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July 29, 2008

Send Mercenaries of Mercy to Darfur

At the Wall Street Journal, William McGurn calls for a private sector solution to the Darfur nightmare: Blackwater mercenaries.

Strongly worded resolutions, sanctions and boycotts are generally what you do in place of decisive action. I understand that the whole idea of Blackwater helicopters flying over Darfur probably horrifies many of the same people frustrated by Mr. Bashir's ability to game the system. But it's at least worth wondering what that same Blackwater helo might look like to a defenseless Darfur mother and her daughters lying in fear of a Janjaweed attack.

I’ve long thought there's a problem with the idea of relief-by-force -- mainly the reality that U.S. soldiers swear their allegiance to their country, with the reciprocal commitment that their lives will be spent defending her. Not rescuing the hurting around the world, in interests humanitarian rather than strategic, no matter how noble. Does our nation honor its commitments to its citizens or not?

And, yet, there are people in need of rescuing. In their shoes, but for the grace of God, walk we. 

I’ve thought that the solution might be a U.S. foreign legion of sorts, whether public or private, for professional, veteran soldiers who wish to participate in armed missions of mercy. I’ve always been stymied, though, at the prospect of such legionnaires getting in trouble in-theater. We wouldn’t simply leave them; we’d rescue them with the regular military. So this has always seemed like a non-solution.

But Erik Prince’s idea of sending Blackwater mercs to train the African Union to take down the Janjaweed thugs themselves, with logistics and air transport provided by Blackwater, sure seems to make a lot of sense on its face.

Free-market fighters to the rescue. I like it.

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Gina Dalfonzo

Looks like even Senator Obama might not have a problem with that idea!


Jason Taylor

The Foreign Legion is an integral part of the French army and is not quite what is being suggested. There are different kinds of mercenaries. Blackwater technically aren't mercenaries as they serve their native country. They are better described as "free-corps" which are a land version of privateers.
What seems to be suggested is more like something similar to the South African mercenaries that were sent to the Congo to fight the Mau-mau. They were quite efficient(or their foes were inefficient), and they were expendable and plausibly deniable which was perhaps more to the point. They did safe a number of innocent lives, and attracted a sort of rogueish glammour to them.
Given that no one has thought of a better idea it could conceivably be done here. It is hard to think that they would make conditions worse.
The use of mercenaries is looked down on in modern times. There is no logical reason for it to be so. If they are distasteful people they are less distasteful then many governments we are likly to have to cooperate with. And while they would probably be more ruthless then a typical Western regular, it is doubtful that they would be more notably vicious then any other form of troops. And of course there is the fact that intelligence services use mercenary-spies routinely and no one thinks anything of it except about the efficiency and reliability of a given spy.
In other words, while "Daddy, I want to grow up and be a mercenary", are not necessarily the most charming words, the use of mercenaries has more prejudice against it then it deserves. There are far worse methods of warfare.


Good thoughts Jason. I wonder if the "image problem" for mercs is the concern for national loyalty. It seems to me that, at least in the last 25 or so years, American mercs have acted within (or not against) US interests. Yet, back in the 4th and 5th centuries BC, mercs in the service of Persia or Macedonia commonly acted against their homeland's interests, even helping enemies to fight their own people with greater effect. I know precious little about the history of mercenaries between ancient times and recent, but I have to imagine that - human nature being what it is - mercenaries have racked up a rather spotty loyalty record around the world.

[Not that loyalty is a virtue. "Loyal to what and to whom?" - and the moral deservedness of the object - determine the virtue.]

Jason Taylor

I wouldn't go so far as to say loyalty is not a virtue. It is simply not the only virtue.
But it is not necessarily true that mercs are bereft of loyalty. They just have differing loyalties.

"What is you Nationality?"
"La Legion, Mon General"


Well, we quibble over Loyalty then. Because I cannot see how the virtue of Loyalty isn't 100% dependent upon the object of said Loyalty. And if that's the case, Loyalty itself would seem to be fully bereft of virtue, in and of itself.

But again this is the most minor of quibbles.

Jason Taylor

Let's put it this way. Tom Hagen was loyal to Michael. Given Michael's vocation that was bad. But being loyal to him was less bad then if he had tried to take over control of the clan for himself.


