Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1596      June 5, 2013

Culture & Life

Mercenaries ride again!

In days of yore, when the great European powers were building (or more commonly seizing) their empires, they regularly used the services of soldiers for hire, mercenaries who saw soldiering as a job so why not do it for a foreign government if it paid better than your own?

Imperialist governments soon realised that the best and most trustworthy mercenaries were foreigners. Being isolated from the community they were less likely to side with it against the government. After a while, some colonial people found that the only career path open to them was to go into the army of a particular colonial power.

Britain used Indian sepoys to spread its power and control over the whole of the sub-continent. The Gurkhas of Nepal are intimately connected still to the British Army. In the struggle for control of North America, both France and Britain used contingents of Native Americans to fight for them, with promises of future long-term co-operation with the winner as an inducement.

In Africa, the French, the Belgians and the British all used native troops to help expand their empires. France and Spain both formed special Foreign Legions of mercenaries drawn from other countries to defend their colonial holdings around the world.

Elsewhere, soldiers from the German state of Hesse became the bodyguard of the Russian Tsar, until the future Catherine the Great overthrew her husband and seized power. And Scots fleeing English rule became soldiers for France against the Spanish domination of Europe.

Mercenaries played a prominent part in the USA’s wars against Mexico and Spain in the late 19th century. And mercenaries were the mainstay of the White Guard forces in the intervention against the new Soviet republic from 1918 until 1922.

In the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish Foreign Legion of mainly Moroccan troops was a mainstay of Franco’s fascist forces, paid not only with money but with “free use” for three days of the women of the towns or cities they captured.

Soldiers who fight for money and not for principles tend to be barbaric as well as unreliable. The use of mercenaries fell into disfavour after the end of WW2, the world war against Fascism. But over the decades since, it has slowly regained favour with the big corporations who want to reshape the world to their benefit, without regard for national governments or popular wishes.

Today, with the increasing use of covert proxy armies to destabilise and then overthrow governments that happen to be in the way of oil corporations, mining giants or resource companies, or which simply try to stand up to the bullying tactics of the USA, imperialism has brought about a merger of traditional mercenaries with religious fanatics.

These new-style mercenaries are paid indirectly, through a third party, because the people of the world (unlike the big corporations and governments they control) still hold mercenaries in opprobrium, and “democratic” governments dare not acknowledge that they use them.

In Afghanistan and Iraq however, the USA uses armies made up of guards and security “consultants” to protect its offices and installations, the oil and other facilities it has seized, and its personnel. These armies are technically “civilians” so they are not really mercenaries. are they? Sure they aren’t!

The most blatant use of mercenaries we have seen in recent years has been the fight against the national liberation struggle in Africa, and especially the fight to carve up the spoils once the national liberation forces had been ousted or killed. The whole of the middle part of the continent was subjected to a succession of coups, wars and military turmoil while the region’s resources were looted or sold off and the population decimated, turned into refugees and generally impoverished.

In the major capitalist countries a propaganda campaign was carried out to rebrand mercenaries as “adventurers”, a term deemed more socially acceptable. Prominent people – or at least relatives of same – thought it OK to become involved in attempts to use mercenaries, such as the abortive effort of Margaret Thatcher’s son Mark to take over Equatorial Guinea in 2004.

Apparently satisfied with the effectiveness of mercenaries in other areas, the major imperial states – the USA, Britain, France and everybody’s financial backer Germany – have refined the practice and combined it with their covert activities, stiffening the mercenaries with their empires’ special forces operatives. These new forces were seen in operation in the destruction of Libya and are now being used to destabilise Syria.

They are used in conjunction with barely concealed mercenary forces from the oil sheiks of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other US client states. The only reason this blatant use of paid killers is not loudly condemned by the whole world is that the USA and its allies also control the world’s main mass media outlets. According to the news that they distribute the mercenaries are “rebels” or even “freedom fighters”, and the elected national governments fighting to defend their countries from these hired thugs and fanatics “oppressing or killing their own people”.

Capitalism has certainly created a topsy-turvy world when the employers of mercenaries can stand up and try to take the moral high ground, weeping crocodile tears at the UN on behalf of the Syrian people who are being killed or turned into refugees by mercenaries employed – directly or indirectly – by the same imperial powers that are doing the weeping.

The use of mercenaries demonstrates yet again just how morally bankrupt capitalism is. Although it must be said, do we need any more demonstrations of that unquestionable truth?   

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