Fight our wars with citizen soldiers!

Today, The New York Times is all over the latest Wikileaks document dump. I’m pretty agnostic about the issue, but am of course interested in the contents. One story (they have many today looking at it from all aspects) in particular grabbed my attention – about our use of contractors in war since 2001.

From the story:

Blackwater in Baghdad

“Contractors were necessary at the start of the Iraq war because there simply were not enough soldiers to do the job. In 2004, their presence became the symbol for Iraq’s descent into chaos . . .

Even now — with many contractors discredited for unjustified shootings and a lack of accountability amply described in the documents — the military cannot do without them. There are more contractors over all than actual members of the military serving in the worsening war in Afghanistan.

This practice, combined with the emerging military culture that lives in a different place than the rest of us, is I think dangerous. At the least, I think it’s immoral. If we finance wars, it should be us doing the fighting – and not just those who volunteer. If we inflict pain, let us feel pain. Otherwise what are we?

It’s wrong.

Let me add: Today is the 18th day of the tenth year of the War in Afghanistan.

43 responses to “Fight our wars with citizen soldiers!

  1. I always thought contractors were the guys who remodel your kitchen, rather than mercenaries and assassins employed in direct defiance of international law and restrained by no laws of any nation.

    To-may-to, to-mah-to, I guess…


    • Unlike the guys who remodel your kitchen, these mercenaries make huge salaries – something like four times what a soldier makes for the same job.


  2. Outsourcing everything. Was worried about military contractors as early as the early nineties. It was resource wars in Africa. Still goes on. Will only get worse.

    And no stateside debate on outsourcing at all.


    and there is a Mix-Tape for ya with “The Warmth of The Sun” here..


    • Thanks! That’s an intruiging site – I’m not quite sure what it is. But I loved that ‘Hey Jude’ graphic. It’s brilliant. Does someone do them for other song lyrics?


  3. They are not “mercenaries”.
    The security “contractors” were hired to as security for the construction contractors, and engineers. Not to actually fight the war as the regular American soldier was/is. Their job is very dangerous … as was demonstrated by the murder of 3 or 4 Blackwater security men, their multilization, and subsequent hanging from a bridge.
    Good to “see” you Moe!


    • Steve – while the Americans among the ‘contractors’ are not stictly mercenaries by the dictionary definiition, they also carry arms and engage in other countries when said country hires their employer. Then they absolutely are mercenaries.

      As for their jobs being dangerous? No more dangerous than for the soldiers (who are paid about one fifth of what the contractors get) or the civilians, who are actual parties to the conflict. A contractor working for, say, Blackwater, doens’t even have to be American.

      You defend them – is it okay with you that the United States likes to pretend that we only have x-number of troops in a country, when in fact the number of armed people we have there is about twice the number.? It’s not okay with me – we’re trying to hide the real cost of war.


      • I’m not defending anything Moe. I’m just stating the fact that these guys are not there to fight the war for the U.S. They are private security personnel hired to protect building contractors, etc. Armed? Well, yeah, I kinda think that would be acceptable if you’re trying to protect people from armed folks seeking to kill your protectee. What is the answer? Send them into a hostile environment without weapons … or perhaps with the same rules of engagement Obama has issued to our troops. Now THAT would work! They’d ALL
        Look, who cares any more about the price of the war, and how much these guys get paid? Okay, say the price of the ‘war’ is $3 TRILLION … what can we do about it? You and I aren’t running things. You and I are in the ‘belly of the whale’ … where the whale goes, we go.
        Not to be offensive … I just think you’re bitchin’ about stuff beyond our control.


        • [ . . . if you’re trying to protect people from armed folks seeking to kill your protectee. What is the answer? ]

          That’s a pretty simple one Steve: use US soldiers. The building contractors etc are working under the authority of the United States; use soldiers – you’re not just protecting the workers but mainly the infrastructure investment being made by the US military.

          Also, they do much much more than protect building contractors.

          And as long as I pay for this war and elect the people who send us to war, I will bitch and complain till there’s not a breath left in me (not likely, eh? LOL)


  4. Ms. Holland,

    ” Unlike the guys who remodel your kitchen, these mercenaries make huge salaries – something like four times what a soldier makes for the same job. ”

    Are not some of these ‘ contractors ‘ ex American soldiers ?


