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Tuesday: August 30, 2005

More On Mercenaries

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:43 PM UTC

Legacy Media is developing a nasty habit of calling American soldiers “mercenaries”. Last month it was David M. Kennedy in The New York Times, who used the M-word and made an extended parallel between Americans in Iraq and Hessians in the American Revolution (þ Blackfive). Now Eleanor Clift has repeated the “mercenary” slur on the McLaughlin Group (þ Mean Mr. Mustard and Ace of Spades). This has naturally inspired contemptuous comments on all three of the linked blogs and a few others I’ve forgotten.

So far, the argument is all over the generosity or otherwise of military pay and benefits. This seems to me to miss the fundamental point. As the name implies — it is related to “mercantile” and “merchandise” — a mercenary is someone who fights primarily for money and not for patriotism or any other noble passion. It is easy enough to tell the difference. The question is not how much someone is paid to fight, but whether he would willingly fight for either side, and only prefers one or the other because it offers the highest pay for the lowest risk of death or dismemberment. History is filled with examples of mercenaries changing sides, singly or as entire units, because the pay was better (or the risk of death lower) on the other side. Do Kennedy and Clift believe that any significant number of American troops in Iraq would fight for the other side for 10% more money, or even for 100% or 1,000% more? If they do, they are damned fools. If they do not, in what sense can it be said that American troops are motivated primarily by money, and therefore mercenaries? Of course, the same considerations apply to private contractors in Iraq. The number of U.S. citizens who would be willing to work for the ‘insurgents’ if their pay were increased to three or ten or thirty times the current rate is probably not zero, but I suspect it’s still well under 1%.

This post is a reprise of one I wrote April 2nd of last year, replying to a filthy troll’s assertion that the Blackwater contractors murdered and mutilated in Fallujah were mercenaries because they were (allegedly) motivated entirely by money. A month later, I posted Housman’s poem “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”, which was his reply to World War I propaganda that called British troops “mercenaries” because they were volunteers where Germany’s were draftees.

3 Comments

  1. “The question is not how much someone is paid to fight, but whether he would willingly fight for either side, and only prefers one or the other because it offers the highest pay for the lowest risk of death or dismemberment.”

    As one of the aformentioned commenters on another site, I’d like to say that you have it exactly right here. I DO enjoy the money I make, and I wouldn’t do it for free (it’d take a full-on invasion of US soil to get me to engage in close combat pro bono), but there is of course no dollar amount high enough to get me to switch sides.

    Comment by File Closer — Wednesday: August 31, 2005 @ 9:46 AM UTC

  2. What does the thorn symbol stand for in your hat tips?

    Comment by B. K. Oxley (binkley) — Sunday: September 11, 2005 @ 1:57 PM UTC

  3. I got that from Colby Cosh, who proposed it as a handy ‘hat tip’ symbol. Nothing to do with the sound of thorn, the point is that it looks like a hat tipped over on its side.

    Comment by Dr. Weevil — Sunday: September 11, 2005 @ 10:42 PM UTC

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