Calvin will hold a dedication service for the Prince Conference Center and the DeVos Communication Center on October 25-26. The two new buildings are being funded by the two largest gifts in the history of Calvin College. Both the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation and the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation committed $10 million to the projects for a total of $20 million.
“The DeVos and Prince families are long-time supporters of Christian education,” said Calvin College president Dr. Gaylen Byker at the time of the gift (July 1998). “Their support of these two new ventures means a great deal to all of us at Calvin. We are very grateful.” (1)
Today, Blackwater has more than 2,300 private soldiers deployed in nine countries, including inside the United States. It maintains a database of 21,000 former Special Forces troops, soldiers, and retired law enforcement agents on whom it could call at a moment’s notice. Blackwater has a private fleet of more than twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships and a surveillance blimp division. Its 7,000-acre headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina, is the world’s largest private military facility. It trains tens of thousands of federal and local law enforcement agents a year and troops from “friendly” foreign nations. The company operates its own intelligence division and counts among its executives senior ex-military and intelligence officials. It recently began constructing new facilities in California (“Blackwater West”) and Illinois (“Blackwater North”), as well as a jungle training facility in the Philippines. Blackwater has more than $500 million in government contracts––and that does not include its secret “black” budget operations for U.S. intelligence agencies or private corporations/individuals and foreign governments. As one U.S. Congressmember observed, in strictly military terms, Blackwater could overthrow many of the world’s governments. (2)
What have you discovered that you would like Calvin alumni to know about Calvin today?
Elsa Prince Broekhuizen: I think Calvin is a great place; I was thrilled to be a student here. But today, young people have so many more opportunities than we did at the time––semester and interim courses all over the world and a wide variety of majors. I recently had the opportunity to travel with an interim group, and I really got to see how eager the students are to learn. It gives you an excitement to think that we are training the future generations here at Calvin, and I am so grateful that they have stayed so close to the biblical truth, because this is a real concern of mine. It is my hope and prayer Calvin will continue to be that way. (3)
I was not sure how much to believe. Then, he offered to show me some video footage that Blackwater operatives had taken in the field. I could make the tapes public, he said, but I had to protect his identity.
… although much of the behavior in the videos was boorish and menacing—not the sort of thing to win Iraqi hearts and minds—there was no proof that anybody had been harmed.
But what about the tape dated April 1, 2006, which was shot from the front seat of the fourth car in an armored convoy? Driving along a wide boulevard in Baghdad, the lead vehicle swerved close to the curb of a traffic island. A woman in a black full-length burka began to cross the street. The vehicle struck the woman and knocked her unconscious body into the gutter. The cars slowed for a moment, but did not stop, nor did they even determine whether the victim was dead or alive.
A voice in the car taking the video said, “Oh, my God!” Yet no one was heard on the radio requesting help for her. Most sickeningly, the sequence had been set to an AC/DC song, whose pounding, metallic chorus declared: “You’ve been . . . thunderstruck!”
The tape ended with the inscription IN SUPPORT OF SECURITY, PEACE, FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY EVERYWHERE. (4)
Prince Broekhuizen was presented with a pair of wooden shoes at the annual Dutch-American Heritage Day dinner on Nov. 13 in Hudsonville. She spoke of her gratitude for her Dutch immigrant parents who taught her a “great love” of Holland.
Prince Broekhuizen, the widow of Prince Machine Corp. founder Edgar Prince, has served on numerous boards, which include the Acton Institute, Calvin College, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and the Holland/Zeeland Community Foundation. She’s also chairwoman of Lumir Corp., which owns about 25 percent of the land parcels in downtown Holland’s business district.
Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra introduced Prince Broekhuizen during Wednesday’s event at the Pinnacle Center. He talked of how she invested “enormous resources” in downtown Holland in the late 1980s when malls threatened survival of the city center.
“Whenever she touches something, it blossoms,” Dykstra said. (5)
It started out as a family errand: Ahmed Haithem Ahmed was driving his mother, Mohassin, to pick up his father from the hospital where he worked as a pathologist. As they approached Nisour Square at midday on Sept. 16, they did not know that a bomb had gone off nearby or that a convoy of four armored vehicles carrying Blackwater guards armed with automatic rifles was approaching.
Moments later a bullet tore through Mr. Ahmed’s head, he slumped, and the car rolled forward. Then Blackwater guards responded with a barrage of gunfire and explosive weapons, leaving seventeen dead and twenty-four wounded—a higher toll than previously thought, according to Iraqi investigators. …
The car in which the first people were killed did not begin to closely approach the Blackwater convoy until the Iraqi driver had been shot in the head and lost control of his vehicle. Not one witness heard or saw any gunfire coming from Iraqis around the square. And following a short initial burst of bullets, the Blackwater guards unleashed an overwhelming barrage of gunfire even as Iraqis were turning their cars around and attempting to flee. …
Blackwater has said that its guards were fired upon and responded appropriately. …
A traffic policeman standing at the edge of the square, Sarhan Thiab, saw that a young man in a car had been hit. In the line of traffic, that car was the third vehicle from the intersection where the convoy had positioned itself.
