Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting In Iraq

Despite a stomach bug, I interviewed by phone Washington Post reporter Steve Fainaru Wednesday evening, Jan. 13, 2010, about his 2009 book Big Boy Rules.

Luke: “Tell me about the impact of 9/11 upon you personally and professionally.”

Steve: “It had a profound impact. When it happened, I was in Washington. I was covering sports… That job became immediately obsolete. I was tasked to cover terrorism. It took me to New York. Then the [Iraq] war started and I got caught up in the war for the better part of three years.”

“There were several books I could’ve written about Iraq. This story, both personally and professionally, resonated with me the most… The whole private security madness going on over there, the hidden quality of it, it just made it a rich topic.”

Luke: “Why do you think there was a lack of journalistic investigation of the Bush administration’s claims of WMD in Iraq in the run-up before the Iraq war?”

Steve: “The country was in a fever. Nine-eleven changed the dynamic in the country. Newsrooms, like the rest of the country, got caught up in it and we lost sight of our accountability function as a counterweight to the government.”

“The coverage of the [Iraq] war has been quite good. A lot of it was the result of the lessons of going into the war and things that the news media certainly missed.”

Luke: “How would you describe the emotional tone of your book?”

Steve: “In what sense?”

Luke: “It seemed to be very strong emotions driving the book?”

Steve: “It grew out of the writing. I didn’t plan to include my own story until I started to write it… One of the subtexts of the book was that the whole mercenary world was about money…in an order of magnitude that most of these people had not experienced in their lives… What were they chasing over there? What was the country chasing? What were people in the news media chasing? Why were we all there?

“I started to see elements in the mercenaries stories that I saw in my own.”

Luke: “Early in the book, you said that the war was based on a lie?”

Steve: “Yeah, yeah. Of course. Of course. It was predicated on something that proved to be wholly false and at worse a lie, whether that was a self-deception on the part of the Bush administration or it was overtly a lie to drive the country into this disastrous war, I don’t think it really has ever been proven. But yeah, the whole foundation for the war was based on a lie, on a series of lies, right? One of which was not only was there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the war would be quick and cheap and done with relatively few troops, and that process led us into the use of mercenaries.

“The whole use of tens of thousands of people who were essentially hired guns to fight the war said so much about the essence of the war and how it was being fought and frankly, for me, the absence of morality about it.”

Luke: “Have you been back to Iraq since your book came out?”

Steve: “No. I have no desire to go back. I went something like a dozen times between 2004 and 2007. Once I got through the end of 2007, I was at the end of my rope. I was disgusted by everything, the kidnapping of the people I knew, the senselessness of it, the negligence on the part of the company and the government, it just sickened me.”

I had to end the interview a minute later as another vomiting attack (flu-related, not subject related) overwhelmed me.

P.S. Here’s my interview from a few months back with New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins, author of the book “The Forever War”.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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