Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Non-Fiction Review: Big Boy Rules by Steve Fainaru

I read Steve Fainaru's book Big Boy Rules in a day and a half. It's relatively short, easy and quick to read, with a casual but evocative manner that quickly draws you into the narrative and keeps you there through the whole book.

Big Boy Rules is about mercenary companies in Iraq, the "Private Security Contractors" that perform all the convoy escort and protection details that the military doesn't want to or can't spare the manpower to provide. I am not going to dive into the political quagmire of whether or not mercenary forces should or should not be used over in Iraq; the fact of the matter is that mercenary troops have been a part of military life for thousands of years, and I suspect they will always play a role in such conflicts.

What does disturb me is that these mercenary companies have little to no objective oversight into who they are hiring, what their qualifications are (or whether or not they should be disqualified from employment) and how they are behaving once they are in-country. Throughout the course of this book, Fainaru looks at several security companies, focusing mainly on Crescent Security (which seems to be something of a bush-league outfit with questionable hires and management and poor equipment), but also discussing larger organizations such as ArmorGroup (whose review seems mostly positive) to Blackwater (who appear to be running rampant across all of Iraq).

I picked this book up to get a little more information on what the modern mercenary scene looked like, especially in Iraq. What it looks like, after reading Big Boy Rules, is that:

A) It all depends on the outfit who hires you.
B) It all depends on the missions you run and the area you operate within.
C) It all depends on your level of experience and whether or not you know when it's time to "bug out", or if you stay in too long and get a little cracked in the head.

From a "Post-Modern Pulp" angle, one could easily envision a series of adventure novels centered around a "crack security unit" operating out of Iraq, providing high-risk protective details and other paramilitary services that the military isn't or won't be able to handle. You could also take it a couple of other directions; perhaps your main character is a "one man security company" who sells his services to the highest bidder, operating on his own but encountering a whole host of characters throughout the theater of Iraq. Another possibility would be a rough-and-tumble merc outfit, a "bad news bears" styled group of highly skilled but irascible misfits who take the dirty, dangerous jobs that other, slicker companies won't touch.

Also, it should be noted that Big Boy Rules, without giving away any "spoilers", covers a pretty grim event in the history of mercenary outfits in Iraq. The events surrounding the activities of Crescent Security in the 2006-2007 time period go to show that many of these companies can suffer severe tragedies while in the line of fire and on the job, and they do fall into a weird gray area - they are supporting the war, working in conjunction with the governments of the US and Iraq to promote the rebuilding efforts, but at the same time, they are not afforded the same support and aid the military gives troops in the field.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for more information on private security contractors and mercenaries operating in Iraq, especially from the perspective of the "B-Teams". After all, not every company out there is Blackwater in terms of their gear and their reputation (for good and bad).


Reflexivefire said...

I might have to check out this book as I keep hearing about it. If you want to read about contemporary mercenaries really slinging lead for cash then definitely check out "War Dog" by Al Venter who is a long time combat journalist in Africa. He actually flew with the Hind D pilot who was doing gun runs on RUF positions preventing them from overrunning Freetown. Another is "Executive Outcomes" by Eeben Barlow written by the founder of the company himself. His story is beyond fascinating and contradicts a lot of the media hype.

J. E. Badelaire said...

Thanks for the suggestions - I looked at "War Dogs" as it's one of the links on your blog, and I hope to pick it up some time. "Executive Outcomes" sounds pretty great too.

Time to start putting in some more book orders...

Scott Salsman said...

Great post (sorry I haven't been by in a while)! I've been very fascinated by these "security contractor" (i.e., mercenary) groups this past year, so I know I'd enjoy that book. Blackwater are my real-life antiheroes.

I was making an early Christmas list the other day (it's necessary, but I won't bore you with the details). A search for fiction literature on this topic brings up absolutely nothing on Amazon. In fact, the only recent novels I could find that at least deal with U.S. black ops (special forces or CIA) were Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon (based on the video game) by David Michaels (actually Grant Blackwood; "David Michaels" is a pseudonym for several authors writing books based on Ubisoft's games) and Path of Thunder by new author Mike Green, a career intelligence officer.

I'm very excited about the latter book, the first of what is to be a trilogy called "Peacemaker". I hope to have a copy by Christmas.

Not exactly on-topic, but the point is, there is a dearth of paramilitary fiction and indeed military fiction in general these days. If there's a market at all, it's wide open. Seems like there ought to be a market now more than ever in this post-Blackwater era.

I never served in the military myself, but I was obsessed with G.I. Joe as a child and am lately experiencing a great deal of nostalgia. I am currently reading through all the G.I. Joe comics of the 1980s.

I recently wrote one chapter of a paramilitary-themed novel myself. It's actually a novelization of a script for a webcomic that I began to publish online (dismantlers.thewebcomic.com), only to abandon it when I decided I'm not an artist.

Scott Salsman said...

Oh, and I did see The Expendables on opening night and loved it. The characters are similar to what I imagine these security contractor groups are like, but I doubt there are any as small as the group depicted in that film, which is not much bigger than the A-Team. I could be wrong, though.

J. E. Badelaire said...

Scott, thanks for dropping by - great comments.

I agree that Blackwater is almost becoming a kind of Hollywood "mercenaries gone bad" organization; when your private security contractors have their own helicopter gunships and custom-built AFVs, what you're really looking at is COBRA in the making...

And I've also seen The Expendables...twice. I might even see it a third time in the next week or so. I'll have to dedicate a post to it very soon.

Scott Salsman said...

That's a good point. Who could be more similar to Cobra than Blackwater/Xe, with their own 1000-strong paramilitary army based right here in the U.S., training 40,000 people per year? They even have their own urban combat APC, the Grizzly!

In fact, a few months ago I jotted down a few ideas for a novel that would essentially be like G.I. Joe vs. Cobra in a real-world situation, only on a much smaller scale. I replaced G.I. Joe with a CIA SAD-SOG team and Cobra with a Blackwater-type group who weren't really bad, just misunderstood (heh).

I can't believe fictional stories like these aren't even on the shelves right now. Maybe customers just aren't ready, since there's so much happening in actual life already, and it's affecting so many families in the U.S. and elsewhere.