  5. Alan and Steve – here’s a little more from the wiki:

    The private military company (PMC) is the contemporary strand of the mercenary trade, providing logistics, soldiers, military training, and other services. Thus, PMC contractors are civilians (in governmental, international, and civil organizations) authorized to accompany an army to the field; hence, the term civilian contractor. Nevertheless, PMCs may use armed force, hence defined as: “legally established enterprises that make a profit, by either providing services involving the potential exercise of [armed] force in a systematic way and by military means, and/or by the transfer of that potential to clients through training and other practices, such as logistics support, equipment procurement, and intelligence gathering”.[14]

    Private paramilitary forces are functionally mercenary armies, not security guards or advisors; however, national governments reserve the right to control the number, nature, and armaments of such private armies, arguing that, provided they are not pro-actively employed in front-line combat, they are not mercenaries. That said, PMC “civilian contractors” have poor repute among professional government soldiers and officers — the US Military Command have questioned their war zone behavior. In September 2005, Brigadier General Karl Horst, deputy commander of the Third Infantry Division charged with Baghdad security after the 2003 invasion, said of DynCorp and other PMCs in Iraq: These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There’s no authority over them, so you can’t come down on them hard when they escalate force… They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place.[15]

    If PMC employees participate in pro-active combat, the press calls them mercenaries, and the PMCs mercenary companies. In the 1990s, the media identified four mercenary companies:

    Executive Outcomes – Angola, Sierra Leone, and other locations worldwide (closed 31 December 1998)
    Sandline International – Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone (closed 16 April 2004)
    Gurkha Security Guards, Ltd – Sierra Leone.
    DynCorp International – Bosnia, Somalia, Angola, Haiti, Colombia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan (active)



  6. It’s hard not to observe that as these wars near the decade mark, there none of the outrage that existed relative Vietnam as it drug on.

    The difference: no draft pulling middle-class kids off to fight and die in some God forsaken place.

    Maybe we should bring it back, so we remember we are fighting and dying.


    • Alan and Steve would be surprised to know that while I protested against Vietnam, I never favored getting rid of the draft. I felt and still do that there is a great deal to fear from a military class.

      I think of WWII when bankers and bakers served side by side. It was one of the most democratizing experiences we ever had and probably ever will have. Idaho and New Jersey got to know each other. And after the war, they pulled for each other.


      • I don’t fear the military class as much as I’m afraid of civilian triumphalism and romanticizing militarism. Decades from my service, I still recall how civilian control was the drumbeat. And I’m with you..I’d reinstate a two year draft tomorrow.




      • A “military class” is only to be feared if is known to exercise political power and disobeys the legitamite governments that are supposed to control them. Militaries in societies where democratic principles are deeply rooted do not tend to have a disposition for seditious behavior, but in societies where democracy is not so firmly rooted (Latin America is a prime example) the military can and often does go rogue.

        Doesn’t every serviceman of the US military take a vow to “support the Constitution”, after all?


        • D.I.D. – what you say is true of course. And that is the way it is right now – I still fear the cultural impact. I read about ‘military families’ and it’s so clear they are living a war we’re removed from, experiencing a different reality.

          I’d like to see us do what almost all stable democracies do – have universal service. Not only to protect against what I fear, but also because it’s just not right to wage war and be unaffected by it.


  7. Ms. Holland,

    ” I felt and still do that there is a great deal to fear from a military class. ”

    This is not Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany. I can’t think of a time when the military class was a real threat to the US. During the cold war the opportunity was at it’s greatest and it never happened.

    ” I think of WWII when bankers and bakers served side by side. It was one of the most democratizing experiences we ever had and probably ever will have. Idaho and New Jersey got to know each other. And after the war, they pulled for each other. ”

    The funny thing is, going into that war, the anti war peace niks did everything in their power to make sure America was unprepared for war. If you don’t prepare for war, no one will attack you, was the logic. That worked so well against Hitler and Tojo, didn’t it ?

    Why did Idaho and New Jersey get to be any chummier during WW2 than during the Korean, Vietnam, or two Gulf wars, or Afghanistan wars? The Civil War probably did more to create a sense of nation among soldiers of the Northern States than any other war. Have to leave out Idaho then since it was not a State.

