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The Rise of the Mercenary


How is the Iraq War unlike every other war fought in America’s history? Among other things, in that it is a war pursued by the United States with private soldiers – an enormous number of them, though thanks to that massive fog-machine at the Pentagon, we still can’t say exactly how many. But it reflects a massive change in philosophy about how to wage a war. It reflects a conscious downgrading of the role and importance of the citizen-soldier, the classic mainstay of American defense-doctrine. It’s not the patriotic call to defend country that will sustain us in this new age, it shouts out, but money, fancy weapons technology and mercenaries.

New statistics released by the United States labour department reveal that in the first three months of this year, 146 contract workers were killed in Iraq. More than 900 have been killed since March 2003. But still they go, neither soldiers nor citizens, putting their lives on the line, hiding in secure compounds when not dodging bullets and trying to avoid deadly roadblocks and explosive devices as they go about their business.

A few may be there through feelings of duty or to try to make a difference, and some because their bosses have told them to be. But for most the lure of cash outweighs fear of injury and death. For Mike, a finance expert from south-east England who works in the London office of a multinational company, the offer of six weeks in Baghdad had two attractions: great money and adventure.

But of course, above all it’s the money

“The typical wage for an expat special forces guy is £400 ($820) a day. An expat infantry soldier on an escort convoy, based in the Green Zone and working outside of it, maybe earns £175 ($365) a day,” he explains… There has been a switch, with American companies employing a lot of third-country nationals because they are cheaper.”

This piece by Steven Morris and Audrey Gillan in this morning’s Guardian caught my eye on several points, but the first was Steven Biddle’s description of life in the Green Zone, which struck me as original and smack on:

“Everyone was carrying weapons, even in the international zone. It was a weird combination of Club Med and Mad Max. There’s a big pool with tables around it. So people are in swimsuits but carrying submachine guns.”

Yes, that’s the Green Zone I know.
Perhaps the time has come to study the policy pluses and minuses of using an army of mercenaries to fight a war. Some of them are ruthless and efficient; others are foolhardy and not long to last. But above all, using money as the sole motivation for a fighting force has its drawbacks. Consider, for instance, Sacchetti’s famous tale of the great condottiere Sir John Hawkwood – the subject of a great fresco by Paolo Uccello who lies buried in the Duomo of Florence which is reproduced as the Quote for the Day. Hawkwood sold his services to the high bidder and transformed the nature of warfare as Italy emerged from the Middle Ages and entered the Renaissance. He brought efficiency and brutality. And in the end he opted to become a good Florentine. Still the life of Hawkwood stands for some distasteful propositions, including this: when discipline is lacking and money is the sole motivator, horrible things are likely to happen.

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