Malcolm F. Cross, author of Dog Country, reviewed here, has very kindly taken the time to write an intriguing insight into the thinking behind his exceptional debut novel.
Democracy by the dollar: Mercenaries, crowdfunded regime change as part of the service economy, and why I wrote about gengineered dog-soldiers in Azerbaijan.
January 2011. For the people on the ground, the Arab Spring was (and continues) to change the very fabric of their lives. It meant a lot more to them, and always will, but it changed my life too. I wasn’t a protestor, just watching it take over the news cycle. And it got me thinking. I wanted to do something about the brutality and the bravery I saw, something about the issues that had never affected me and the struggles I would never have to fight for. I wanted to make their story my own, and I couldn’t. Maybe, I realized, I shouldn’t.
But isn’t that the story that is mine? The story of the white westerner intervening where he (inevitably he, because this culture I’m part of has systematically failed its women) wasn’t wanted? In a place he didn’t — couldn’t — understand?
Whether it’s Vietnam, the Gulf, Bosnia, or Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Libya, Kenya, the Congo, Nigeria or even Ireland, the modern military policy of intervention away from home is a thorny one. One that can compellingly be argued has done more harm than good. Much of it is couched in terms of bringing about the downfall of dictatorial regimes, arguably all in an attempt to recapture the moral high ground of Hitler’s defeat in 1945. The search for that high ground has poured fuel into the engines of hatred, racism, and human suffering.
It’s a story that’s changing, however. Both for the better and the worse. The rise of the private military company, the sanitised way to refer to guns for hire, is impacting interventionism.
Look back to ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare, explaining his part in the 1960s Congo Crisis by saying,
“Killing communists is like killing vermin. Killing African nationalists is like killing animals. I don’t like either of them. My men and I killed between five and ten thousand Congolese rebels during the twenty months I spent in the Congo.” – http://www.massviolence.org/chronology-of-the-democratic-republic-of-congo-zaire-1960-1997#outil_sommaire_1)
Now compare that to Tim Spicer, speaking about the 1997 Sandline Affair of Papua New Guinea,
“I’ve always said that in Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone there was nothing wrong with what Sandline was doing because we were there at the request of the democratically elected governments. But it attracted a lot of attention and played into the hands of people who felt that this was not a good way of doing things. The idea was well before its time. There was a huge amount of suspicion, mistrust and poor connotation attached to the security business at that time.” – ( http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/may/20/comment.military )
There are those fighting to turn private military companies, PMCs, into a regulated industry. Open, honest, as dependable and morally upright as any national army. On the other hand, Blackwater Security has been rebranded twice, first as Xe Services, and then as Academi, after the well-publicised killings in 2007.
Somewhere between the rise of PMCs, the Arab Spring, and the shifting nature of capitalism, I found the story I wanted to turn into my debut novel, Dog Country.
It seemed so logical to me. It still does — not that I really think it’s a workable system. Libya’s people were begging for international aid, much as Syria’s are now, desperate to overthrow the dictator over their heads. And while poverty is a major problem in these nations, there’s still money. A fond assumption I have is that almost everyone has five dollars. It might be a huge sum, or a meagre one, but whether it’s saved over weeks or fished out of pocket change, a person has five dollars. There are more than five million people in Libya — twenty five million dollars buys a hell of a lot of military hardware.
I checked – Kickstarter prohibits crowdfunding for weapons, but it doesn’t prohibit funding people capable of holding weapons.
There are some funny ideas in this world — there are Libertarians who believe, genuinely, that the free market economy can function as a form of governance in and of itself. I don’t really agree, but what would a working free market government, rather than a failed one, actually look like?
Assuming a state had formed on that basis, its free-market security forces would naturally be willing to fight someone else’s wars. And, assuming no monopolies or profiteers — very unlikely, but let’s make that assumption — they could provide this service cheaply and efficiently.
So. Why not?
Why not crowdfund the revolution?
Why not write a story about the kind of person this capitalist culture might create as a product, and send them off to explore what this kind of interventionism might be like? After all, western culture and toxic masculinity push very hard at turning young men into people willing to do violence and eschew emotional intimacy. Given genetic engineering, why bother breaking young men into shape when it’s possible to build someone from scratch? Or skip some development time and start with a dog. After all, we’ve been genetically modifying dogs to make them into what we want for the entirety of human history.
The only question I had left was where I’d send my corporate-designed soldiers. I wound up going through a list of authoritarian regimes, and I picked one off the top — Azerbaijan. It was an arbitrary choice, one I’m not entirely comfortable with fictionalizing given the wealth of human rights abuses the Aliyev regime are perpetrating even now, but in a way that made it a good fit for the story I wanted to tell.
A story about western interventionism that didn’t whitewash away the damage interventionism can bring about, a story about people-powered revolutions. More importantly, a story about the experiences of those who leave their homes, travel around the world to a place they never knew existed, and fight in wars they have no reason to care about.
Because of interventionism, there is a generation of (mostly) men who now know what it is to be an alien stranger, not entirely wanted, far from home. Dog Country is, I hope, a story about finding a way to come home afterward.