Thread: Mercenaries
View Single Post
Old 08-04-2012, 10:44 PM   #18
Senior Member
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Inactive
Posts: 36,483
Likes: 237 (190 Posts)
Question Mercenaries are much misunderstood men

NO doubt the Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay was speaking his mind, rather than fashionably posing, when he condemned the proposal by the Foreign Secretary that mercenaries might be employed on peacekeeping and other operations abroad. It was, he fumed, "breathtaking in the extreme" that Jack Straw should even contemplate giving mercenaries "a veneer of respectability".

It is tempting to dismiss such modishness with a yawn or two; but that would be a mistake. Mr Mackinlay probably speaks for a large number of people, for whom the word "mercenary" is a trigger-term, like child abuse with no further thought necessary.

Yet far more important than whether or not a soldier is a "mercenary" are the values he is being paid to uphold. Does Mr Mackinlay know that the first RAF pilot killed in the Second World War was a mercenary? Or that the youngest RAF Wing Commander was one, as was the first RAF VC? Did he know that one of the first SAS men killed in the Falklands was a mercenary also?

What unites Pilot Officer William Joseph Murphy, 107 Squadron, RAF, shot down over Germany on the morning of September 4 1939, and Trooper O'Connell, 22 SAS, killed in the Falklands in 1982, and those other men in between, is that they were Irish. Their country was neutral in the conflicts in which they gave their lives. In any meaningful sense of the word, they were all mercenary; and all honourable men.

Nor were they alone. Much of the campaigns in the Western Desert, Burma and Italy were fought with mercenaries, either from India, or most spectacularly of all, from Nepal. Ghurkas, amongst the most dependable and loyal soldiers who have ever served Britain, are mercenaries. Theirs is a paid service, and for all their traditions of sacrifice and honour, their loyalty is bought also. Yet that purchased-devotion has unfailingly remained inviolable and inviolate - which is more than one can say of native-born Britons.

In their fidelity, Ghurkas might be exceptional; in their choice of profession, they are not. Mercenaries have filled armies and made empires throughout history. The legionnaires of Rome were seldom Roman. Most crewmen in the Spanish Armada were not Spanish. The East India Company's mercenaries conquered the Indian sub-continent, just as the mercenaries of the French Foreign Legion took and held much of North Africa. The male-bondings of armies often transcend or even eliminate other loyalties - in the last resort, the Indian mutiny was put down by Indians, and the most decorated member of the French Foreign Legion during the Great War was a German.

Historically, this sort of group-loyalty was accentuated by the disparagement of soldiers by society. In Britain, to have "gone for a soldier" was traditionally the mark of a failure or a misfit, and most professional soldiers, even in the service of their own country, would have regarded themselves primarily as mercenaries. Indeed, it was largely in the 20th century, and two world wars, that soldiering became respectable.

Of course, being respectable means soldiers are by definition not expendable. Mercenaries are - that's why they're useful. The Foreign Secretary is simply recognising a truth. The mercenary is already making a return, and appropriately enough, in Africa, where once he was such a caricature villain in the Congolese civil wars.

William Shawcross, in his superb study of UN peacekeeping, Deliver us from Evil, points out that in it was a South African mercenary army, Executive Outcome, which protected much of Sierre Leone from the machete-wielding lunatics of the RUF. "By defending the Kono area, Executive Outcome had enabled 300,000 people to get on with their lives," he wrote. "Had Executive Outcome been more widely deployed . . . they could have saved dozens around Bo from having their hands, noses and lips chopped off . . . At a time when Western governments were more and more reluctant to commit their own troops . . . it seemed to me that, under proper control, private armies such as Executive Outcomes could play an increasingly useful role."

The withdrawal of the EO in 1996 allowed the vile RUF back at their games, which included sewing up their victims' vaginas and rectums with fishing line, padlocking mouths, and kidnapping thousands of children as conscript infant-infantry.

Now this is an abomination which must be halted, by main force if need be; but no government has the political will to see its volunteer-armies vanish into the murderous morass of Africa. The mercenary soldier, trained for the task, in a mercenary's uniform, is the perfect solution to this African problem. For if he or his colleagues are killed in action, the tabloid sob-industry cannot then move into tearful action, wondering about our brave boys perishing on a foreign field, and for what Prime Minister?

Mercenaries are excluded from such hand-wringing. They choose to enter a contract which makes their lives utterly expendable in someone else's cause: and this is what makes their profession what it has always been - an honourable instrument that will, without complaint or further claim, do civil society's dirty work.


The book, Excursion to Hell, by former Lance Corporal Vincent Bramley, alludes to two incidents in which prisoners were shot. In one case, in which he quotes an eyewitness account by another soldier, the victims were allegedly three American mercenaries.

He describes how two other Paras, whom we shall refer to as X and Y, took three prisoners during a firefight. Y later told Mr Bramley what happened: '(An NCO) came . . . up to us. We explained the situation. He looked at the prisoners. One spoke perfect English, with an American accent. We were really surprised . . . . We questioned them for some minutes. All spoke perfect English, praising our soldiering. The (NCO) fucked off and came back after ten minutes or so. He took X aside, while I guarded the prisoners. X came back to me and said 'Get them over this ridge quickly'. We pushed them the 15 metres, out of view, then suddenly X let rip, shooting them all dead. I helped make sure they were completely dead.' Mr Bramley writes that X told him the orders to shoot the prisoners had come from above, because they were suspected to be American mercenaries - a fact that could have embarrassed President Reagan's staunchly pro-British line during the war.
The Sir Galahad was a 3,322-tonne LSL built by Stephens and launched in 1966.

Sir Galahad was active during the Falklands War, sailing from HMNB Devonport on 6 April with 350 Royal Marines and entering San Carlos Water on 21 May. On 24 May 1982 in San Carlos Water she was attacked by A-4C Skyhawks of the Argentine Air Force's IV Brigada AĆ©rea (FAA) and was hit by a 1000 pound bomb (which didn't detonate) then strafed in a following wave by Dagger fighter bombers...BBC television cameras recorded images of Royal Navy helicopters hovering in thick smoke to winch survivors from the burning landing ships. These images were seen around the world.

Falklands War-Bomb Alley ...

The attack on Sir Galahad culminated in high casualties, 48 dead, 32 OF THEM WELSH GUARDS, 11 other Army personnel and five crewmen from Sir Galahad herself.

Last edited by lightgiver; 08-04-2012 at 11:02 PM.
lightgiver is offline   Reply With Quote