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With so many cooks stirring the pot, how can anyone agree on a definition of anything, let alone a seemingly simple condiment such as "mercenary?"
George Phillies, a candidate for the Libertarian Partys 2008 presidential nomination (that's a mouthful) posted a piece on his website entitled "Torture: A Crime against Civilization" in which he flame broils the Ten Little Indians of the Republican Party Class of '08 presidential pretenders (another mouthful) for being a "crew of moral midgets" for failing to unequivocally scrape the government's use of torture into the garbage disposal during their South Carolina debate.
Phillies gave us this morsel to chew on: "Torturers are the filth of the earth, properly grouped with child molesters and mercenaries."
But then, rather than continuing to chow down on his rack of torture main course, Phillies unaccountably stuck his fork in the side dish of mercenary mincemeat.
"We need not ask what the founding fathers and their fellows thought of mercenaries," Phillies proclaims, because "Their position is enshrined in the third verse of The Star-Spangled Banner."
(Mercenaries? Wasn't torture on his Blue Plate Special?)
The relevant verse:
refuge could save the hireling and slave
The hirelings in question were Hessian mercenaries. Hungry for a victory feast, King George hired them to cater the American rebellion. But while our Founding Fathers may have expressed distaste for the Mercenaries that fought against them, they themselves had a ready appetite for heaping healthy helpings of hirelings upon their own plates.
Of course, all of this depends on who is defining "mercenary." According to the modern definition ladled out by the Geneva Conventions of 1949, a merc is, among other listed ingredients, any foreign person motivated primarily by private gain who fights in an armed conflict and is compensated substantially beyond what the poor dogfood saps forced to serve in their own country's military could ever hope for.
Thousands of seafaring privateers (mercenaries) fought for the Americans during the Revolution. Privateers were cooked up, as all "legal" entities are, with a stroke of a government pen, as when, in this case the Continental Congress, issues Letters of Marque to the captains of armed merchant ships. These letters were a combination License to Kill and Get out of Jail Free card: attack only enemy ships and we won't filet you for looting and killing. Many of these "merchant ships" had previously been used in the slavery, piracy and smuggling trades.
Not only did they become heroes of the Revolution, these freebooters frequently kept their battle booty to boot.
Even American Navy Founding Father John Paul Jones ingested a mercenary's diet. After the Revolutionary war he was hired by the Russians to lead their navy against the Turks.
Mercenaries have been on the menu in virtually every American war since, and continue to butter their bread in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
So, while libertarian George Phillies equates the mercenary with the child molester, another libertarian flipped that recipe like a flapjack and ended the military draft.
In his book "Radicals for Capitalism" Brian Doherty whets our palettes with a tasty tale of Milton Friedman who served on the government commission that ended the draft in 1973.
Opposed to ending conscription, General Westmoreland stewed over the prospect of leading an army of mercenaries. According to Doherty, a verbal food fight broke out:
Friedman: "Would you rather command an army of slaves?"
Westmoreland: "I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves."
Friedman: "I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries."
So what should the label say on a box of mercenaries? As in so many of lifes activities, mercenary is always evil in service to coercion, but praiseworthy in pursuit of self-defense and voluntaryist autonomy.
In a market economy, all breadwinners are mercenaries.
Either way, mercenary is a dish best served for cold cash.
Garry Reed's articles have appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, LP News and other print and online publications.
-- Garry Reed
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