(Born into an automotive fortune), Erik Prince, with three older sisters, was a hardworking boy, an athlete whose straight-arrow ways amazed classmates. Even at Holland Christian High, he stood out. He neither drank nor smoked. While friends flashed new-wave haircuts or mullets in the 1980s, he was one of two boys pictured in his senior yearbook with a crew cut.
…After graduating, Prince headed to the U.S. Naval Academy, only to quit after three semesters. He told friends he was disappointed in the maturity and morality of his fellow midshipmen.
“I know when he got back, he said that he thought everybody at the academy would just bleed red, white and blue like he did,” the former coach, Heethuis said. “But he found out some people were just there for a free education.”
Prince landed an internship in the early 1990s in the White House under then-President George Bush. Again, he was disappointed.
He later told the Grand Rapids Press: “I saw a lot of things I didn’t agree with — homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kinds of bills.”
I have a mantra that I use sometimes; I devised it when I was living in Indiana, and had to keep a straight face when, for instance, my neighbor said he was moving to the suburbs so his children wouldn’t be subjected to “outcome-based education” in Fort Wayne schools. I’d say to myself: “Everyone travels a different path to this moment in time. People see different things along the way, which may lead them to different conclusions about how the world works. Their path is not my path, and I respect their right to travel it and make up their own minds.”
Repeated inside one’s head, perhaps with a nod and smile, it makes for far smoother relations in life than going with a knee-jerk, “God, you are so full of shit.” And the thing is, I really believe it. I know some of you who disagree with me might believe I tip a little too far into the you-are-so-full-of-shit direction, but in my heart of hearts, I think this country is big enough for all of us, and is, in fact, better for it. Viva diversity, all diversity. Honest: I don’t want to live in a world where everyone agrees with me.
Only sometimes do I despair. The profile of Erik Prince quoted above was one such moment. I had to sit for a long time digesting it before I came up with something good to say about this son of privilege who grew up to be some sort of patriotic robo-monster, a boy who scorned his Naval Academy classmates for being there for “the free education” — It’s always the rich ones who don’t know what education is worth, isn’t it? — who then went on to raise a mercenary army where the warriors are paid in the neighborhood of $100K (but aren’t in it for the money, “just loyal Americans who ‘bleed red, white and blue.'”). And it was this: Well, at least he didn’t go the George Bush route.
If Erik Prince’s private jet — I’m assuming Blackwater has one — went down today, his obituaries would be respectful and, in some circles anyway, even reverent. A son of privilege who nevertheless worked hard, achieved much, gave much back, he’d be lionized as the best America has to give to the world. Even though, for all his fine qualities, he seems to have developed ideas that are nothing short of un-American.
That America should fight wars with soldiers for hire, for starters. There’s a reason our professional soldier class is small, and works for respect and glory, not money. There’s a reason mercenaries get the same respect as prostitutes. There’s a reason “war profiteer” isn’t a term of endearment.
That making policy means getting your way, every time. I love these guys, the sorts who carry a copy of the Constitution in their back pockets, and forget what it took to write the thing, i.e., compromise. Then it meant fighting over a bicameral legislature. Today it means meeting with gay-rights groups and crafting budget deals. Same idea — consensus. Winning an election doesn’t mean ignoring the people in the country who didn’t vote for your guy.
Among other things.
I notice the Freep reader comments quickly turned up a you-can’t-HANDLE-the-truth contingent, which may be about the only defense of this outfit one can make. Dream of an America that takes its warmaking seriously enough to ask sacrifice from everyone, of one that doesn’t torture or tolerate civilian “contractors” who shoot civilians, and you get a sneer and a wave-off.
Everyone travels a different path to this moment in time. People see different things along the way, which may lead them to different conclusions about how the world works. Their path is not my path, and I respect their right to travel it and make up their own minds.
Eh. It was that kind of morning. The Prince story was the first thing I read. The second was on Page One of the NYT, about the puzzling, seemingly inexplicable rise of rape as a weapon of terror in eastern Congo. Warning: Do not read after a recent breakfast. And why is it happening? Well, shit happens, and then it happens again:
Many Congolese aid workers denied that the problem was cultural and insisted that the widespread rapes were not the product of something ingrained in the way men treated women in Congolese society. “If that were the case, this would have showed up long ago,” said Wilhelmine Ntakebuka, who coordinates a sexual violence program in Bukavu.
Instead, she said, the epidemic of rapes seems to have started in the mid-1990s. That coincides with the waves of Hutu militiamen who escaped into Congo’s forests after exterminating 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during Rwanda’s genocide 13 years ago.
Mr. Holmes said that while government troops might have raped thousands of women, the most vicious attacks had been carried out by Hutu militias.
“These are people who were involved with the genocide and have been psychologically destroyed by it,” he said.
Mr. Bourque called this phenomenon “reversed values” and said it could develop in heavily traumatized areas that had been steeped in conflict for many years, like eastern Congo.
