Blackwater, Mercenaries and War on Terror

Over the last several years there has been much comment about the employment of Blackwater to provide special security forces for our government facilities, private businesses and even some of the Iraqi government officials and agencies in Iraq.  I am amazed at some of the comments about this use of such a force.  They are loosely defined as mercenaries.  But the use of non traditional troops by countries at war has a long history throughout the world and by many, many nations or empires over the years. 

The Romans and Egyptians used mercenaries often in their wars and to pacify lands under their control.  The Romans would quite commonly employ some portions of a defeated army to become an attached unit or auxillary to the regular Roman army.  This was done in Gaul repeatedly.  They would be paid by Romans for their services.  Indeed over the years some of those mercenaries became Roman citizens and some of their commanders rose very high in the ranks of the Roman army and the political structure of Rome.   Attila the Hun did the same thing by making alliances with local populations and employing them for pay to protect his interest as he advanced on Rome.  Genghis Khan engaged untold numbers of what we would call mercenaries to expand his empire.  There weren’t enough Mongols to hold all the territory that he conquered and these forces helped control local peoples.  During the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages it was very common for a King or Prince to send his army to fight with another nation-city state and would hire outright other forces to assist his troops or even take a leading role in the fighting in exchange for payment through his on funds or from the rewards of victory.   The Swiss were famous for hiring themselves out for any war for payment.

During the French and Indian War in the mid 18th century the French and the British both employed local Indian tribes to be their allies in the fight.   On the high seas it was very common for several centuries for privateers to be hired to capture and intern enemy ships or sink them.  They were often hired directly by the King or Queen and not part of the regular navy of a that nation.   Sir Francis Drake was a privateer for Queen Elizabeth.  He was not in the regular British Navy for much of his career.   This custom is even embedded in our Constitution in Article One, section 8, the enumerated powers.  They were called Letters of Marque.  

In the more modern era we used the Resistance forces during WWII on a  regular basis.  They were freedom fighters but also they were mercenaries.  They got their money, arms and supplies from the Allies.   They were active all over Europe from the Balkans and Greece to the western shores of France.  They did our bidding for the most part and were paid. They were not part of any regular army and were considered terrorists by the Axis because of that.  They specialized in the “roadside” bomb attack on facilities and troops of the Axis.  One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist often.   The Belgians used mercenaries on a regular basis to protect their colonial interests in Africa well into the 1980’s.  These were true mercenaries with no affiliation with the Belgian military but controlled by the Belgian government.  Iran uses Hezbollah today as its mercenaries in Lebanon and Gaza.  They pay for everything in exchange for their terrorist activities.   Ever heard of the French foreign legion?   What do you think they were at the core?  During the Viet Nam war we regularly used local tribes like the Montangards to assist our troops and they were paid.  We used the CIA to advance our interests there.  The Soviets use of mercenaries is too vast to record.  If you don’t believe me then read some history of the Cold War.  They funded terror operation on a routine basis to advance their communist agenda.

There is much talk also and criticism of the use of Haliburton in Iraq like that is some new method of employing private companies to provide logistical and support capabilities to our troops in exchange for pay.  During the Viet Nam war under a Democratic President the same thing was done.  Then in was Brown and Root that got all the Pentagon contracts. Who do you think built all those airports, sea ports, barracks, PX’s, mess halls, hangars and everything else for our troops during that war?  At the very beginning it was the army engineers.  But the build up was too fast and Brown and Root was brought in to do everything.  They made lots of money.  There was no outcry at first from the left because the President was a left leaning Democrat.  As the left’s view of the war changed then there was a great deal of ourcry.  Like they just discovered what was so obvious all along.    The above examples are only a thin sliver of the the use of mercenaries or hired armies throughout history.  They are literally too numerous to recount in full.

Blackwater is doing nothing new.  This is not some startling change in the use of non military companies or personnel to provide services or even fighting capability to an army at war.  Maybe it is a good idea or not.  I personally don’t have a problem with it.  I would prefer it not be done but in war you have to adapt to the circumstances facing you or you start losing ground.  Using outfits like Blackwater to fill in the “gaps” is not such a terrible thing.  Do you want American troops guarding every Iraqi bureaucrat or local governnor?   They are better employed fighting Al Queada than providing security services.

It would be better if everyone who works pays some income tax.  They need to have a stake in our affairs like those who are paying for everything.  That would be in addition to social security and medicar payments, real income taxes.  I would be happy if it was very low for those not earning much. But they should pay something.  If we have a democratic society and everyone has their rights they also should share the responsibilities.  It would also make them much more attentive to the fiscal management, or mismanagement of our government by the politicians in Washington.


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