Is It Mercenary to Join Military for Perks, Not War?

By Brendan O'Neill | The Christian Science Monitor, June 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Is It Mercenary to Join Military for Perks, Not War?


Brendan O'Neill, The Christian Science Monitor


We all know the difference between a mercenary and a soldier. Right?

Mercenaries are the "dogs of war" - "freebooters" or, less charitably, "hired killers" who forgo the comforts of a normal career and family life to fight in exotic wars abroad. They're the gun-toting freelancers of the battlefield, in it for the money or the glory or a bit of both.

A soldier, on the other hand, is one who serves in an army - an active, loyal, and unswerving member of a military organization who sacrifices creature comforts, not for cash or kicks, but for a greater good.

A mercenary fights to make a buck, a soldier to make a difference. Right?

This age-old distinction between "soldiers of fortune" and "soldiers of destiny" has been cut and pasted on to the debate about Iraq.

There may not, strictly speaking, be mercenaries in Iraq who are paid cold, hard cash to fight the coalition's battles. But many aspects of the occupation - including airport security and bodyguard duty - have been outsourced to private security firms. Many have contrasted the private guy's paycheck mentality with the soldier's commitment to the mission's aims.

But Iraq shows that, in fact, there is little to distinguish today between a mercenary and a soldier. The military itself seems to be infected with a mercenary culture, where even the enlisted soldier has a pretty perfunctory relationship with war and occupation.

Manysoldiers in Iraq appear to view their military service as a temporary job, as something that will look good on their resume. It's striking that the most famous and infamous American privates - hero Jessica Lynch and villain Lynndie England - both said they signed up, not to fight, but to help secure a future career.

For Private Lynch, military service was a means of "securing her college tuition" so that she could become a kindergarten teacher; for England the military provided an escape from working in a chicken-processing factory and the first step toward getting to college and training as a meteorologist.

Other soldiers' sense of military duty appears to have been permanently damaged by their experiences in Iraq. A poll of 2,000 troops carried out by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes at the end of 2003 found that a third of soldiers rated their personal morale as "low" or "very low," and 49 percent said it was "not likely" or "very unlikely" that they would remain in the military after completing their current obligations in Iraq.

Many claim that the problem with using private personnel is that they can up and leave whenever the going gets tough - yet there seems to be little compelling some soldiers, apart from "obligations," to stay either. …

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