A mercenary by any other name still is
Commentary by Dick Dorworth
"The difference between the right word
and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the
— Mark Twain
Words, as we all know, can obscure as well
as reveal. Using the just right word to describe a person, a situation, an
action or an attitude makes all the difference in understanding and responding
appropriately. The right word is the preferred medium of what a Buddhist would
term "right thought." The nearly right word is the preferred medium of the
For instance, the word "mercenary" is
conspicuously absent from the daily news reports from Iraq; but the mercenary is
a major (and expensive) player in the daily events of the American occupation of
Iraq. When was the last time you read or heard about mercenaries in Iraq? We
read and hear daily about "private contractors," "private security firms,"
"civilian workers," "civilian contractors" and other nearly right descriptions
of the large number of private civilians in Iraq who are, not to put too fine a
point on it, hired guns. They are not soldiers, but, rather, soldiers of
fortune. The just right word for soldier of fortune is mercenary. Ethically, the
difference between a soldier and a soldier of fortune is the same as that
between lightning and the lightning bug.
The Oxford dictionary of English defines
mercenary as: adjective (of a person or their behavior) primarily concerned with
making money at the expense of ethics. "She’s nothing but a mercenary little
gold-digger." Noun: a professional soldier hired to serve in a foreign army; a
person primarily concerned with material reward at the expense of ethics.
The operative phrase is "at the expense of
A soldier in the U.S. military, beginning
with the Commander-in-Chief at the top and descending down to the first day
recruit in training camp, is, or at least is supposed to be, bound by ethical
rules of conduct, responsibility, accountability and, even, legal constraints.
That such controls are not always operative in the U.S. military, from privates
to the president, is abundantly clear; but a soldier serves his country and his
countrymen, however well or poorly he performs, while a soldier of fortune
serves him (or her) self and the corporation issuing the paycheck. The soldier
is guided by the ethics of patriotism; the soldier of fortune is guided by the
ethics of the hireling. The difference is profound and worth far more thought,
reportage and discussion than it is getting, if for no other reason than both
soldier and mercenary are doing what they do (another thing to think about) in
your name, with your money and the money of your children and grandchildren.
There are an increasing number of American
companies that hire, train and rent out mercenaries to corporations and
individuals who can afford them and which, for whatever reasons, have use for a
small, well-equipped, well-trained private army to further their business goals.
These companies and their guns for hire are a huge presence in Iraq. They are
almost but not quite invisible to the American public, even though the American
public is paying for them, in many cases to the tune of $1000 to $1500 a day per
mercenary. This is not a bad wage, despite the brutality and risk of the work,
though it certainly isn’t any riskier, atrocious than what American soldiers do
every day for far less money and with, one hopes, far more accountability.
The four American civilians who were
killed and whose bodies were mutilated and dragged through the streets of
Fallujah earlier this year were employees of Blackwater Security Consulting.
Their job was to provide security to the food provider of the U.S. military in
Iraq. Halliburton is the main food provider to U.S. troops in Iraq, and, like
other American companies operating in wartime Iraq, they use mercenaries, and,
thereby, the ethics of mercenaries. Like the mercenaries it employs, Halliburton
itself deserves more thought, reportage and discussion than it is getting.
The mercenary practices an ancient trade.
Hired guns, whether in the service of the mob, drug czars, small countries,
large corporations or any other entity likely to encounter violence as a part of
doing business, are, unfortunately, a corrupt reality of the hidden underbelly
of the human condition.
The question is: Do we the people, the
citizenry of the United States, want to be paying companies like Halliburton,
via firms like Blackwater Security Consulting, to employ mercenaries with their
mercenary ethics to be hired guns in our name?
Yes or no. What’s the right word?