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Beloit College YAF chair responds to pushback against upcoming speaker Prince

As chairman of the Beloit College Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter, I would like to provide some clarity on the upcoming lecture by Erik Prince. People seem to relish being willfully misleading about his record and others are all too eager to believe them to advance a political agenda. 

I first want to explain why we invited Prince as well as reply to some of the careless assertions I have heard made about both private military contractors (PMCs) and Prince’s business ventures.

The Young America’s Foundation adopted its statement of principles at the home of William F. Buckley in Sharon, Conn. in 1960. Among the 12 beliefs enumerated in the Sharon Statement is the claim that market economies are the “single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government.” We invited Prince because he has a proven track record of delivering dynamic and imaginative market solutions to some of the most complex problems faced by the U.S. military. His perspective and experience are unparalleled and we are honored to host him.

Further, YAF is grateful to Beloit College for standing by its commitment to free inquiry and respect for diverse opinions.

Needless to say, many have strong disagreements about the morality and usefulness of PMCs and, to demonstrate this, have employed all sorts of rhetorical flourishes such as “war criminal” or “war profiteer” to describe Prince’s work.

The requirement that profit never undergird military action is both historically ignorant and impractical. In fact, the U.S. owes its very existence to private military contractors.

The American Revolution would have been a lost cause without the assistance of thousands of foreign nationals enlisted to fight the British.

Abraham Lincoln turned to the private sector in order to gather intelligence on the South and tend to his personal security by enlisting the services of Allan Pinkerton and his paid guards.

Before the U.S. entered World War I, a group of American airmen decided not to wait around for Congress to declare war and joined the French air force to form the “Lafayette Escadrille.”

Similarly, President Roosevelt authorized a group of American airmen to assist the Chinese in their fight against Japan before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

As for our 21st century conflicts, contractors made up over fifty percent of DoD personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Contractors provide essential support in the areas of logistics, intelligence and military affairs where conventional forces lack either the manpower or expertise.

Simply put, without contractors, you might be drafted to make up for the shortage.

When it comes to Blackwater, the incident at Nisour Square invariably comes up. The events there have been spun in the media and the blogosphere to suggest that Blackwater guards fired on innocent Iraqi civilians. Blackwater has vigorously contested this allegation, insisting instead that they began taking fire from insurgents in the area. Blackwater radio logs reported in the Associated Press seem to confirm this and there is everything to suggest that the innocents killed were the victims of a tragic battlefield accident rather than a criminal event.

The fact of the matter is that Blackwater conducted thousands of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and guards only discharged their weapons in approximately one percent of those.

Furthermore, the Obama administration greatly expanded Blackwater’s brief despite Nisour and awarded the company contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars related to the CIA’s drone program.

Nevertheless, Prince has been maliciously labelled a war criminal without any thought given to the meaning of that phrase. Let us see where zetetic reasoning gets us.

Has a court convicted Prince of war crimes? No. Has he been indicted for war crimes? No. Has he even been investigated for war crimes? Negative. Alright, let’s assume he beat the rap–for what crime should he be prosecuted? Nisour, of course. Even assuming the worst about Nisour, did Prince shoot innocent civilians? No. Did he order his men to shoot innocent civilians? No. Where was he, actually? At home in the States. Well I’m afraid I don’t know the basis for your original claim, and I don’t believe you do either.

As for some recent headlines, Prince made news for writing a piece in the Wall Street Journal in which he proposed a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Immediately, people began fear mongering by saying he wanted to “privatize” the conflict. In reality, his plan was to withdraw conventional forces and significantly draw down the number of contractors. The crux of Prince’s plan focuses on streamlining leadership and rules of engagement, as well preserving the institutional memory lost when troops rotate out of the country.

Some other news items include reporting that Prince’s company, Frontier Services Group (FSG), was planning to build a training facility in the Xinjiang region of China where it is alleged that the Uyghur population is facing persecution. There is one problem, however: FSG is not Prince’s company. The largest shareholder is CITIC Ltd., a division of a Chinese state-run conglomerate. Prince was replaced as chairman before the announcement of the Xinjiang deal with a CITIC executive and now owns only a nine-percent stake in the company. Further, all that was signed was a preliminary memorandum and any construction would first require a board resolution which has not occurred, according to an FSG spokesman.

I hope students interested in learning and engaging with Prince during his lecture decide to attend. Those without an interest are, of course, not required to attend. Importantly, however, those with no interest have no right to decide on behalf of others who gets to be heard and who gets to listen.

Andrew Collins is the Chairman and Founder of the Beloit College Young Americans for Freedom chapter.

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