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Pedagogic Military Contractors: Blackwater, the Academy and the "ιδιωτικές στρατιωτικές ανάδοχος"

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The famous American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "There are no second acts in American lives." He was, of course, wrong.

America is the land of second chances and second acts, from Pilgrims fleeing religious oppression in England to set up Plymouth colony in Massachusetts and brunettes going to their hair stylist to emerge as blondes, to blowhards like Donald Trump who manages to convince some people that he is worth taking seriously, as well as Newt Gingrich, who manages to make some people think he is qualified to be president, to name just a few examples

In fact, in America, people and groups are not just limited to second acts. They can have third acts. That, of course, brings us to the never ending rhetorical journey of the private security company once known as Blackwater. Sometimes one has to pity Blackwater; when it comes to public image it resembles the legend of the Flying Dutchman; the ghost ship that can never make port, doomed to sail the oceans forever. Those who prefer more literary allusions can read Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

In Blackwater's case, the name may change but it seems doomed to be remembered by what happened to its contractors in Fallujah in 2004 and what its contractors did in Baghdad in 2007.

Still, no harm in trying to change. As they say, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. And that is what Blackwater previously did. In February 2009, Blackwater announced that it would be changing its name to "Xe Services LLC." Xe was short for Xenon, a chemical element with the symbol Xe and atomic number 54.

Personally I thought naming yourself after a colorless, heavy, odorless noble gas, which only occurs in the Earth's atmosphere in trace amounts and is generally unreactive, was a smart idea. In its primary form it consists of nine stable isotopes which don't bother anyone. Fortunately the press never picked up on the fact that there are also over 40 unstable xenon isotopes that undergo radioactive decay. That, however, was not all bad. For example, radioactive xenon-135 is produced from iodine-135 as a result of nuclear fission, and it acts as the most significant neutron absorber in nuclear reactors. A smart PR person could have pointed out that the company, like its isotopic counterpart, prevents things from going critical.

But I digress. For whatever reason, Xe, which has brought in new management in the past few years, decided it was time for a name upgrade. So, on December 12, Ted Wright, Xe's president and chief executive, announced a new name, Academi.

Mr. Wright said Academi will try to be more "boring." The new corporate identity is supposed to emphasize the company's focus on regulatory compliance and contract management, in addition to its job of protecting clients.

All well and good, at first glance. I mean, it conjures up images of a bunch of academics discussing in measured, sober tones the pros and cons of private military and security contracting. Perhaps PMC will stand for Pedagogic Military Contractors.

After all, the "academy" has an ancient and honorable lineage. The Academy was founded by Plato in 387 BC in Athens. Aristotle studied there for twenty years before founding his own school, the Lyceum.

One can picture Plato and his disciples rationally debating the strengths and weakness of private military companies, or "ιδιωτικές στρατιωτικές ανάδοχος" as the Greeks called them. Perhaps there was a representative of the "διεθνούς σταθερότητας εργασίες σύνδεσης" the spiritual ancestor of today's International Stability Operations Association, there to tout the benefit of outsourcing and privatization. Doubtlessly there were people there arguing that it was cheaper for the Greek polis (city-state) to contract with mercenaries instead of hiring a standing force. After all, it seemed to work fairly well for Philip II of Macedon. And without Philip we never would have Alexander the Great.

But, on second thought, there are some problems with using Academy as your brand. If you've ever dealt with someone who has a PhD you'll know what I mean. It is not for nothing that people say academics fight the most vicious battles over the most trivial matters. It's not exactly the reputation you want attached to people who carry guns for a living.

Plus, another definition of PhD is: Piled Higher and Deeper; not exactly the image of the efficiently organized, quick acting operator you want preserving your life.

Not to mention that most academics spend a good part of their career striving to achieve tenure, hence the "publish or perish" phenomenon. What does a PMC do: contract, by hook or by crook, or perish?

Still, as what was Blackwater, then Xe, sails off into the sunset and Academi unfurls its sails, I wish it well. As they say, third time's the charm.

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