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Archive for June 2nd, 2012

By Bob Clark

When Blackwater Worldwide changed their organization’s name to Xe Services, in 2009, and eventually Academi, in 2011, their intention was to remove themselves from the public spotlight for all of the negative attention they’d garnered in the past decade as the first name in private military companies. With mercenary soldiers serving as contractors in conflicts on the behalf of governments and corporations stretched around the world, they secured themselves a reputation for being an efficient and professional group of exacting army servicemen, with jobs ranging from bodyguarding and other protective duties to full assault missions in the burgeoning, horizonless scope of the modern War on Terror. With better pay than their state-run equivalents (one might say competitors), it wasn’t unheard of for army regulars from different nations leaving their units behind to join as professional soldiers in the private sector, especially since they’d likely be serving in exactly the same conflicts once they were deployed. But while Blackwater managed to project an attractive image of themselves as a valuable part of the evolving shape of warfare, they weren’t able to escape the newfound scrutiny that roughed-up glamorous image attracted, and once their record for causing and covering up suspicious deaths (including those of their own contractors) and all manner of criminal activity on the fields of war, they began assigning themselves as many nommes de guerre as it would take to regain some measure of anonymity.

Still, while the public at large may not know the difference between “Xe” and a long forgotten item from the periodic table poster hanging in their high school teacher’s classroom (to say nothing of what they’d think of “Academi”– some kind of charter school, perhaps), the name “Blackwater” has since managed to go down in the annals of cultural memory as one of the buzzwords for the confluence of private industry and the war on terror in modern days, a carry-all catch phrase that summarizes the corporatization of warfare and the running for profit of human lives lost and fought for on third-world stages across the globe. In films, television and video-games for the past decade and more we’ve seen the PMC become one of the prime sources for easy-to-hate villains, and though they may come with different names like Jericho‘s “Ravenwood” or Metal Gear Solid‘s “Outer Heaven”, they’re all closely modeled shadows of the original Blackwater pattern. That name still evokes the threatening, yet not necessarily hostile image that the corporate founders of the company no doubt chose it for, that poetic combination of positive and negative aspects that would make it sound attractive to governments and private firms seeking their security services, while backing it up with just the right amount of dread to imply that they could get the job done. One imagines they’re the same reasons that George R.R. Martin had when titling the body of water that serves as location and gives name to one of the major episodes of his Song of Ice and Fire books, and as adapted for the HBO program Game of Thrones becomes one of the stand-out moments of the show– the Battle of Blackwater Bay.

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