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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

March 31, 2006
Am I Wrong?

Or is the proliferation and expansion of mercenaries for hire in our society something that we should all be really, really worried about?

I mean, some of us bitched about the government hiring mercenaries to walk the streets of New Orleans, but no one else really seemed to give a shit.*

Now this corporation of mercenaries feels secure enough to start giving press conferences and advertising that they're ready, willing, and able to go kill people for anyone who has the money to hire them.

Is there a point at which any significant number of citizens in this country are going to rise up and say enough with the killing and enough with the fascination of immature boys playing soldiers and enough with the bloated DoD budget, it's time we started to be about more than death and destruction?


* It sure didn't become a major story in the world o'blog. Which is a pity, since it's just the kind of below-the-radar precedent-making activity that y'all should have been caring about.

And, yes, I'm bitter and annoyed about that.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:24 AM


I understand the fear of rogue private militaries, but there's a big upside, too. New Orleans is a good example, where private security forces kept the peace in places the cops wouldn't cover. If you were there at the time you'd probably by grateful for the service. The Darfur situation could be a good spot, too. After all, no one in our government seems to have any desire for a solution.

Private military has a long history in the US, it's even alluded to in the constitution. (The 'letters of marque' bit in section 8)

Posted by: Walter at March 31, 2006 09:42 AM

places the cops wouldn't cover

It's not a matter of preference, but of personell.

If we paid enough taxes and forced our local leaders to work with each other instead of engaging in pissing matches, we could have brought in actual police from elsewhere to cover crises like this.

If I were in New Orleans and one of my neighbors had hired guns around, I'd have to wonder whether I was one of the things he was worried about....

Letters of Marque refer to privateers who operated on the sea, not within the territorial US, and have been illegal by international treaty for over a century.

Try again?

Posted by: Ahistoricality at March 31, 2006 12:22 PM

Walter, I was about to object to your Letters of Marque comparison but Ahistoricality beat me to it.

Points I want to make:

We have a National Guard. These are the people that should have been patrolling New Orleans. They're supposed to help out in national emergencies. *

I've never been able to find the words to express just how outraged I am to read that we're using mercenaries, not troops trained in civil defense and policework, to patrol the devastated streets of a USofA city whose few remaining citizens are hungry, confused, frightened, and desperate for support.

Nor have I ever been able to figure out why there's been absolutely no outrage about this. I don't care if those guys are Buddhist monks in their spare time, it's not the potential for mindless or senseless violence I'm worried about (although the news that some of them were freshly returned from Iraq wasn't encouraging).

I'm appalled by what it says about our country that we can't find police, or even domestically stationed soldiers to secure the water-logged territory of one town.


* I've never liked the idea of using the National Guard to augment regular troops overseas but in the past I always naively assumed that, should we do so, it would be because that battle was an extension of guarding us nationally.

Afghanistan passed the smell test.

Iraq never even came close.

Posted by: Anne at March 31, 2006 12:40 PM

I don't understand why, after decades of peacekeeping operations and disaster relief at the hands of military organizations (and post-levee N.O. certainly qualified as both), we haven't professionalized the process: we should have a branch of the military -- or at least an officer corps -- whose expertise is in these areas and who can take the lead on training and commanding military/paramilitary forces like National Guards or police auxiliaries, etc.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at April 1, 2006 08:08 PM

I do think it was a matter of preference! And if you don't think we pay enough in taxes to cover the expense, well, that leaves me at a loss of words. We can pay for it many times over. For just the cost of one bridge in Alaska...

As for the issue of letters of marque being extaterritorial, as I understand it, Blackwater's services are provided primarily overseas. I assume the government in Darfur, for example, would consider them to be illegal. They might be a bother for a regime which at best is ineffective against, and at worst supporting murderous militias.

Posted by: Walter at April 1, 2006 09:15 PM

Jonathan, I thought that "professional assistance" thing was largely what the National Guard was supposed to be about.

Certainly the people I used to know who were in the N.G. talked about that kind of thing.

What I'm saying is that I'm mot sure I need the need for the "regular" military to be trained to "lead" National Guard troops when it comes to domestic disaster relief. The Guard has their own officers, after all.

Posted by: Anne at April 2, 2006 10:09 AM

Walter - The activities of corporations like Blackwater overseas is another topic. My primary point of irritation (in this post) is that they're being used domestically.

As for your example, if the government in Darfur finds the presence of mercenaries on their soil illegal, they're entitled to hunt them down and arrest them, just as any government would be entitled to do. As they are entitled to arrest those who hired the mercenaries in the first place.

Posted by: Anne at April 2, 2006 10:13 AM

And if you don't think we pay enough in taxes to cover the expense, well, that leaves me at a loss of words. We can pay for it many times over. For just the cost of one bridge in Alaska...

Oh, sure, and the roads you drive on weren't pork projects at some point? Infrastructure expenditures are different than ongoing personnel expenditures, and as easy as it is to fulminate about "waste" in the system, targetting specific projects like this just shifts the pork; it doesn't make the budget kosher (so to speak). Your point, though, is about priorities, and to some extent I agree.

Taxes are not inherently fungible, nor are "forces". We pay federal taxes for the regular military and Guard; we pay state taxes for state police and State Guards, we pay local taxes for local police. They are not, as Tim Burke says, interoperable unless we specifically work to make them work together. What we have now is a system in which they do not work together well.

Posted by: Ahistoricality at April 2, 2006 01:55 PM