Empire’s Labor Cover

Empire’s Labor

The Global Army that Supports U.S. Wars

Adam Moore

Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2019, 264 pages

Book Review published on: March 13, 2020

Empire’s Labor: The Global Army that Supports U.S. Wars by Adam Moore is a unique, behind-the-scenes look at contracted labor that supports U.S. military operations in the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Moore begins the book with an overview of contracted labor supporting U.S. wars in overseas operations. However, there is much missing context and omitted information that sets a manipulative and biased tone for the book to the informed reader. He omits the presidential directive or force limits that require contracted labor to meet specific project requirements. When Moore discusses the significant amount of private security contractors, he omits the detail that much of their job responsibility includes base security and personal security for high-level officials. Many times early on he discusses the contracted labor force as part of U.S. military operations, which manipulates the reader into thinking contractors are engaged in combat operations when the vast majority maintain logistics or support operations. Later in the book, he changes focus and highlights that most of the labor force is logistics operations.

Moore focuses primarily on labor from Bosnia and the Philippines because the cultures, supply chains, and contracting practices for each country are so opposite. The access Moore has to the information is evident and he provides truly first-hand observations and insights into Bosnian and Filipino citizens who served as contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the overview, Moore looks at the history of contracted labor beginning with the Revolutionary Army through the U.S. efforts to fight Ebola. He then looks at the colonial roots of contracted labor mainly from the Philippines, which had a policy of exporting labor to bring money back to the country. His redefining of the term “empire” and arguable claim that the United States has a military empire is not needed to explain the excellent work in the remainder of the book.

Moore uses well-researched analysis from other reports, personal visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, and many interviews to get to the all-too-often overlooked personal aspect of the people who are the contracted labor. He provides details of the contracted labor supply chain from Bosnia and the Philippines. He details the pathways from web recruiting, recruiting agency tactics, airline flights, customs, etc. His interviews recount stories of people who spend weeks outside recruiting offices to find out if they have a job, only to be on a plane for Iraq six hours later without an opportunity to say farewell to their families. He examines the types of contracts different countries receive and how these contracts impact benefits and pay. Moore provides detailed accounts from personal interviews about the “dark routes” that companies use to get labor from prohibited countries and some of the human trafficking issues. He ends the book on a very personal level by examining life in the labor camps where the contracted laborers live, their issues with food from their home countries, laborers “jumping” between contracts for better benefits, and how many of them have advocated for change and pay by holding strikes against their companies.

Moore’s last chapter addresses the impacts of the labor on families of the contractors at home and on the individual after redeploying. While U.S. soldiers deploy for nine- to twelve-month tours, many contractors spend years in the conflict zone enduring hardships, loneliness, and not seeing their children. Some Filipino laborers were caught in Iraq after the country put a travel ban on citizens preventing them from going to Iraq. Those in country could neither go home on their allowed leave nor could they come back to their jobs. Many saw their kids grow up on laptop screens. Moore examines what happens to contracted laborers when they return with mental issues, their adjustments back to their lives after the money runs out, and their divorce rates. Many Filipinos say the sacrifice is worth it to be able to build a home and put kids in private schools while Bosnians have trouble adjusting in a country with little employment opportunity. These issues bring to light the ethical questions of what responsibility the United States has, if any, to the contracted labor force that provides service to America’s security objectives.

The overarching strength of the book is the broad research and in-depth, personal, and varied interviews of contractors who give their insights into the topics of the book. The book would not be as valuable without that level of detail and perspective that Moore brings to the text. The biggest weakness is the omissions and partial context in the stage-setting opening chapter. Once past that, the rest of the book is eye-opening and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this book to anyone in the U.S. Army Contracting fields as well as Army Service Component Command leadership to have a better understanding about the impacts of the labor force conducting operations to support the military and U.S. efforts.

Book Review written by: Col. James Kennedy, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Belvoir, Virginia