Max Boot: Mercenaries are ok





[Mr. Boot is the author of The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.]

Since I have been defending, in recent days, the general idea of using mercenaries—even while calling for greater oversight of what they are actually doing in Iraq—I have often heard from skeptics that it is somehow “un-American” to rely on hired hands to do your fighting. Often cited is the fact that Americans have long hated the Hessians (actually, they came from all over Germany, not just from Hesse-Kassel) hired by the British to fight the American rebellion that began in 1776.

Well, of course, any nation will hate foreign troops who fight particularly hard and even viciously, as the “Hessians” did. But that’s hardly an argument against employing them. Quite the contrary. In fact, the U.S. has a long tradition of celebrated mercenaries. Here is a partial list:

• The privateers who harassed British shipping during both the War of Independence and the War of 1812.

• John Paul Jones, who, after the American Revolution, was an admiral in the Russian navy.

• The Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben, two of the most celebrated foreigners who helped the Continental Army fight for independence.

• The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which provided intelligence for the Union, and personal protection for President Lincoln, during the Civil War.

• Various Native American allies, who provided invaluable help in battles ranging from Jamestown to Wounded Knee.

• The Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of the French air force composed of Americans in World War I.

• Douglas MacArthur, who in the 1930’s, after stepping down as Army chief of staff, became a field marshal in the Philippines armed forces.

• The Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots led by Claire Chennault, who flew on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek in World War II.

• The Eagle Squadron, a unit of the Royal Air Force composed of American pilots in World War II.

• The Montagnards, the tribesmen who were recruited and organized into an armed force by the CIA and Army Special Forces to fight the Communists during the Vietnam War.

Mercenaries all, and yet they are all heroes of American history. Why is it impossible to imagine that mercenaries today could be equally useful, and sometimes even heroic?


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Marie E Hooper - 10/21/2007

If, as Mr. Baker notes, the privitization of the American military is a logical outcome of the US's willingness to follow the money no matter where it leads, we are all in big trouble. When politics becomes nothing more than selling/renting to the highest bidder, without some kind of oversight and direction by responsible, accountable leaders, that seems a recipe for chaos and loss of freedom.

Mercenaries have certainly been used to our benefit in the past; no question. But if money is their motive, they will - predictably - support whoever pays most. And that too has a long history, little of it positive.


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Except for the inclusion of the Marquis de La Fayette in the annals and chronology of mercenaries from America or in the service of American war effort Boot's list is fairly supportive of his contention.

However to classify La Fayette as a mercenary is tantamount to the inclusion of the Lincoln (American) Brigade in the Spanish Civil war among these fighters for hire at the going rate plus plus (++).

That,the inclusion of the Lincoln Brigade, however would do a grave injustice to an outstanding American contribution to the universal progressive struggle , no matter how miniscule it generally is and has been . Whereas the inclusion of La Fayette would amount to an act of stark ingratitude and will unjustly defame a notable freedom fighter; the CHE Guevara of that phase.

Nevertheless Boot's implicit contention of a long standig amicable,symbiotic?,relation between America and mercenaries , which is gaining increasing credence with every passing day, seems to stand now practically unchalengeable, with Blackwater & Associates achievements in the open.

For an internally capitalist ,
externally imperialist, free market loving and market forces adoring America the open adoption of Fighters for (very good) Money as a major political/military accessory is only natural and true to form and, if anything, overdue!

As Blackwater CEO Erik Prince put it, I am paraphrasing; it is not only efficient but also cost effective!

Blackwater and others seems to pave the way for the PRIVATIZATION of the whole American Army which would be the logical culmination of the ever vibrant capitalist doctrine.

The USA will then have, possibly for the first time in its history, to worry about an internal danger.


HNN - 10/17/2007

There are many different definitions of the word "mercenary," including an official treaty-based definition under which the concept has essentially ceased to exist. However, under accepted English usage, the term has referred to persons who, motivated solely by monetary gain, bear arms for a foreign power. This definition does not apply to the majority of the people on Max Boot's list. Lafayette and von Steuben were each commissioned officers in the Continental Army, and were granted US citizenship and pensions by Act of Congress. Douglas MacArthur received his appointment as a formal military honor. To call these people mercenaries is totally preposterous. But it erases any questions about Max Boot's research, since he is reproducing here, unchecked, security contractor industry propaganda which has been regularly disseminated for several years now. The small problem: it's inaccurate.

Scott Horton, Columbia University, New York


Arnold Shcherban - 10/14/2007

Well said, Omar.
Mr. Boot deserves to be booted for
practically each one of his articles... of faith, with the latter replacing logic and facts.

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