Insider baseball types will recall all the scorn heaped upon Kos for his dismissive remarks about mercenaries in Iraq. To be fair, I’m sure a lot of these guys are just working Joes, truck drivers and so on, lured there by the prospect of quick money, just like people I knew growing up were lured to Alaska during the fishing season you go for a few months and make enough money to live for a year.
But Iraq’s not Alaska, and when these guys are carrying guns and acting for all practical purposes as soldiers, things get a little ambiguous.
American news organizations are not doing the truth a favor when they call these hired guns “U.S. military contractors.” They are not even being accurate: The men were not contractors to the government, but Hessians or mercenary soldiers in the employ of a corporate warlord, namely Blackwater Security Consulting. Let’s call these people what they are, even though Americans have yet to feel completely comfortable with the idea of killing for money.
Perhaps to help us get over any queasiness we might be experiencing in that department, a number of stories about the Blackwater mercenaries have stressed that they were former members of elite units of the American military. It has even been said that they gave their lives for “freedom.” Whose freedom is left unsaid, but surely no more overused and abused word can be found in contemporary American English. The patriotic crap aside, if these men’s primary motives for being in Iraq were flag and country, they’d still be in the armed services. At a pay grade of $350,000 a year, we know why they were there.
Does that justify killing them? No, nothing can justify taking human life but if you take one-third of a million dollars a year to walk around in somebody else’s country with a machine gun, and you get wasted by the locals, I don’t think you deserve a very big or elaborate funeral. They were there for the money, and these men elite ex-soldiers that they were knew the risks, and they took them. So be it.
Evidently, thousands of mercenaries have been put to work in Iraq, and this raises some troublesome questions. Is all this stuff we are fed on TV and in the newspapers about the new and democratic Iraqi Army and constabulary just lies? Why aren’t Iraqis guarding “bureaucrats, soldiers and intelligence officers”? Why aren’t soldiers guarding themselves?
Sooner or later, the American troops are going to find out about this. Is it going to occur to the young gung-ho guys, who volunteered right out of high school, that they are risking life and limb for chump change while other men (and probably a few women) with the same skill sets are getting rich? What will be the reaction of the middle-aged reservists and National Guard people serving for a few hundred dollars a month, at the risk of job and mortgage, when they find out about the thousands of mercenaries being paid a king’s ransom to do for money what they do for country? If there is a morale problem now, as these stories about suicides among our service people suggest, what, pray tell, will be the state of morale then?
Not only does privatization not save money waging war, it creates problem after problem, only some of which are visible at this juncture. If captured, are these mercenaries prisoners of war and subject to the Geneva Convention, or can they licitly be shot as spies and saboteurs?
We know that there are thousands of mercenaries now loose in Iraq. Only some of them work for Blackwater. Apparently, there are a number of companies who hire these people, so the question arises about how much control the American authorities have over the irregulars running about the country. Dyncorp mercenaries in the former Yugoslavia were accused of rape and robbery. The point is that they are not subject to military discipline, and even if they commit no acts universally regarded as criminal, they may still do things that offend the Iraqis: They might drink alcohol, use insulting gestures, whistle at women or find a dozen ways to get into trouble doing things which are innocent enough if done in Indiana, but which are incendiary acts if done in Basra.