I’ve been writing a great deal about Erik Prince, and I have been making veiled hints about tying him to local politics. One reason was to build the tension, the other was to buy time to do the research. I hope you are ready…nonlocals may not find this one as interesting as the local Okies will, but I hope it is, if not informative, at least entertaining. I’ve taken a long time on this one, let’s hope this was worth the time.
In this post, I intend to discuss the danger to our Republic in the form of privately held armies, as well as the history of mercenaries. I am hoping by Monday to share the cliffhanger I’ve been building up to. These are the posts I’ve shared on the subject so far.
Let’s dig in.
Private Armies, the Road to Feudalism
I believe that private armies are the road to a more dictatorial society. I believe one of the markers of the fall of Rome was when governors would start thinking their armies were their own, and not part of the military of Rome. As barbarians made more and more incursions, the societal structures collapsed, and finally the poor and landless found themselves selling their freedom to a lord who could support an army. We are a long way from there, but I think the seeds have begun to sprout. These are the articles I will use to analyze my case.
Sean McFate of the National Defense University Press, an ex-mercenary himself shares a frightening report (that I’ve never heard of before) where an American force of Green Beret’s and Marines, joined by Kurdish and Arabian forces, took 4 hours to painfully beat back a force of 500 Russian mercenaries armed with artillery, armored personnel carriers, and tanks. Had Putin declared war? No, these were “the Wagner Group, a private military company based in Russia, and like many high-end mercenaries today, they were covert and lethal.” Though they took merciless pounding from warplanes, “they did not waver.”
“Mercenaries are more powerful than experts realize, a grave oversight. Those who assume they are cheap imitations of national armed forces invite disaster because for-profit warriors are a wholly different genus and species of fighter. Private military companies such as the Wagner Group are more like heavily armed multinational corporations than the Marine Corps. Their employees are recruited from different countries, and profitability is everything. Patriotism is unimportant, and sometimes a liability. Unsurprisingly, mercenaries do not fight conventionally, and traditional war strategies used against them may backfire.”
The post goes on to report a frightening number of places where mercenaries are booming business. Some of this is honestly old news, some of it is new to me. The list includes, oil companies, Russia, the US, Yemen, Nigeria, Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq. “he capital of Kurdistan, Irbil, has become an unofficial marketplace of mercenary services, reminiscent of the Tatooine bar in the movie Star Wars—full of smugglers and guns for hire.” The United Arab Emirates has hired 1800 mercenaries from Latin America from drug cartels, Saudi Arabia hires many of theirs from Africa (I guess there is rain there). In Ukraine mercenaries fight for both sides hailing from Russian, Chechen, French, Spanish, Swedish, and Serbian backgrounds. “Nigeria secretly hired mercenaries to solve a big problem: Boko Haram. This Islamic terrorist group fights to carve out a caliphate in Nigeria, and the Nigerian army fights back, its methods no better.” Terrorists, including Al Qaeda, hire mercenaries.
“If terrorists can hire mercenaries, why not humanitarians? Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as CARE, Save the Children, CARITAS, and World Vision are increasingly turning to the private sector to protect their people, property, and interests in conflict zones. Large military companies like Aegis Defense Services and Triple Canopy advertise their services to NGOs, and NGO trade associations like the European Interagency Security Forum and InterAction provide members with guidelines for hiring them. Some think the UN should augment its thinning peacekeeping missions with certified private military companies.3 The option of private peacekeepers versus none at all, which is the condition in many parts of the world today, is a Hobson’s choice. What’s to stop a millionaire from buying a humanitarian intervention in the future? Stopping atrocities would leave quite the legacy. Actress Mia Farrow considered hiring Blackwater to end the genocide in Darfur in 2008.” Thank God Mother Theresa hasn’t been mentioned.
There are corporate mercenaries, pirate mercenaries, Erik Prince claims he used mercenaries to clean out the pirates of Somalia.
“There are even mercenaries in cyberspace, called hack back companies. These computer companies attack hackers, or “hack back” those who assail their client’s networks. Hack back companies cannot undo the damage of a network breach, but that is not the point. They serve as a deterrent. If hackers are choosing targets, and they know that one company has a hack-back company behind it and the other does not, they select the softer target. Also known as active defense, this practice is currently illegal in many countries, including the United States, but some are questioning this edict since the National Security Agency offers scant protection for nongovernmental entities. For example, the WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017 infected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries. Victims included the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, Spain’s Telefónica, Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, and U.S. companies like Federal Express. If countries cannot protect their people and organizations from cyber attack, then why not allow them to protect themselves?”
