After the terrorist attack in Paris, fellow writer Pablo James told you how to join the French Foreign Legion if you really wanted to get into the fight. But there are some difficulties with that. You have to learn French for one thing. And it is a sincere commitment: The Legion doesn’t play.
However, if you don’t want to partake of the rigors in the French Foreign Legion, you can still participate. According to the New York Times, the United Arab Emirates is building a nice little force out of South American personnel, mainly Colombian but with a smattering of others, to fight for them in Yemen.
The idea is that these mercenaries will be more reliable toward the regime. Perhaps, and perhaps not, certainly there are going to be fun times had by all. The Fog of War works both ways and while many of these Columbians were from the military at home, a mercenary force is a bit different when the only true loyalty is to the check.
The U.S. military has been called a mercenary force by unkind and clueless folks. The difference is when the chips are down; Soldiers will still fight for their Nation and pay a price no check can cover. Mercenaries usually cannot, or perhaps it is better to say, will not, fight to the death unless they are trapped.
- The Law of War leaves a mercenaries status up for grabs. You are not afforded the rights under the Geneva Convention unless they are freely offered. Given that very few if any rules of war are being followed in Yemen, this might be a moot point. Most of the places in the Middle East where a mercenary might get captured encourage you to scream before you die, and they will help if you feel underwhelmed.
- The nation that hired you might decide they are done with you. You are there by their rules, their sufferance and if you displease them, you become a liability. Know what you are signing up for. Uncle Sugar isn’t coming for you if you get into a bind.
- The pay is good, provided you live to spend it.
It is hard enough to be in the military with all the rules of engagement that you are required to follow. But in the military, you have staff, lawyers, and commanders who are there to keep you in line and keep the heat off you provided you are doing what you are told. It’s not foolproof but it helps.
In a mercenary outfit, the descent into chaos could be a matter of minutes once the feces hits the rotary impeller. How do you intend to get home? What happens if you get permanently injured? Being a mercenary sounds like a dream until that happens.
But if you need an outlet or you want to get stuck in with some like-minded brothers of mayhem, feel free. The Columbians are working for the United Arab Emirates and getting paid anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 a month with bonuses for in theater deployments. That is more than a private makes in the U.S. Army. It is also about 5 times or more what the average Colombian soldier was getting paid.
It isn’t new. This idea is older than the Bible. Take the poor from one place and use them to kill the poor from another place. The Romans had many mercenary armies. They have participated in virtually every war we can find in recorded history. The United States has even offered and supported mercenary forces. The Flying Tigers, American Volunteer Group, fought against the Japanese.
While there is controversy about them, the fact remains was that they were equipped by the United States but paid by the Chinese. When the U.S. joined WWII after Pearl Harbor, many of the pilots came back to the fold and brought what they learned with them.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, “contractors” were there doing the jobs that servicemen and women were doing. It cost three times what it should have but the folks back home did not count contractors. Deployed servicemen and women were counted. Congress knew the numbers and every step was as poignant and political at the same time.
The loss of a member of the military was tracked and reported. No one gave two shits about a contractor killed unless it was in a (trigger warning) gruesome fashion. The military could “focus” on the war and leave the rest to contractors. There were nearly as many contract personnel in Iraq as there were soldiers. I cannot tell you how peacefully I slept at night knowing that Ugandan Warriors were guarding my perimeter.
My introduction to those guys was literally on my first day; one of them shot four others in the guard tower because he pulled the trigger on his AK-47 to see if it was loaded. It was. Or the time that they called in a work order because a generator light stand stopped working. Somehow their alert behavior failed to detect Iraqis cutting the fence, turning off the light stand, and driving away with it. But I digress.
Some of the folks I dealt with were okay; some not so much. Others were so full of testosterone bald men could grow hair and women beards just by standing next to them. There were professionals, individuals who in word and deed understood they were part of the team perhaps in a different uniform but part of the whole. Others were glory hounds pure and simple and I distrusted being around them.
This is the problem. They have no one to depend upon but themselves and their team ethic reflects it. They know they are outside the expected bounds of war unless called into account. That is not to say that there have not been soldiers who crossed the line in a bad way. But the path for the mercenary is a bit less cut and dry.
Maybe this is what we need. We don’t need standing armies. We just hire mercenaries. If you are a fan of science fiction, Hammer’s Slammers is perhaps the best or at least the most interesting take. The money is paid to a bonding authority that monitors. The mercenaries fight within the established rules. Surrender is acceptable if defeated because you live to fight another day. And no one violates the contract because it is bad for business.
Of course the richer you are the better mercenaries you can hire. Unless you want to use your riches to hire cannon fodder to fight cannon fodder so that you don’t get your own hands dirty.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on November 29, 2015.
Leonard O. Benton is retired from active duty military service with 24 years and two combat deployments to Iraq. He left the Regular Army after 10 years and became a National Guard Recruiter for his first tour in the AGR program followed by over 10 years in Operations as Force Protection, CBRN and three years as C-IED. He has an Associates degree and is currently working on his Bachelor’s. He is an amateur metal smith and when he is not working or writing he can often be found in his shop pounding away in the attempt to transform a lump of metal into an icon of beauty or function. His years of operational planning, threat analysis, and a deeply cynical view of our imperfect world leads him to focus on world events and cultural beliefs that tend to cause the most friction and chaos in the world around us. He is a libertarian and he believes in personal freedoms and accountability. The Havok Journal gave him an outlet to express the things he sees wrong in the world and the opportunity to once again provide advice on how to fix it. Leonard can be contacted a firstname.lastname@example.org.