After this, I was tempted to go back to bed. But then I read this story, which made me no more optimistic about the state of the world, but at least had an element of grim humor in it. Only in Ann Arbor:
Last month, about 1,100 members of the (People’s Food Co-op) voted on a proposal that, if approved, would ban the store from selling goods from Israel. The results are to be released Thursday after a year of debate across metro Detroit. The co-op has many members in the tri-country area who have closely followed the controversy.
I love Ann Arbor, I loved living there, it’s the only place I’ve lived where I felt really and truly at home, at one with my people. But even I have my limits, and I think it’s right around the Palestine: Peace not Couscous zone:
The controversy started when a shopper got upset after seeing that the store was selling Israeli couscous. A petition drive was launched, and a group called Boycott Israeli Goods garnered enough signatures to get a ballot proposal on which the co-op’s roughly 6,000 members could vote. Two previous co-op boycotts involved tuna that harmed dolphins and grapes, in support of farm workers. Both boycotts ended years ago.
Last month, members cast ballots on the Israeli-products boycott. At times, the arguments involved anti-Semitic sentiments. Some boycott supporters held up Nazi swastikas outside the store, concerning many shoppers.
OK, anti-Semitism and swastikas = not funny. I did indicate the humor was grim.
It’s this heat that’s making me crabby. I went to a high-school football game Friday — half of it, anyway — and sat in the stands in sheer misery, feeling my styling products melt down my neck in a slimy trail. We raked leaves on Saturday at the lake cottage in shorts and T-shirts, and the fire afterward, always a pleasant ritual of fall, was sheer misery. You read about the Chicago Marathon, surely. And yesterday I did the unthinkable — turned on the air conditioning. In October.
Well, by Wednesday the temperature will be back into the 50s, and I’ll have something new to bitch about.
Have a groovy Monday.
Connie said on October 8, 2007 at 8:14 am
While you were turning the air on I was swimming in our pool. In October!
Eric Prince’s father and my father were room mates for a year in grad school. (At a quasi fraternity known as Dutch House, originally founded to provide a safe Christian house for Dutch boys heading to Ann Arbor from the Holland/Grand Rapids area. It’s still there.)
My Dad still talks about running into Ed Prince in a Holland restaurant some years ago, and how excited he was to be introduced to Prince’s companion, Dr. James Dobson. Yup, that’s my Dad.
brian stouder said on October 8, 2007 at 8:44 am
Interesting article on the Blackwater guy.
Did any of the Freep commenters draw a parallel between this straight-arrow, black-and-white, raise an army and go fight, scion of a wealthy family, and Teddy Roosevelt?
Prince strikes me as nothing so much as an anachronism
(edit: btw, if I recall the end-credits correctly, Neidermeyer went to Vietnam, where his colleagues promptly fragged him!)
Laura said on October 8, 2007 at 9:13 am
(edit: btw, if I recall the end-credits correctly, Neidermeyer went to Vietnam, where his colleagues promptly fragged him!)
Yes, but if you were listening closely in The Twilight Zone movie, you’d know that his troops later regretted offing him.
LA mary said on October 8, 2007 at 11:04 am
If Erik Prince is like a few wealthy Dutch Reformed church types I’ve known, he truly believes what he is doing is right, and that not only does he deserve the rewards he’s getting, the fact he’s getting rewarded proves he’s right.
Robert Rouse said on October 8, 2007 at 11:25 am
Okay, Nancy, you nailed it with the title of the post. Erik Prince IS Neidermeyer.
nancy said on October 8, 2007 at 11:58 am
You can just hear him saying, “Respectfully submitted, Douglas C. Neidermeyer, sergeant at arms.”
ashley said on October 8, 2007 at 1:22 pm
Unfortunately, I can also hear him saying “We now consecrate the bond of obedience”.
beb said on October 8, 2007 at 1:32 pm
When I read that Erik Prince was the brother of Betsy DeVos my jaw dropped. My god, I thought, he _IS_ the son of satan!
brian stouder said on October 8, 2007 at 1:38 pm
Eric Prince of Darkness?
(I guess it dovetails with ‘Blackwater’…from Revelation’s lake, no doubt!)
nancy said on October 8, 2007 at 1:44 pm
Actually, I think Blackwater comes from their original facility, which was adjacent to a swamp, hence.
Dave B. said on October 8, 2007 at 2:33 pm
Prince seems to have the same mindset as Oliver North did back during the Iran/Contra scandal.
ashley said on October 8, 2007 at 2:39 pm
I thought they just really liked the Doobie Brothers.
brian stouder said on October 8, 2007 at 2:45 pm
ol’ Misssissippi, she’s calling my name
Jolene said on October 8, 2007 at 2:58 pm
Hadn’t heard of Betsy DeVos before, so I looked her up. Pretty amazing story.
An excerpt: “I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party,” Betsy DeVos wrote in an op-ed for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.
What they expect, of course, is good clean government that creates tax loopholes especially for their business, oh, and “a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues”.
Jolene said on October 8, 2007 at 3:01 pm
A fun column on Eric Prince’s congressional testimony by Dana Milbank, WaPo’s Chief of Snark.