Sean McFate continues: “The rise of mercenaries is producing a new kind of threat—private war—that threatens chaos. It is literally the marketization of war, where military force is bought and sold like any other commodity. It is an ancient form of armed conflict that modern militaries have forgotten how to fight. Should this trend develop, the super-rich could become superpowers, leading to wars without states. In such a world, states would be mere prizes.”
I wonder if Oklahoma is a prize.
A Brief History of Mercenaries
McFate then takes us back to the definitive work on leadership purged of morality, The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), “He despised mercenaries as “disunited, ambitious, without discipline, unfaithful; gallant among friends, vile among enemies; no fear of God, no faith with men.”8 This judgment has ossified into orthodoxy.
“Most think Machiavelli’s assessment of private force definitive, but it should not be. He hated mercenaries because they cheated him, owing to his own incompetence. From 1498 to 1506, he helped organized Florence’s defense and suffered serial humiliations at the hands of the city’s own mercenaries during the war against Pisa, a weaker adversary. In 1505, for example, 10 mercenary captains defected to the other side, a major embarrassment and strategic blow. The market for force is a “buyer beware” emporium, and those who do not know how to handle mercenaries, like Machiavelli, should not rent them.
“No longer trusting mercenaries, Machiavelli convinced the Florentine authorities to raise a militia instead, composed of citizen-soldiers whose loyalty to the republic would remain unflappable. But loyalty is a poor substitute for skill. These farmers-turned-soldiers were no match for professional troops, and the Florentines were soon crushed in 1512 by professionals. This military disaster resulted in the capitulation of the Florentine Republic, henceforward under papal control, and questions Machiavelli’s claims about the superiority of militias over mercenaries.”
Like McFate, I am fascinated by the history of mercenaries. He dives deeper into the history of the topic, and I can’t resist sharing some things that I hope to mix into a historical fiction novel. I already know all of this, but I can’t help but share.
“Mercenaries are everywhere in military history, starting with the Bible. The Old Testament mentions hired warriors several times, and never with reproach.10 Everyone used them. There was King Shulgi of Ur’s army (reigned 2029–1982 BCE); Xenophon had a huge army of Greek mercenaries, known as the Ten Thousand (401–399 BCE); and Carthage relied on mercenary armies in the Punic Wars against Rome (264–146 BCE), including Hannibal’s 60,000-strong army, which marched elephants over the Alps to attack Rome from the north. When Alexander the Great invaded Asia in 334 BCE, his army included 5,000 foreign mercenaries, and the Persian army he faced contained 10,000 Greeks. Rome used mercenaries throughout its 1,000-year reign, and Julius Caesar was saved at Alesia by mounted German mercenaries in his war against Vercingetorix in Gaul.
“The Middle Ages were a mercenary heyday. Nearly half of William the Conqueror’s army in the 11th century was made up of hired swords, as he could not afford a large standing army and there were not enough nobles and knights to accomplish the Norman conquest of England. King Henry II of England engaged mercenaries to suppress the great rebellion of 1171–1174, because their loyalty lay with their paymaster rather than with the ideals of the revolt. In Egypt and Syria, the Mamluk sultanate (1250–1517) was a regime of mercenary slaves who had been converted to Islam. From the late 10th to the early 15th centuries, Byzantine emperors surrounded themselves with Norse mercenaries, the Varangian Guard, who were known for their fierce loyalty.”
McFate discusses how the medieval dynamic came to an end.
“Things began to change in 1648. The Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War, one of the most destructive in European history and comparable to World Wars I and II for Central Europe. Nearly a third of the populations of modern Germany and the Czech Republic were wiped out, and it took the region a century to recover. Rogue mercenary units were to blame for much of it, and leaders of all sides tacitly agreed to put the free market for force out of business by monopolizing it. That is, public armies should replace private ones, costs be damned.”
“Over time, states monopolized the market for force with their national armies, and this created another opportunity: domination. Their old nonstate rivals were defenseless, without access to mercenaries or a standing army of their own. Old medieval powerhouses such as the church, city-states like Florence, and elite aristocratic families had no choice but kowtow to state rulers. Without mercenaries, nonstate actors had no way to challenge state ascendancy.
