Podcasting War: One Approach for ISOA Public Outreach

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ISOA and ISOA’s members have an image problem. At its worst, the ISOA is perceived as promoting the interests of mercenaries and the military-industrial complex. At its best ISOA is perceived a representing the interests of companies making a profit from what many believe to be inherently governmental functions. The reality is that what ISOA and its member companies do is complex and does not fit into a 15 second sound-bite. In this way it reflects the complexity of modern contingency operations. To address that complexity in short, easy to digest segments, I record a series of podcasts called, “The Ancient Art of Modern Warfare.”

In these podcasts, I place contingency contractor support into the context of the enduring nature of war. We all know that contractor support in armed conflict has been a staple of military operations from the beginning of time. This is not only mercenaries from Xenophon to Michael Hoare and Tim Spicer. It also represents the engineers, sutlers, teamsters, and so on necessary to enable military operations. It was only with the nationalization of war introduced by the French Revolution’s levee en masse and coerced military service that the critical role of contractors seemed to move off-stage. Nonetheless, contractors remained essential to the conduct of military operations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and both the Hague and Geneva Conventions make special note of them. It is, as I said, a complex subject, and my podcasts tackle these complexities in chunks of about ten minutes each.

As the title of the podcasts suggest, I do not limit the discussions to contractor support. The episodes include explaining what war is and the enduring principles governing war, analysis of particular aspects of warfare in a historical context, four episodes so far on Russian quasi-mercenary organizations (with more to come), and even discussions with experts on the continuing relevance of honor, chivalry, and the just war tradition. Contractor support to contingency operations is, as I wrote, only one part of a very complex structure. To understand how and where contractors properly fit, it is important to have at least a survey level understanding of the overall structure of modern warfare.

I don’t intend that these podcasts provide a Ph.D. or a War College level of instruction. They are meant for the public at large, and particularly the American public. They are meant to stimulate thought and encourage the citizens of the republic to think about national policy and especially the decision to commit military force in the name of our republic. Neither do I believe that this is the only means we should use to engage the public about the proper role of legitimate and responsible contractor support. I do believe, however, that these podcasts can help the public to understand the difference between legitimate, responsible, and accountable support and that which runs counter to long term peace and security — to realize that contract support can and should be effective, responsible, and patriotic – and is completely incompatible with common perceptions of mercenaries. Most importantly, the goal is to influence the public to participate in public policy on these issues.

These podcasts should be considered only one piece of ISOA and ISOA member public outreach. As another ISOA advisory board member said, we need “influencers” to shape the public debate away from the automatic categorization of contingency contractors as mercenaries or “just like Blackwater.” Current estimates say that 17% of the American population listen to podcasts, a three-fold increase from just a few years ago. This is likely to continue to increase in the near future. Podcasts hold a lot of promise for public outreach, but we need additional approaches to reach the other 85%.

You can listen to my podcasts, The Ancient Art of Modern Warfare at mayhemxpc.podbean.com, or through searches on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, and iHeartRadio. I also post links to the podcasts on Linked-In. Please leave comments, post questions, and – if you like what you hear — give me a thumbs up.