‘Missionaries’ by Phil Klay – It Opened My Eyes


‘Missionaries’ by Phil Klay   (2020)  –  404 pages

‘Missionaries’ is a novel about the United States’ never-ending, misbegotten wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, and now Yemen. It is especially about the drug wars in Colombia. ‘Missionaries’ opened my eyes to what is really happening in this world. The United States has inserted themselves into the local battles in these countries with little understanding of what’s going on, like the war in Vietnam. This is about the new kind of wars the United States is fighting in the 21st century, wars that never end.

‘Missionaries’ is a novel that will change your entire worldview. It is an example of how fiction can provide more meaningful information than non-fiction and provide it in a more enjoyable and palatable form.

In Columbia, the United States has been heavily involved in the conflict since its beginnings, when in the early 1960s the U.S. government encouraged the Colombian military to attack leftist guerrillas in rural Colombia. This was part of the U.S. fight against “communism”. Besides the military, the United States also encouraged right-wing paramilitary groups to fight the guerrillas. These paramilitary groups soon developed into ruthless violent vigilantes, and they also became heavily involved in the illegal drug trade of cocaine and other substances themselves.

Here is what happens when a man is chainsawed in half in the public square of a small village.”

Now US private mercenary army companies such as Academi (formerly Blackwater) and Dyncorp recruit former members of Colombian paramilitary groups to fight in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere because these guys have no qualms about killing or torturing people.

Even military people tend to hold mercenaries in contempt.”

In ‘Missionaries’, four narrators tell the interlocking stories in Colombia of the coco growers, the narcotics dealers, the Colombian army, and the paramilitary groups. And overseeing it all are the US Special Forces with their drones, a “higher level of badassery”. Most of the people who have been killed or tortured in these drug wars in Colombia do not belong to any of these groups but instead have been civilians. Shoot first and don’t ask questions later. It was not unusual for a former Colombian military officer to turn paramilitary operator, then turn narcotics dealer.

By relating the stories of each of the main characters up until then, Phil Klay has found a fascinating way to bring us up to speed on his intricate yet tragic story. And then ‘Missionaries winds up with a rousing scary thrill ride.

And now there is the war in Yemen, “one half war and one half extermination”, which the journalist in ‘Missionaries’ refers to as “the most fucked-up war we’re engaged in right now”.

‘Missionaries’ goes a long way to explain why the United States wound up with a nasty corrupt authoritarian fool for its President.


Grade:   A



4 responses to this post.

  1. What a brilliant cover, in juxtaposition with the title which, when I saw it in my inbox, made me think of something entirely different!

    Liked by 1 person


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