“The relationship between force, power, and world order is stark. Those who control the means of violence get to make the rules that others must follow or die. The consolidation of state power was gradual, spanning 2 centuries, and gave rise to a world order that should look familiar to readers. Sometimes called the “Westphalian Order,” it is a state-centric international system. It has many features, but the key one is this: Only nation-states are sovereign, and everyone else is subordinate. States guaranteed their supremacy through their national armies, since nonstate actors have no capacity to oppose them. In fact, the monopoly of force is the very definition of the modern state.13
“Warfare soon became an exclusively state-on-state affair fought via national militaries, and this became “conventional war.” It is the only type of conflict Carl von Clausewitz knew, and it puts states at the center of everything. Only they get to wage war, make international law, and govern. The Westphalian Order spread across the globe through European colonization, and today we have internalized it as timeless and universal, even though it is less than 400 years old.”
McFate lays the cause of the modern return of the mercenary with the fall of the Berlin Wall. “As state power declines, private force rises. The relationship is causal. Without a global sheriff, mercenaries are free to roam the world again, in the light of day. The first public mercenary organization emerged in South Africa, ominously called Executive Outcomes, and fought across the continent. It put down rebel groups, took oil facilities and diamond mines, and trained client militaries for $40 million a year. During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Executive Outcomes went to the UN and offered to stop the genocide for $120 million, a bargain in UN terms. However, Kofi Annan, then head of UN peacekeeping, refused, claiming “the world may not be ready to privatize peace” as 800,000 people were massacred.20 Executive Outcomes closed its doors in 1998, but left a strong alumnae network across Africa. It was involved in mercenary actions in Equatorial Guinea in 2005, Somalia in 2011, and Nigeria in 2015.
“Other mercenary firms got their start in the years after the Berlin Wall. A few include Sandline International, Blackwater, and Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI). These were not lone mercenaries of the Cold War but organized ones, akin to the Free Companies of the Middle Ages. No longer in the shadows, they were multinational corporations, such as the medieval Free Companies, and some were even traded on Wall Street. Their reappearance signals the decline of the Westphalian Order and a slow return to the disorder of the age before.”
Ok, this article is just too fascinating, I have to stop quoting it or I’ll end up with 100,000 words and still not come to my point. If you are at all interested in the topic, this is a must read for anyone.
Politico shares the evaluation of an ex-mercenary on the merits of Prince’ plan to have a private army hand us victory in Afghanistan. Oh wow! It is Sean McFate again. “Prince’s argument has lots of problems. He insists contractors should not be stigmatized as “mercenaries,” even though he is proposing armed civilians in conflict zones—the classic definition of a mercenary. Instead, he says they are like the Flying Tigers, the popular name of the 1st American Volunteer Group that flew against the Japanese in 1941–42. Here is where his analogy takes a nosedive: The Flying Tigers were not mercenaries. Rather, they were U.S. military pilots who took off their uniforms to fly as civilians, so that FDR did not have to declare war. Once war was declared, they flew as American fighter pilots once again. That’s hardly the same thing as contractors being paid, often exorbitantly, to fight a war on our behalf.”
“Crazy as all this sounds, it is a marked improvement over Prince’s earlier op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, in which he advocates neocolonialism—a deeply un-American idea. He urged an American “viceroy” be installed to rule Afghanistan like a colonial overlord, backed by a mercenary army modeled on the old British East India Co. That’s like recommending plantations to assist African-Americans in poverty. Anger was swift. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s ex-president, tweeted this: “I vehemently oppose the proposal to the U.S. govt to outsource its war in Afghanistan to private security firms.”
“Besides being offensive, Prince’s proposal is unworkable. I know because I’ve done these things. For years, I worked as a private military contractor in Africa and elsewhere. I built armies for clients, dealt with warlords, conducted strategic reconnaissance, worked with armed groups in the Sahara, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe and even helped prevent a genocide in Central Africa…It’s worse than people think.”
He shares his personal experiences building an army in a third world country (talk about having something amazing on your resume). He ends this article thus:
“Prince is an amateur and makes rookie mistakes, which is probably why the generals laughed at him. Somehow, he believes 6,000 mercenaries and a small air force can solve Afghanistan’s problems. This is magical thinking: NATO could not succeed with 140,000 troops eight years ago, when the Taliban was in retreat. Now they run half the country. It is unclear what Prince’s 6,000 mercenaries will do now, other than create more Nisour incidents.
