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    by Robert C. Orr
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    by John Robb
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    Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
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    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
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    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
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    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
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    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
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    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press
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Entries in Mercenaries (1)

Monday
Feb012010

The Difference between Contractors and Mercenaries

One of my pet peeves is when people bandy about the words “mercenaries” or “private armies” without any understanding of what the terms actually mean. 

 

A mercenary can be defined two ways: either as an individual who soldiers in a foreign military, or someone who works solely for profit.  In the former case it can be one who doesn’t care at all about a paycheck but happens to believe in the cause of another nation and goes abroad to fight for it (like those who joined the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War) while in the latter case one’s loyalty is solely tied to the money he or she earns, regardless of the job they do. 

 

A mercenary is not a U.S. citizen who provides personal protection services to U.S. government officials and plays purely a defensive role (i.e. responding with lethal force only when attacked or when he believes an attack is imminent).  A Sri Lankan who handles chow at a dining facility, or the KBR manager from Texas who oversees him, are not part of some private army.  Nor is the Iraqi or Afghani who provides perimeter security or translator services at U.S. military bases.  These people are all contractors.  They work for the U.S. government as private citizens.  They don’t initiate offensive actions against enemy forces.  They are not enlisted or commissioned members of any "private army," nor are their counterparts who do similar jobs back in the States.

 

U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan do not work for a foreign military. I would suspect the percentage that do their jobs solely for the pay and benefits is not much different from the number of people who join the military for the same reason.   

 

By the way, the next time you’re in DC, visit Lafayette Park which lies right outside the White House’s front entrance, and check out of the statues of Lafayette (France), Baron von Steuben (Prussia), Tadeusz Kościuszko (Poland), and Rochambeau (also France), who stand on each of the four corners of the park.  All four men helped in achieving American independence.  Lafayette and von Steuben were particularly crucial to the effort.  Rochambeau fought as head of a French sponsored military force known as the Expédition Particulière.   The other three came on their own, because they either believed in the cause (Lafayette & Kościuszko) or were looking for work (von Steuben, and many others who don't have statutes). 

 

In other words, they served as mercenaries, and America honors them for their service.