2006/07/05

Coming Home to Stay

“Endless money forms the sinews of war.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero


The Republic of Fiji is not a member of the United States of America's "coalition of the willing" now occupying Iraq. While there are some 224 Fijian soldiers in Iraq, they are there under the auspices of the United Nations, to protect UN officials, not to fight a war.

So how is it that in proportion to the country's population (around 900,000), Fiji has suffered almost double the loss of life in the Iraq occupation than the USA? It's true. In the last two months, fourteen Fijian men have died there, three of them a few weeks ago when a roadside bomb exploded next to their convoy north of Baghdad.

It happens this way. The US is operating with minimum numbers of its own troops on the ground. This is not to save money, far from it. Rather it is to avoid implementing military conscription, which would be politically untenable. However, they cannot meet their recruiting goals, so a lot of security jobs must be done by contract to private enterprise. But every problem presents an opportunity as they say, and there is a lot of money to be made in filling the personnel gap.

So the office of the Vice President, who we all know was previously CEO of Halliburton Inc., gives no-bid contracts to Bechtel (whose board members include former secretary of state George Schulz and Caspar Weinberger, who was Secretary of Defense under Reagan, indicted for perjury in the Iran Contra scandals and pardoned by Bush the Senior) to build stuff in Iraq. Bechtel in turn hires a company called Armour Group Ltd to provide people for duties such as guarding their projects and convoys of trucks. Armour Group gets paid $US7000 per week per guard. (I am ever glad I don't have to pay US taxes anymore). To fill these positions, Armour Group hires a recruiting company by the name of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security goes about finding recruits for these positions. The pay offered is US$1500 per week. Now, that's about four or five times what a US soldier is paid and about three times the US per capital income, but it isn't enough to get most US citizens to risk their lives in Iraq. No way. So they look to lower income countries in Latin America and the South Pacific for recruits. US$1500 per week is a huge sum to someone in Fiji where the per capital income is around US$1850 per year. A guy could sign up for 18 months and come home with a tidy sum - enough to build a house, settle down, take care of his family, do things for his village. About 1,000 Fijians, mostly ex-soldiers and police officers, are working in Iraq and Kuwait for private security companies.


"Vilisoni was a happy man," said his sister, Senitiki, smiling at pictures of him horsing around in an Iraqi pool, or strumming a guitar. "He was always joking and telling stories."

That is exactly what Vilisoni Gauna decided to do when he signed on to protect a Bechtel power plant. He was from Nukuni Village, Ono-i-lau Island, in the Lau group of eastern Fiji. At the end of his first contract in May, he signed up for one more, this time it was for a more dangerous job - convoy security.

Vilisoni is home now, but he won't be building a house, or getting married or any of the other things he had planned. Mr. Gauna, 44 and a bachelor, Penaia Vakaotia, 32, and Mikaele Banidawa, 45 and father of three, were killed in that roadside blast last month.

So, that is how an empire's thirst for resources can bring grief to the people of a peaceful island nation half a world away from the conflict. The question that still begs for a sensible answer is, "why"?

11 comments:

FH2O said...

The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind ...

Pandabonium said...

You've got that right.

The Moody Minstrel said...

I'm sure they all were well aware of the risks when they decided to apply for those security jobs...just like kids are usually well aware of the risks when they use drugs or have unprotected sex.

Temptation can be a dangerous thing.

Pandabonium said...

I agree. These people are not being conscripted after all. But, as in the case of drug pushers, even if a person who makes a "deal with the devil" is aware of the risk, I don't think that absolves the devil of all responsibility.

Ancient Clown said...

I think you may find THIS POSTinteresting as it contains a number of links concerning these issues.
I don't think I know...I just know I'm thinking.
your humble servant,
Ancient Clown

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

The Fijians who have died in Iraq are the ones who go there hoping to get financial security for their families. They get the hard jobs and they die 'protecting' some convoy. They work as security guards mostly. Part of the reason they go is because they have no employment back in Fiji. It's very sad.
Of course the whole Iraq situation is absolutely appalling.
W.

Pandabonium said...

Ancient Clown - thank you for visiting again and for the link. As you know we don't share a common religious or philosophical perspective (not unusual for me), but your articles bring up some very good points about topics most people would rather not look at and I appreciate that.

Wendy - Appalling is the word. The system that creates poverty uses the poor as pawns to feed itself. I wish Fiji and other countries like her would seek their own sustainable future rather than chasing the false promises of the developed world and globalisation. It is IMHO (K laughs when I use the word humble) a dead end. The less energy intense countries of the world will fair better in the not too distant future than those dependent on energy to feed their never ending growth paradigm. They are already fighting over the last hours of ancient sunlight.

Oops. Making a speech now, sorry. Time for my 12 step program - "And on and on and on Anon".

Robin said...

The issue her is probably, voluntary, informed and consent. There is no coercion or anything from the government.

Perhaps, they should buy enough insurance before they make such a decision. Then again, how much is enough?

How is enough for a life? if you ask the question in different places, somehow the answer is different..

hmmm...

Pandabonium said...

Robin - Thanks for your input.

On one level I agree with you (and MM) that these guys are adults and made their own decision. But on another level, especially with some Buddhist teaching, I know that many conditions contribute to everything happens in this life, and it isn't as simple as black and white.

Looking at the bigger picture, I have a problem with the idea of the American Empire, the richest most militarily powerful country on earth, using their wealth to buy the lives of poor people in other countries so that they can limit the number of their own people in a war zone. Especially when they (the USA) are there primarily because they use five times the per capita resources of the average human being on the planet and refuse to even consider changing their way of life. And also because they support their big businesses and subsidize them to the detriment of poorer countries and their local farms and businesses which then cannot compete.

So, yeah, I agree with your statement, but I think we might learn something from these tragedies if we look a further.

Peace my friend.

jairam said...

it's such a sad story, my heart goes to Vilisoni.

Robin said...

yes Panda, I truely agree..

perhaps the song should then be:

Where have all the soldiers gone? Long time passing...

War is definitely not a resolutuion to a problem. It doesn't need a President to know that.