Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hating Mercenaries

Blackwater is in trouble. Yes, I'm coming late to this story. But there's just been so much going on - new breakfast items, gay wizards, gay Germans, and various other minutiae have occupied the attention of me and my fellow Skeptics. As usual, however, my perspective is sufficiently deeper than that offered by contemporaneous reports that I can justify considerable delay. I am sure I will not disappoint.

There is something deeper in the Blackwater story than mere popular disgust at the firm's collateral-damage-intensive tactics. (Spot the understatement). Americans dislike mercenaries. Calling the Blackwater men "mercenaries" effectively ends conversation on the matter, actually, because the term has such distasteful connotations for us. Calling Blackwater a "private security firm" at least leaves its utility open to debate. Many do not seem to realize that Blackwater ranks are made up of, well, former U.S. military men. Check out the site:
Minimum of 8 years of active US military experience (National Guard & reserve time does not count) and qualified in Special Operations Forces (Navy: SEAL, Army: Special Forces, Ranger, Marine: Force Recon, Air Force CCT, PJ)
So it's not as if these men haven't done considerable time in public service.

As I said, Americans dislike mercenaries. Many people find this animus to stem from King George III's use of Hessian mercenaries against the colonists in our Revolutionary War. I don't doubt that such soldiers were viewed with disfavor - on the one side, you have colonials fighting for their freedom, and on the other, hired goons fighting against foreigners, for foreigners, for no other reason than that there is money to be made. This view is valid, but a bit short-sighted. Mercenaries, and the powers that hire them, have been hated in Western culture at least since the Roman Republic. Recall that Rome fought three wars with Carthage for domination of the western Mediterranean. Carthage was rich, having originally been founded as a colony of the famed sea-trading Phoenicians. Because Carthage was wealthy, it could hire mercenaries to fight for it, and it was known for fielding large numbers of such mercenaries in defense of its interests. The Romans, on the other hand, fought for Rome because it was their duty to do so. To some extent, this account is inaccurate, because the Romans certainly were motivated, to some extent, by profit in trying to eliminate their Carthaginian rivals, but that issue is virtually irrelevant. What is relevant is that, in the Western mind, soldiers fighting for honor, for religion, for duty, or, more generally, for some values, were considered morally superior than those fighting merely for profit. Fighting for profit has become regarded pretty widely as evil - even the obnoxious "No Blood for Oil" slogan has its origins in our collective hatred of the war profiteer.

Examining the issue more closely, since we now know its history better, we can see that distrust of mercenaries has good practical and moral justification. If the mercenary fights for money, then if your enemy has more money, you can reasonably expect the mercenary to switch sides. Mercenaries that take payment from both sides are a practical threat as well, wasting money and profiting at the expense of the commonwealth. And as our ethics have become developed to the point that even lawful killing (that done by the State pursuant to due process convictions of criminals; and that done by the military in the prosecution of a just war; and private self-defense) must have the purest motives to be justifiable, the mercenary strikes us as a person who can never justify his killing, and who might, if the price is high enough, kill anyone. The rules of war are difficult to express; the mercenary makes those rules even more indistinct. This line-blurring does not sit well with civilized people in the 21st century.

As I hope you've noticed, this discussion was abstract, said little about whether Blackwater ought to continue to provide security for us in Iraq or elsewhere, and provided no concrete judgment on the suitability of the use of mercenaries in modern warfare. I thought, to the contrary, that this historical and philosophical view of the matter is necessary, in order to uncover all the ideological assumptions behind the term "mercenary" and to locate the discussion ethically.

One more thing: $550 a day, these men earn. What does that say about everything?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home