The Invisible Soldiers: How America
Outsourced Our Security
Ann Hagedorn, Simon and Schuster, 293 pages
Soldiers for hire have long existed. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan accelerated the transformation of mercenaries “from covert and infamous to acceptable and indispensable,” Hagedorn writes. The best known is Blackwater, now renamed after a spate of bad publicity, but there are others, seemingly thousands, with contracts from the U.S. worth billions of dollars. These private, for-profit companies perform the security, logistics, intelligence and other duties that a uniformed military force might be expected to provide. Half of the 16,000 personnel working for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad since the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops are contractors, Hagedorn reports.
The strength of “Invisible Soldiers” is the depth of Hagedorn’s reporting: copious interviews, generous use of sources and a narrative that focuses on people caught in the crossfire.
If the problems of having large numbers of armed contractors outside the military chain of command are so large and the media scrutiny and political concern so intense, why have the firms proliferated? Hagedorn offers a reason: lack of leadership from the White House. None of the wartime presidents in recent decades, she notes, has made a priority of curbing their growth.
Los Angeles Times
Gabriel Weston, Little, Brown, 184 pages
At the start of Gabriel Weston’s “Dirty Work,” Nancy Mullion, an obstetrician-gynecologist, has choked during surgery and left her patient in a coma. She now faces four weeks of intense scrutiny from a medical tribunal that will decide whether she should continue to practice medicine.
Interspersed with the tribunal’s sessions are Nancy’s memories of adolescence and education – sexual abuse by an employee at her aunt’s hotel, punishment for calling out a perverted teacher at boarding school – all stories that are so often untold. These stories reveal the ways in which isolating the professional from the personal can lead to devastating fragmentation of self, reflected in Weston’s narrative structure.
“Dirty Work” is a nuanced story told from a perspective not often heard, that of an abortion provider. During her testimony and via her inner thoughts, Nancy offers neither apology nor justification for her work. This is likely to be a difficult book for some, not just because it deals with medical ethics in surprisingly stark ways, but because it leaves most of the questions it poses unanswered.