[FOUNTAIN]Center stage for mercenaries is now IraqThe history of mercenary soldiers goes back to ancient times. Some scholars claim that it could be the second oldest career after prostitution. Carthage, whose military largely depended on hired troops, faced a rebellion of the 120,000 mercenary soldiers who were not paid for their stints in the first Punic War with Rome. The Roman Empire had hired German solders when its citizens could not provide enough armed forces, and Odoacer, leader of the German mercenary soldiers, deposed the emperor and brought an end to the empire in 467.
In medieval Europe, wars were mostly waged with hired troops. Commanders would often intentionally prolong a war to make more money. Swiss soldiers and German infantry soldiers known as Landsknecht were the most sought-after troops in Europe from the 15th to 17th centuries. Swiss mercenaries guard the Vatican today.
The heyday of the mercenary ended with the emergence of “the people in arms.” The revolutionary army of France was waging a losing battle against the coalition force of Austria and Prussia in September 1792. Suddenly, the French soldiers proclaimed “levee en masse,” or “long live the people!” They were no longer crying “long live the Emperor.” It was the moment when the first “people in arms” in European history came into being.
After the end of the Cold War, the mercenary industry revived as the demand rose in smaller conflicts all over the world. Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution estimates that the mercenary industry brings in about $100 billion a year worldwide.
Today, the center stage of the mercenary is Iraq, where over 10,000 hired troops are operating. Washington has tasked mercenary soldiers with guarding Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer. The four Americans whose bodies were mutilated in Fallujah were the employees of Blackwater, a security company hired by the U.S. military that seeks to be the world’s largest mercenary provider.
No matter how subsidiary a role the contractor plays in the war, hiring mercenary forces could compromise the justification for the war, and it is worth criticizing as an evasion of national responsibility. But if you look at it from the perspective that the motive for the war was the economic interest of oil, it doesn’t seem so strange that mercenary troops have been hired.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.