Actually, the example that comes to mind is (please suppress eye roll) Nazi Germany. Natch. For the German SS soldier, it was morally wrong to be loyal to the state, given the state's aim. While it was morally right for the Jew to be loyal to "tribe". On the other hand, for a Nazi-sympathizing (in heart/mind, not action) German-American soldier fighting for the US in WW2, it would be morally wrong to be loyal to tribe while right, and only right, to be loyal to country.

In other words, Loyalty's only virtue comes from the moral value of the object of that loyalty.

Sadly, I'm more than happy to argue about such nonsense until the proverbial cows come home. But I really do believe this. I really do find loyalty, in and of itself, to be no virtue.


The example of the Unabomber's brother also comes to mind...

Steve (SBK)

Isn't the discussion just along the lines of what makes something morally good?

Peter Kreeft:
"Traditional common sense morality involves three moral determinants, three factors that influence whether a specific act is morally good or bad. The nature of the act itself, the situation, and the motive. Or, what you do; when, where, and how you do it; and why you do it. It is true that doing the right thing in the wrong situation, or for the wrong motive, is not good. Making love to your wife is a good deed, but doing so when it is medically dangerous is not. The deed is good, but not in that situation. Giving money to the poor is a good deed, but doing it just to show off is not. The deed is good, but the motive is not."

(See http://www.peterkreeft.com/audio/05_relativism/relativism_transcription.htm for more)

Allen is arguing that Loyalty cannot be morally good if the whys and hows aren't good. Just like Praying cannot be (morally) good if done for the wrong reasons or directed to a false deity.

In fact, I'm not too sure Jason isn't also arguing this. He's saying that people's actions are to be analyzed by their situations and motivations (Tom and Michael) when looking at what they do.

I think it gets complicated at this point because someone can have multiple motivations in competition (and not even know it). Was Tom loyal to Michael because he was his family/brother? Was he loyal because he could get a lot of material goods if he was loyal to the 'right' person? Was Tom loyal because he was afraid not to be loyal?

Perhaps we could try to distinguish the difference between Loyalty and Faithfulness. Is there a difference? And if not, what does the Bible mean when it talks about God being Faithful (I'm thinking of verses like 1 Cor. 1:8-9)?
Are we meritorious of God's Faithfulness? Or is God only being faithful to His Word? Or can God be Faithful to us, even when we are undeserving?

Interesting discussion...



Yeah, I agree on all points. I think the reason that this one stands out to me is that Loyalty - at least in the professional settings I've worked in - both to the company and the boss is seen, including by Christians, as universally virtuous. Indeed, I'd guess that if you polled an average group of smart folks and asked them to list the virtues, most would include Loyalty. *I*'ve been praised in professional situations for being loyal, with loyalty being the praised virtue, and it bothers me a little bit, because I'm thinking "I'm only loyal to you, this time, because you happen to be right." When I'm dumb enough to say that, it tends to come out rather poorly...

Basically, I'm a hobby-horse jockey and this Loyalty Is Not A Virtue business is, for whatever reason, a personal hobby horse.

And kind of a silly one at that...


Isn't Paul saying that God will be faithful to provide you with ea necessary spiritual gift through the HS and to keep you strong and blameless? So then God's "faithfulness" would be to keep His promise, yes?

Since God is omniscient and sinless, I cannot imagine that God's "faithfulness" is the same thing as our loyalty. Meaning he cannot sin in his faithfulness while we can certainly sin in our loyalty.

