Monday, August 24, 2009

Master of War by Suzanne Simons Book Review

I had previously read a book on Blackwater (by Jeremy Scahill) and wanted to know more about its founder, Erik Prince. When I started reading Master of War (subtitled: Blackwater USA’s Erik Prince and the Business of War), I thought I was reading a biography. The first fifty pages were biographical but the rest of the book is merely a rehash of the activities of the Blackwater company. Simons, an executive producer at CNN, was also interested in Prince as she asks in her prologue, “What makes him tick?” (p. 5). I’ve read Simons’ book and I cannot answer that question. If, in her investigation, she found out what made him tick, she didn’t let her readers know.
One of the reasons I was interested in Prince was because I know people from Michigan who speak very highly of the Princes as a strong Christian family of the Christian Reformed Church. Prince also has Dutch ethnic roots, as do I. Simons does say Prince was raised with a deep belief in God. Friends of the wealthy and influential Prince family included James Dobson and Charles Colson. But there is no mention of Prince’s later conversion to Catholicism. While Prince’s wife was dying of cancer he had an affair with their previous nanny, got her pregnant and married her shortly after his wife died. “The affair was a disturbing revelation for some close to Prince. They knew him as a deeply religious man dedicated to his family, and the affair was inconsistent with the man they thought they knew.” (p. 75). Perhaps Simons tackled an impossible task. Maybe the only person who knows Prince is Erik himself.
Not only is this book not a biography of Prince (I learned about him from Wikipedia than this book), it has some other problems. Simons says Prince had a military ID that he flashed in 2001 when he went to “ground zero.” Prince had been in the Navy (he had left the Naval Academy after three semesters then had done a subsequent tour in the Navy Seals) but for fewer than five years (p. 199). His ID certainly could not have been current. Simons also says Prince “retired” from the Navy as a SEAL (p. 44). This is inaccurate as one does not retire from the Navy with fewer than twenty years of service.
Simons never mentions that Prince was intern in the White House under George W. Bush, that he campaigned for Pat Buchanan, interned at the Family Research Council (which his father co-founded), that his sister married into the Amway family… What little is revealed about Prince’s character comes near the end of the book, When Blackwater is under congressional and FBI investigation for the killings in Nisoor Square (Sept. 16, 2007). “His mood could turn from bad to worse at the drop of a hat…” (p. 232). He admitted he was not a patient man. “He was not convinced patience was, in fact, a virtue.” (p. 232).
The book was disappointing and Erik Prince does not appear to be the “Christian” my Michigan friends want me to think he is.
If you want to read about Erik Prince, skip this book. If you want to read about the 70% of the U.S. intelligence budget being spent on private contractors (p. 115), some to analyze data, or how the contractors were not under the same oversight as state department employees or those in the military, then this book is for you.
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