't like that anymore, not in Iraq and not certainly not here. The competition is tougher and the industry has matured considerably in the last ten years.

*I could get paid more sitting behind a desk in DC wearing a tie. Except that I no longer own a tie.

All that said, one does hope that there might be some small lasting positive effect from one's efforts. For me personally and for the company as a whole, the value we provide stems from two important factors: security and jobs. The service we provide is security, and in so doing we employ a large number of Afghans who would otherwise be forced to scratch out a living as farmers or laborers.

All that other stuff, building schools, health clinics, instilling democracy, the empowerment of Afghan women, establishing a system of justice, all of that is necessary and good. But they are also irrelevant without security and jobs. Without at least a basic level of security and decent employment for most Afghans, we can build all the schools we want and this effort will still fail.

So, are private security companies saving the world, or even saving Afghanistan? No, but then we don't claim to be. We simply enable others to make that effort, and hopefully keep them safe while they're doing it. And lots of Afghan men can support their families on the salaries that PSCs pay. That's good enough for me.

But of course I never was an idealist.


Henrik said...

Whenever I hear someone criticize PSC/PMC activity from now on, I'll direct them to this post. ;)

Anonymous said...

Whenever some one asks me what PSCs in Afghanistan are doing, I tell them this:

Many PSCs provide the protection for mobile phone towers. And without communications, one can't have democracy.

I don't overstate it and it may not work, but it is a reason worth working for.

Anonymous said...

"We simply enable others to make that effort..."

If you can enable average citizens to feel secure enough to make an attempt at everyday life, then you should feel great pride.

There is no fear but fear itself. Great words, but it takes balls to show up to vote if you think you're going to suffer retaliation. If your unit can provide a semblance of normalcy within lives in utter chaos, then you rock.

As you pointed out, societies are built from the ground up. Every country in the history of the world has gone through the same chaos. Ours included. One person at a time, one person standing up to the bully, one vote for freedom, one little girl in school, one terrified person going to vote...it all adds up. And you guys provide the feeling of security so that the broader vision can take hold. It's a thankless job, but if it weren't for people like you, we'd be a whole lot worse off.

Good Fortune

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