Sean McFate talks about SHADOW WAR
SHADOW WAR begins with Tom Locke, a private contractor assigned to a dangerous mission. He has one week to rescue a Ukraine wealthy businessman’s family, and lead an assault on Russian forces to place that rich oligarch in a position of influence and leadership. With a team of highly trained mercenaries and careful planning it appears he will accomplish the mission. Getting in the way of success is Alie Macfarlane, an old love who stumbles, unluckily, back into his life at the very worst time imaginable and his boss, Brad Winters, is engaged in a secretive, high-stakes geopolitical chess game with influential power brokers in capitals around the world.
Elise Cooper: Why did you decide to write this story as a novel?
Sean McFate: This is my first fiction book. It actually began as a memoir and I flipped it to fiction. Sometimes fiction can reveal truths better than reality. I couldn’t put certain things in a nonfiction book for various reasons including the threat of getting sued.
EC: Is Tom Locke based on you?
SM: Yes, he is a lot like me although more damaged and bad assed. His best friend Miles was an actual person, modeled after my platoon sergeant and was like an older brother to me. Locke and I served in the 82nd Airborne division of the United States Army as paratroopers from 1992 – 2000, and later worked as private military contractors. Locke is still a contractor while I am now a professor at Georgetown University, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and associate professor at National Defense. The differences are I did not have the actual mission assigned to Locke in the Ukraine, but we both worked on stopping genocides, arms deals, and went after African warlords.
EC: Is Locke’s boss Brad Winters based on a real person?
SM: Almost all the characters are based on real people or are hybrid. Winters is a composite of two to three people. As he is portrayed in the book, the bosses are extremely smart, Machiavellian, shrewd, very ambitious, who work for their own interests without any scruples.
EC: It seems a lot of thrillers are transitioning away from terrorism and onto Eastern Europe. Yours included. Why this plot?
SM: I see Putin as the biggest threat to the US, even more than ISIS. In future years the rise of nationalism will allow Putin to move into Eastern Europe through shadow wars. Remember he thought the worst event of the 20th Century was the dismantlement of the Soviet Union. He has a Czarist ambition for Eastern Europe. This plot shows how he might do it.
EC: Can you explain what a Shadow War is?
SM: In this Internet age someone like Putin will take over a country, not like the Soviets did, but through disruption and installing a puppet to rule. It is done with massive propaganda, Internet trolls, proxy militia, mercenaries, and “Little Green Men,” Russian soldiers without Russian insignia on their fatigues. Putin understands America will probably not risk World War III over Article 5 of NATO.
EC: You show how women play a role in missions that are not in the military. Please explain.
SF: I think women should be portrayed accurately, not as damsels in distress, window dressing, or babes. The women I came across were very courageous; yet, still maintained their femininity. In this book the character Alie was concerned about saving girls from child slavery who was a real person as a foreign aid worker. In my next book, Kylah, also based on a real person, is a field doctor. She does not follow the Hippocratic Oath literally and will not treat ISIS fighters. I want to show how women are strong, powerful with different professions who play by their own rules. They are tough and will not hesitate to engage in a firefight. They are based on women I have come across in these situations.
EC: Did you want to change the impression people have about mercenaries/contractors?
SM: I wanted to give them a real face. They are human beings who are not stock villains and do have a warrior ethos. I wanted to shed light on these new types of warriors. I think they will be used more and more because they allow for plausible deniability, are cheaper, and can provide manpower. They are a way for administrations to have a lack of transparency, oversight, and accountability. For example we have 3500 troops on the ground in Iraq, but 7000 contractors. Remember Senator Obama proposed legislation against private military contractors that President Obama has not touched.
EC: You wrote the dedication to Theodore Roosevelt and in the story gave a shout out to General Stanley McChrystal. Please explain.
SM: When I was in the military I was inspired by Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech. I wanted to use those sentiments for this story. Those in the arena are doing their best given limited time and information and have to work under terrible circumstances. General McChrystal understood this and was the best military commander I had the privilege to work with. He is the real deal. He will go to hell and back with his troops.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book besides an entertaining story?
MF: Corporations are involved in conflicts like Ukraine. Today’s “great powers” aren’t just countries, they’re multinational corporations. SHADOW WAR reveals some of the connections between Wall Street and K Street, and how national interests can be manipulated for shareholder profit. What happens to Tom Locke in SHADOW WAR is a very good introduction to the ways modern warriors must navigate in this frightening new world. The book looks at the changing nature of war and the changing nature of warriors.