Jason Taylor

Part of it is that sometimes I think there is a disturbing devaluation of loyalty as. There are as in many cases two opposing extremes.
One is completly unquestioning loyalty.
The other is an attitude that aggregates completely to oneself the right to judge the worthiness of an object of loyalty. The former attitude disseminates the vices of the leader onto the follower and has been condemned often enough. However the later has the problem that no society can function if there is no "default" loyalty. The Bible says, "Honor thy Father and Mother", and "Honor the King". And Paul made it clear in Acts that he would not have berated the High Priest if he had known him to be High Priest rather then just another temple grandee.
Of course all this could be called loyalty to God who set up human authority. But it never feels like that. No child loves his parents, no warrior obeys his King only because they think themselves obeying God. While that factor may exist, both the child and the warrior are thinking of their parents or their monarch as something in themselves.
And that is a large part of my point in saying loyalty is to some degree a virtue in itself.
Or to fall back on the inevitable WWII anology, we can accept and even in some ways admire Admiral Canaris(the German Intell chief) for betraying Germany because that was a pecuiliar situation. We would have no respect whatsoever for him if he did not find it at all difficult.
Or to put it another way, remember the old cliche,"My country right or wrong." That was a misquote. What Stephen Decatur was actually saying was that we must always hope our country will be right because we don't have another one. His desire that America be right was part of his loyalty but he would never have dreamed of thinking he could arbitrarily choose which country to be loyal to.

Jason Taylor

Or to put it another way, loyalty is a virtue but one whose value depends greatly on the nature of the loyalty.

Jason Taylor

As far as mercenaries goes, it is wrong to say they are devoid of loyalty. Rather that their loyalty is focused in different directions then that of the regular. Often unit pride is emphasized to a greater degree("What is your nationality", "La Legion, Mon General"). Or patriotism will be directed toward a local tribe or a far away nation, as in the case of the Swiss Pikemen who were intensely patriotic. Or loyalty will be personal rather then institutional-the commander will be treated like a sheik. And of course there will be the fraternal loyalty that all efficient millitary units have to some extent.


I actually think, at the end of the day, we do agree. We simply have different emphases.


1. The Bible certainly *does* present certain expected loyalties. To ruler, to parents, as you note. That's a good point and not one that I'd thought of, to be honest. Though ... these loyalties aren't absolute. Yet the act of "honoring" is to show a certain loyalty, based upon something as "unreasonable" as blood lineage.

2. The idea that necessarily breaking loyalty *should* be difficult is an interesting point that, yes, ought to be captured. I didn't really think of that either, but it's important. I liked this:

"Or to fall back on the inevitable WWII anology, we can accept and even in some ways admire Admiral Canaris(the German Intell chief) for betraying Germany because that was a pecuiliar situation. We would have no respect whatsoever for him if he did not find it at all difficult."

Yes, that's true, isn't it? Good point.


This is yours:

"Part of it is that sometimes I think there is a disturbing devaluation of loyalty."

If I stop and think about it, I can *definitely* think of sociopolitical dynamics in which this is incredibly relevant and I couldn't agree more.

OTOH, my own emphasis tends to be based upon what I've seen and experienced - the unhelpful side of loyalty.

Between us, we cover both sides of the coin. We just tend to spend more time looking at different sides.

Jason Taylor

Speaking of honoring parents, rulers, etc, the writer James Bowman has a great interest in the social concept of Honor, and wrote a book, "Honor: A History." His definition of Honor is(rough summary)"What would those whom I respect think I should do?"
James Bowman believes that loyalty and honor are necessary relations to one another, perhaps almost synonomous.

Samuel X

This reminds me of two things - first, the similar situation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Wings_of_Eagles) as demonstrated by Ross Perot; and, on a lighter note, http://www.schlockmercenary.com/d/20010602.html.



I actually read On Wings of Eagles in high school and found it riveting. I'd forgotten all about that story. You've got to feel pretty good working for a CEO who will hire a special ops team to come rescue you, should you get kidnapped overseas, huh?!

(Unfortunately, the other link didn't work for me.)

Jason Taylor

try "TV tropes".
Besides being a funny sight, it gives the definition of a schlock mercenary.

Samuel X

That's peculiar...

Oh, that's it. It looks like The Point code is interpreting the period at the end as part of the URL.

Try http://www.schlockmercenary.com/d/20010602.html

Samuel X

Forgot to mention, yes, On Wings of Eagles was a really good book - the more so because Follett made it as true-to-reality as possible.

It should be pointed out that, similarly to that situation, I assume authorizing this would violate international laws. Of course, obviously this was gotten around before, and I'm of the opinion that the ban on mercenaries is fairly pointless... If you're going to pay government troops to fight, you might as well be able to pay non-government troops to fight. (Traditional mercenary activities like pillaging would have to be kept on a short leash, of course.)

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