“When I raised an army in West Africa, under worse conditions, it took more than a handful of contractors at the battalion and company levels to create a professional, fully functioning military. A lot more. The U.S. Army War College asked me to write a monograph on how we did this, and—spoiler alert—it’s more complicated than Prince’s breezy plan. Then again, Prince has never raised a legitimate army.
“Where will these mercenaries come from? According to Prince, all will be “brave Americans” who are “former Special Operations veterans.” More sales talk. To keep costs down, he will probably have to outsource to the so-called Third World, where military labor is cheap. When I was in the industry, I worked alongside other ex-special forces and ex-paratroopers from places like the Philippines, Colombia and Uganda. We did the same missions, but they got Third World wages. Private warriors are just like T-shirts; they are cheaper in developing countries. Call it the globalization of private force.
“But do we want Filipino, Colombian and Ugandan mercenaries fighting our wars for us, their way? To them, military operations might involve massacring a village that could harbor terrorists. We might have to send in the U.S. Marines just to save the situation and America’s reputation, costing far more than the $40 billion Prince thinks he will save.
“Prince assures us that nothing will go wrong. To avoid Nisour incidents in the future, he wants to place all mercenaries under U.S. military law, known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. However, this resolves little. Take, for example, jurisdiction: What happens if a Guatemalan mercenary massacres an Afghan family while on an American contract? Does he go to trial in: a) Afghanistan b) U.S. c) Guatemala d) nowhere? No one really knows, and a good labor lawyer could probably shred the case in minutes.
“Lastly, where has Prince been these past seven years? Why did he show up now? Like many mercenaries, he follows the money. After the Nisour Incident, he left Blackwater and helped raise a mercenary force for the United Arab Emirates. Now, he is working for the U.S.’s main geopolitical competitor, China.
“Prince smells an opportunity in Donald Trump. His sister is Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education, giving him access to the White House. Prince is looking for a billion-dollar paycheck while wrapping himself in the American flag. No one should fall for his con.”
In my next post, I intend to go into more detail about why Eric is of interest to Oklahoma. Till then, don’t join the Mob.
This is good! While I may not always agree with the bias, the reality is, all writing and all humans have it so…
Firstly, my mother’s side is Minnesota and Oklahoma, Tulsa/Broken Arrow, and other areas in and around the nation’s territory
My father’s side, Ozarks –
I’m the very definition of white trash by birth, lmao 🤣
Okay, contractors/mercenaries – as you clearly stated, they have always existed.
Here is my question, the government is made up of self-entitled individuals who truly believe they are somehow better than you and I, so, they can lead us. Are not soldiers just mercenaries anyhow?
Unless conscripted they volunteer and are paid, period. (I won’t get into the pay scale differences, because that doesn’t matter)
Soldiers for the USA invaded not one but two sovereign nations that had no direct link to 9/11 – and modern Americans being so amazingly woke, decided that Russia doing the same thing is bad…
Those who seek power are least likely to be good in that role.
Honestly, our nation is collapsing, no amount of money, voting, or talking about will change it. It’s like watching a 20 ton boulder falling down a steep grade…it won’t stop until, it destroys everything in its path
LikeLiked by 1 person
I am gratified you liked it. Your points are, IMHO, all valid, I’m glad you pointed these things out. The article I frankly over quoted was so good, I just coudn’t stop. I meant to make more of the Oklahoma tie to Prince, but good lord, I couldn’t stop reading, and I couldn’t stop quoting. Yeah, frankly, I have respect for our military, I have respect for 95% of the people who contracted, even the true mercenaries are frankly putting their lives on the line. I don’t believe the blog will stop or even slow down our nation’s demise. I’m mainly 1) hoping to hang on to my sanity, 2) trying to figure out what the hell happened, and 3) maybe, just maybe, if I play the cards right, I can win enough hands, make enough to retire in relative comfort, and spend the rest of my life blogging about fantasy novels, history, and D&D. May Balder bless you when Ragnarok end, and if you must face the Fenris Wolf, I hope you face him bravely.
LikeLiked by 1 person
May I repost?
Always sir, you never need to ask. I appreciate ya.
I know the guy who wrote that. He’s a big dork! Thanks, you are very kind to share it!