LA mary said on October 8, 2007 at 5:27 pm
What Dana Milbank showed, and what I was most offended by in what I saw of Eric’s testimony, was his smugness. How effing offensive. His inherently nasty company has never lost someone they were protecting. They have killed a couple hundred people who may or may not have been threatening, and one of them had a few too many at a Christmas party and killed the VP’s body guard, but they’ve never lost someone in their charge. Jeez. Ricochets? Gotta watch out for those ricochets.
USNA Ancient said on October 8, 2007 at 6:46 pm
hmmm … I wonder -if at formal occasions for the Blackwater “family”- if the prescribed uniform is black and silver with lightning bolt “s” and death’s head insignias and jackboots and master prince is greeted with “sieg heils” ? I imagine Hitler and Torquemada both truly believed in their missions in life as well !
This is one really scary dude … and I wonder about the long-range [or maybe not so long-range] aims of this religious fanatic and his mercenary army and wannabe air force insofar as a home based coup is concerned … shades of Aaron Burr with religion on the side ?
I would be really interested in hearing more from those that knew him at the Academy … seems entirely possible that he got there and found that he was not the demi-god he pictured himself to be and which he has now done all in his power and money to make himself appear.
How appropriate for the Halloween season ! … if only it wasn’t real !
brian stouder said on October 9, 2007 at 7:30 am
Well, we can move from pondering the meticulous mercenary, to considering Fort Wayne’s kooky candidate for mayor
In this account of stupidity within the Kelty campaign, the best quote was “This isn’t a race for student council.” And the Journal-Gazette reaches more people than the South Side Times (a high school newspaper), and Kelty’s cake got the front page above the fold!
(it’s too easy to say that this latest turn of events ‘takes the cake’, but certainly it provides more icing for it)
Kim said on October 9, 2007 at 8:09 am
I’d direct anyone intrigued/appalled by Erik Prince’s story to this Virginian-Pilot series from 2006, which was a well-deserved Pulitzer finalist for explanatory reporting.
Neidermeyer is brilliant! And, yes, Nance, you are right (again) about the origin of the Blackwater name. Btw, I see these guys all the time, and they are right scary, even in the good old U.S. of A.
NN EDIT: Kim, your link is redirecting to the home page. Is this story the one you wanted to call our attention to?
Kim said on October 9, 2007 at 8:47 am
Nope – something is weird as I try to link it. Go to http://www.pilotonline.com, click on the news bar and go to special reports. The series titled “Blackwater: Inside America’s Private Army” is at the bottom. Sorry, but it’s really worth the trouble.
Dorothy said on October 9, 2007 at 8:48 am
This is the link, I think, that Kim intended. Not sure why it was linking back to the home page – I hope this one doesn’t do that.
My daughter was a copy editor for this project! She was quite excited to be part of a Pulitzer-nominated team in her 2nd year at the paper!
(edited to add – I clicked on both links – mine and Kim’s – and they both worked.)
nancy said on October 9, 2007 at 8:54 am
Thanks, Kim and Dorothy. The chapter on Blackwater in New Orleans post-K was disgusting. I hope Ashley sees it. Those soulless, gutless pricks.
Kim said on October 9, 2007 at 9:08 am
Dorothy, I’ll have to introduce myself to your daughter next time I am over at the Pilot. My former writing partner/friend for life at a different paper was one of the reporters on that series. Small, small world.
Dorothy said on October 9, 2007 at 12:33 pm
Very cool, Kim. Her name is Laura. She’s 5’11” so you probably won’t miss her!
ashley said on October 9, 2007 at 3:52 pm
Blackwater was hired as private security everywhere around New Orleans. The rich fuckmooks of Audubon Place had them guarding their mansions while people died of thirst. Scott Cowen had full time guards while Vera was floating.
They were driving SUVs with night vision down St. Charles avenue at 70 MPH in the middle of the night.
I personally saw them almost break a guy’s arm, for no apparent reason. He also put a Tonfa in the guy’s throat. The case didn’t go to court, or I would have been able to testify against them. Damn.
I say they’re criminal mercenaries, and should be shot on sight. As Nance knows, there was only one good mercenary, and he was headless.
basset said on October 9, 2007 at 11:33 pm
Meanwhile, on the Israel front…
brian stouder said on October 10, 2007 at 7:00 am
Interesting article, Basset. This passage seems to capture the essence –
Last week, police arrested two 13-year-old boys on suspicion of daubing swastikas and naked women on the door of a Haifa synagogue. A 19-year-old was charged with setting fire to a booth where Haifa’s religious Jews celebrated the Sukkot festival. In Bnei Brak, a predominantly Orthodox town near Tel Aviv, someone painted “Heil Hitler” on a synagogue wall.
So if you’re a developmentally stunted kiddo who wants to be as outrageous as possible, and you live in Israel – painting swastikas and naked women(!) onto the wall of a synagogue is what you do.
Sounds like a more virulent impulse of the sort that drives some people to be ‘goth’ or to pierce their foreheads and color their hair green, and proclaim their striking non-conformance with the world around them…..as they stand around with nothing to do