“We tried to help him,” Mr. Thiab said. “I saw the left side of his head was destroyed and his mother was crying out: ‘My son, my son. Help me, help me.’” …
Mr. Ahmed’s father later counted 40 bullet holes in the car. His mother, Mohassin Kadhim, appears to have been shot to death as she cradled her son in her arms. Moments later the car caught fire after the Blackwater guards fired a type of grenade into the vehicle. …
Accounts in the initial days after the event described Mrs. Kadhim as holding a baby in her arms. It now appears that those accounts were based on assumptions that the charred remains of Mrs. Kadhim’s son were mistaken for an infant. (6)
The students chosen as Jubilee Fellows will spend spring semester being mentored for ministry by Cooper and his wife Marsha and by co-leaders Ren and Elsa Broekhuizen. “We study what is God’s longing for the church,” Cooper said. “We study the role that people play in the church—gifts and position. We talk about the church in whatever age we find ourselves. We talk about the history. And then we talk about the discernment process.” (7)
Sophie Shevardnadze: Do you personally feel any remorse for the dead innocent victims? I understand it’s the war, I get that, but still, you are a human being after all—do you feel any remorse for that?
Erik Prince: Sure, I feel great remorse for the 41 of our men which were killed in action doing the work between Iraq and Afghanistan. I feel bad for the Iraqi or the Afghan people, who are suffering under war…
SS: Your men weren’t civilians, just walking around or passing by. Your men were contracted military workers. We’re talking about the civilian casualties.
EP: Correct, and unfortunately, there were thousands of Iraqi civilians killed before that event, and tens of thousands killed after that. Trying to work in a country that’s a very active warzone, when the country is ripping itself apart. Unfortunately there’s a lot of people suffering, and going and trying to help that situation.
Sometimes accidents can happen, but there’s been tens of thousands of people killed by suicide car bombs, by militias, by them killing each other, the same still happening in Syria, I mean, there is an untold human suffering happening on a daily basis in Syria every day.
SS: But you are a serious private military firm, you are not suicide car bombers. What about the US government? Do you feel like the US government used you as a scapegoat to avoid responsibility, in terms that “yeah, these guys went nuts and shot people, and we will prosecute them just because they are private firm”?
EP: In the Vietnam war the anti-war left went after the US troops and this time the anti-war left went after any contractors serving in that mission. You know I was a sole owner of the company, I was a Navy SEAL, I came from a conservative Republican family, my father was very wealthy, and our men were armed, and we are the largest weapons training facility in the country, privately-owned, so we made a perfect target to go after, and we really got caught in the politics of the left versus right.
The left were trying to go after George Bush and his policies. Unfortunately we were victim of this kind of tectonic plates grinding against each other.
SS: But do you feel betrayed by your government, that’s what I’m asking, because you served them after all?
EP: Building your business based on the merits, winning competitively bid contracts, performing well, doing 100,000 missions with no one in our care killed or injured, and then having it trashed because of politics—yeah, let’s say that you don’t want to go through that again.
SS: When the Nisour story broke out, I remember the government gave you sort of a limited immunity—they immunized you, and then all of a sudden it all changed. What happened there?
EP: That’s the politics of Congress in Washington and that’s why I moved on, I sold all of the Blackwater-related businesses. I am now the chairman of a company based in Hong Kong. We’re building out the Navy Logistics capability to provide secure logistics for mining or energy companies, infrastructure companies doing business in Africa or in other frontier markets. (8)
Erik Prince told a sold-out Tulip Time lunch crowd that the worth of a warrior is not best defined by his deeds, but by his enemies.
The founder of Blackwater and Holland native described his own enemies as Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and “noisy leftists.”
He said the Holland values of hard work, sacrifice and thriftiness have helped the conservative son of Holland industrialists and philanthropists Ed and Elsa Prince “to fight the good fight and finish the race.”
“That, of course, is the Holland way and it is the only way now,” he said. “It’s up to me to keep those values alive and to pass them to our children and grandchildren.” (9)
(1) “Prince Conference Center.” . Calvin College, 12 July 2002. Web. 1 May 2014. <http://www.calvin.edu/news/2002-03/princecc.htm>.
(2) Scahill, Jeremy. Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. New York: Nation Books, 2007. Print.
(3) Van Denend, Michael. “The Campaign: An Interview with Co-Chairs Milt Kuyers and Elsa Prince Broekhuizen.” The Calvin Spark Fall 2007. Web. 1 May 2014. <https://www.calvin.edu/publications/spark/2007/fall/campaign-interview.htm>.
(4) Glass, Charles. “The Warrior Class: A Golden Age for the Freelance Soldier.” Harper’s Magazine 1 Apr. 2012: 37. Web.
(5) Jackson, Angie. “Dutch-American Heritage Day honors Elsa Prince Broekhuizen.” MLive 13 Nov. 2013. http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2013/11/dutch-american_heritage_day_ho_1.html
(6) Glanz, James, and Alissa Rubin. ” From Errand to Fatal Shot to Hail of Fire to 17 Deaths .” The New York Times 3 Oct. 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/03/world/middleeast/03firefight.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&
(7) Anderson, Myrna. “Jubilee Fellows explore call to ministry.” Calvin College, 11 Mar. 2009. Web. 1 May 2014. <http://www.calvin.edu/news/archive/jubilee-fellows-explore-call-to-ministry>.
(8) Shevardnadze, Sophie. “‘Mercenaries do better job than US Army’ – Blackwater founder Erik Prince.” rt.com, 3 Feb. 2014. Web. 2 May 2014. <http://rt.com/shows/sophieco/mercenaries-better-us-army-560/>.
(9) Daining, Peter. “Erik Prince talks values, defends Blackwater at Tulip Time Lunch.” The Holland Sentinel 5 May 2010. http://www.hollandsentinel.com/x289800529/Erik-Prince-talks-values-defends-Blackwater-at-Tulip-Time-lunch
Andrew Steiner (’12) is a Grand Rapids native. He’s a fiction writer with a day job at Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank. You can also find him working part-time for Ham Family Farm, pulling weeds, planting seeds, and slinging produce at the Fulton Street Farmers Market.