Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Review: A Bloody Business

Courteous, professional, ready to kill

I haven't been able to post much the past few days. After passes from Jerry Bruckheimer, Tony Scott, Wolfgang Peterson, Neal Moritz and McG, my manager and I decided to rework my screenplay about private military companies (Spartans -- for the record, written and titled prior to 300, complete with references to Thermopylae).

Just turned it in yesterday. It had been set in Iraq, sort of a Seven Samurai pitting security contractors against Sunni insurgents. But as the passes have been fine with the writing, negative on the setting, we've shifted to a Darfur-like locale. H-town is down with Darfur, right? We'll see.

It turned out well, but I hated doing it. PMCs are doing some crazy, thrilling, indispensable work in Iraq every day. And most of these gutsy private soldiers deserve to have their story told.

Gerald Schumacher's "A Bloody Business" tells it. And better than any film could. (Except mine, of course.)

Schumacher rides along with these “road warriors,” witnessing or letting them relate themselves for pages at a time, the daily ambushes, firefights and high speed car chases the job entails -- a job that includes everything from guarding infrastructure to training U.S. troops and delivering their mail, protecting work crews, riding shotgun for hundreds of weekly food shipments and escorting American and Iraqi officials great and small on their daily business.

He also meets with Oregon cops training Iraqi police officers in Jordan, visits dog trainers helping to ferret out explosives, and follows the unarmed “Iron Pony Express” truckers on their suicide mail runs. (In one of many counterproductive aspects of American policy, these meat-and-potato American long-haulers are not allowed to carry weapons, resulting in a too-high hijack and casualty rate.)

Even if none of this interests you, the ground-level view of life in reconstruction Iraq -- for us and the Iraqis -- is detailed and eye-opening.

The book also addresses some of the big criticisms of PMCs -- Greed: (Most companies are operating at cost plus 1 to 3 percent profit, actually down from the Clinton era of 9 percent, while the operators themselves work around the clock for what most police make here.) Need: (Civilian support has been a part of every modern war and will only increase, given the need for occupational specialization the military can’t begin to maintain.) Cost: (With total costs to maintain one soldier averaged out over time at $25,000 per month, short-term trained contractors are a bargain). Restraint: (Most American contractors are ex-police or military special operators with deeply ingrained professionalism, and business competition makes quality work an absolute imperative.)

It’s billed as “neither a glorification nor a cheap-shot riddled expose.” But as a retired Special Forces colonel himself, Schumacher is hardly too critical. Yet he manages to point out the problems and the potential for abuses while accurately portraying these adventurers and patriots out to serve their country.

Note, too, he deals with only a handful of companies on the ground in Iraq, admitting the vast majority were not open to talking about what they do. Then again, talking about what they do can get their people killed fast. Certainly in the press.

The book contains contact info and a brief bio of some 70 companies with contracts currently in play. A great place to start if you want to get in the game yourself. And regardless of your resume, there’s probably a place for you.

But what the reader most takes away from “A Bloody Business” is the difficulty of the task that faces us in Iraq. Schumacher is likely a hawk, as I am, but even he all but says the hill is too tall to climb. Democracy in Iraq hinges on a total change of the Iraqi mindset and creation of a national spirit completely foreign -- and actively discouraged at every level of society -- in that part of the world.

Best part for me? Realizing just how spot-on my script turned out to be even before the recent revisions. Now to find a producer willing to put me under contract.

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