Private armies have a sinister reputation in Europe

Europeans remember Italy's fascist Blackshirts and, most recently, Serb neo-fascist gangs like Arkan's Tigers and the White Eagles who committed some of the worst atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo. Memories still linger of Germany's post First World War army veterans, the Stahlhelm, and Nazi Brownshirts, who battled Communist street toughs in Munich and Berlin.

The rise of powerful mercenary armies within the United States, like Blackwater, and their use in Iraq and Afghanistan, is an entirely new, deeply disturbing development.

There are 180,000 to 200,000 U.S.-paid mercenaries in Iraq -- or "private contractors" as Washington and the U.S. media delicately call them. At least half are armed fighters, the rest support personnel and technicians. Without them, the U.S. and Britain could not maintain their occupation of Iraq.

These private enterprise fighters, like the Renaissance's Italian condotierri, German landsknecht, and Swiss pikemen, are lawless, answering to no authority but their employers. Democrats in the U.S. Congress are rightly demanding these trigger-happy Rambos to be at least brought under American military law.

Vice-President Dick Cheney took Vietnam's lesson to heart by championing use of mercenaries for nasty foreign wars. But democracies should have no business unleashing armies of hired gunmen on the world. Worse, these private armies hardwired to the Republican Party's far right are a grave and intolerable danger to the American republic. Congress should outlaw them absolutely. The great Roman Republic held that mandatory military service by all citizens was the basis of democracy, while professional armies were a grave menace.

How ironic that colonial America, which rose up in arms in response to the British crown's use of brutal German mercenaries, is resorting to the same tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan. Europe wants no more of private armies. Americans have yet to learn this painful lesson.

[Excerpt of an article by Eric Margolis, Edmonton Sun]

No comments: