A Very Blackwater Thanksgiving
by Glenn W. Smith
Profiteers are wrecking our health and destroying our security.
November 6, 2007
As Thanksgiving approaches, we should pay homage to the 17th
Century Blackwater-like private security firms who made the very
first Thanksgiving possible. That's the message from Serviam,
a magazine committed to the unstinting defense of private profiteering
in every realm of human endeavor. By the magazine's stuffed-turkey
logic we should give thanks for all the profiteering and the accountability-killing
privatizing that dominates what was once a public sphere. From
health care to a mercenary army, profit is alpha and omega, while
the moral fabric that holds us together is being ripped apart
by pirates. Yes, even our health has been blackwatered. Thank-yous
are hardly in order.
Ann Jocelyn, writing for the privateers' private gazette, says,
"If not for the private security contractor (PCS) business,
there would have been no Thanksgiving at all."
That's a rather unfortunate claim, since Thanksgiving is an "invented
tradition" according to the historian for the Plimoth Plantation,
who ought to know. And, if there was no originary "thanksgiving"
to take credit for, what becomes of the privateers taking credit
for it? I'm not disputing that private ships carried the Pilgrims,
who were, after all, fleeing the government that lorded over their
public sphere. But inventing a role for yourself in a holiday
that was itself invented is a bit disingenuous.
Serviam's claim also conveniently avoids a brute historical fact
that the American Revolution was, in part, fueled by anger against
the privateers. Here's how Thom Hartmann puts it: "Although
schoolchildren are usually taught that the American Revolution
was a rebellion against 'taxation without representation,' akin
to modern day conservative taxpayer revolts, in fact what led
to the revolution was rage against a transnational corporation
[East India Company] that, by the 1760s, dominated trade from
China to India to the Caribbean, and controlled nearly all commerce
to and from North America, with subsidies and special dispensation
from the British crown."
Taking credit for Thanksgiving is ridiculous, but then, the colonization
of our historical consciousness is a key tactic of the privateers,
and Thanksgiving is particularly vulnerable. With the possible
exception of the idolization of a bunny to mark the resurrection
of a divinity at Easter, perhaps no holiday has been as gobbled
up by myth and fantasy as thoroughly as Thanksgiving. To set the
record straight, big shoe buckles were not yet the fashion, and
the 1621 Puritan/Native American harvest festival was a three-day,
dance-and-eat-and-eat-and-dance party. It was not called a "thanksgiving"
because that term referred to a pious religious event. Also, this
was not even the first of a new tradition; it was a singular celebration.
The Easter Bunny and be-buckled Puritans have nothing on the
blackwater movement when it comes to fantasy, however. Inventing
a need for themselves is something of a tradition among mercenary
birds-of-prey who somehow get us to stay still while they, all
beak and talon, swoop down on our treasuries, our health, and
our morality. "Who will guard our diplomats in Iraq if the
privateers don't?" they ask self-approvingly. There is a
clue in that rhetorical and misleading question to the sorry state
of the American health care system, which is entirely dominated
by Blackwater-like, privateering insurance companies. "Who
will provide health care if you hurt our profits?" insurance
company executives and defenders ask. "Our armed forces,"
should answer the private security executives' question. "Uh,
doctors and nurses," should be the answer to the insurance
It is not a stretch to refer to the invention of a private health
insurance industry in America as the "blackwatering"
of health care. The insurance industry did not even enter the
health business until the 1940s. Before then, they couldn't figure
out how to make a profit. Life insurance had a great business
plan. Invest the premiums of a customer over a lifetime, and you
will earn far more than you will have to pay out in (so to speak)
once-in-a-lifetime death benefits. Likewise, most property does
not suffer catastrophic damage requiring hefty insurance payouts.
But everyone needs a little health care now and then and a few
need a lot of health care all the time. Why, there's no time to
invest those premiums. But wait, the insurance executives calculated,
if we can exclude the risky and deny enough claims to policy holders,
we can earn a profit. Katy bar the door. A new industry was born.
Unfortunately, it was an industry that thrives by denying health
care. A profiteer's ultimate dream.
The blackwatering of health care putting the power in
the hands of unaccountable, non-medical, private interests
has taken a deadly toll on our health and lives. We have been
so long in the blackwater that we forgot what it would be like
to breathe the air of a health care system based on empathy and
responsibility, a system that puts citizens' health above private
It's not lost on Blackwater that it will make more money the
more dangerous our lives become. That's the logic of the arms
industry. War is their profit center. And it's not lost on an
insurance industry that the increased fear, imagined and real,
of ill health leads to higher premiums and more profits when it
is allowed to make its money by denying health care to those who
need it most.
The health insurance industry has no more incentive to keep us
healthy than Blackwater has in helping us avoid wars.
And the stories they tell us to convince us otherwise have no
more reality to them than the Easter Bunny.
At least the Easter Bunny is a cute fiction.