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Between 1503 and 1505, Niccolò Machiavelli was responsible for organizing the defense of the city of Florence. He turned to mercenary units to bolster the defense efforts, with disastrous results. Machiavelli concluded from this experience that mercenaries were dangerous—they were devoted to their pay rather than their sovereign, and they tended to use their military skills to make money with rank indifference to the dictates of law and civil order. Those who use mercenaries may quickly learn that justice requires that they be prosecuted and severely punished, he wrote in Dell’arte della guerra. Five hundred years later, America seems to be busy relearning many of Machiavelli’s lessons.
PBS took a look at the problem of private security contractors in a special episode from its Wide Angle series. The episode is entitled “Once Upon a Coup,” and it focuses on the 2004 attempted coup d’état using mercenaries in Equatorial Guinea. You can identify a broadcaster close to you and a playing time here. I discuss the legal issues surrounding the accountability of private security contractors in this supplemental web feature entitled “The Controversial World of Private Security Contractors,” and an interview with Harper’s Washington editor Ken Silverstein figures in the main feature. You can catch the entire program at the PBS site.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Chances that a Soviet woman’s first pregnancy will end in abortion:
Peaceful fungus-farming ants are sometimes protected against nomadic raider ants by sedentary invader ants.
In San Antonio, a 150-pound pet tortoise knocked over a lamp, igniting a mattress fire that spread to a neighbor’s home.
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"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."