    If you look at WW2 from a pre war context, it was the single greatest failure of European and American Government policies in the history of Western Civilization. WW1 was the war to end all wars. Every policy to prevent WW2 after the first Great War only helped bring it on.

    By the same standard, post WW2 American policy of Cold War deterrence, then fighting the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf Wars, Afghanistan War, has been a great success. It sure looks like WW3 will not occur until after our time.


    • The mere existence of a military class is anathema to democracy. As far as those who would claim its nonexistence, I would mention that I am a veteran, and the son of two veterans, the grandson of two veterans, the great grandson of at least one veteran, the spouse of a veteran, and the sibling of a veteran. Both my siblings are/were married to veterans. Approximately half of those mentioned retired from the military.

      Speak to the veterans you know. I think the tiny fraction of them that are first generation veterans will be quite telling.

      As to the question of the difference ‘twixt the legitimate war and the wars of choice of the last 50 years (I’ll even grant you a push in Korea), the obvious difference is poverty. “Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” was an ancient complaint before it became a mantra among the soldiers fighting in the American Civil War. Ironically, the fighting of that war was much more fairly distributed than was generally the case for wars of that era. Less than a century later, many a rich man died in places like Normandy and Iwo Jima. Do you honestly believe that was the case in Vietnam or is the case in Afghanistan? If so, Glenn Beck has some gold to sell you.


    • [During the cold war the opportunity was at it’s greatest and it never happened]

      One of the reasons it didn’t happen is we had the draft during most of the Cold War.

      [the anti war peace niks ] were libertarians, like Ron Paul, who is as anti war as they get. They were a real minority and disappeared from sight after Pearl Harbor.

      [Every policy to prevent WW2 after the first Great War only helped bring it on.]

      Couldn’t agree more. Many historians see WWI and WWII as simply phases of the same war. And it didnt end till 1945.

      We’ve gotten smarter since then. We created the UN and the World Court and other institutions that made us work together. All far from perfect and in need of reform, but we did learn.


  8. I know more about gold than Glen Beck, which is why I am not buying it. If he wishes to sell it, who is to say it’s anyone’s business who does not wish to buy. Class warfare in the military is a different issue than a military class.

    Again, leadership and preparedness are bigger issues than some imaginary military class. Watch documentaries of the opening fazes of the Korean War and it is sad how badly trained and equipped the American units were. Anti tank guns that did not work in WW2 were given to soldiers to stop Soviet built T-34 tanks. Men who had been trained and experienced only as Military police in Japan were sent into a war zone.

    Since Reagan, for the most part our soldiers have at least had good equipment and training when the political class has sent them off in harms way.


    • This sounds crude I know, but war is not about protecting soldiers. It is about protecting us. And although you don’t see danger in a military class – or ‘caste’ perhaps is a better word – I do. And such a trend is a danger to democracy.


  9. Ms. Holland,

    So far you are arguing in an,,,, you know sometimes you can’t come up with the word you need. Seems to happen more and more. I guess the word I’m searching for is abstract.

    You are making abstract arguments. In my remarks about military unpreparedness being my concern, I have given and can give further examples of past cases to support my point.

    Please give some examples of events that have occurred which indicate this trend you see. I do not see it. As far as a caste, I fail to see it also. I now wish I had served in the military, but in that post Vietnam period when I was of the best age to join, it frankly was not an attractive option, even though two of my brothers and many others of my family did go in.


    • Well Alan, you see the trend or you don’t. One indication is geographical. I’m not going to go looking for one now, but there are maps showing where the soldiers come from – the distribution is very uneven and is concentrated in the south. That’s not good.


  10. I agree with you Moe on the unity from service in WW II.

    I think my dad meet Jews and Italian and other groups for the first time in his military service during that war.


  11. Ms. Holland,

    ” I’m not going to go looking for one now, but there are maps showing where the soldiers come from – the distribution is very uneven and is concentrated in the south. That’s not good. ”

    As Bob Schieffer said to David Axelrod, ” Is that all you got? ” 🙂

    It sounds to me like my area of the Mid Atlantic States is not meeting it’s patriotic quota. That along with the Uber Liberal West Coast and North east parts.

    I’m disappointed.


  12. Ms. Holland,

    I remain unconvinced. Perhaps if Liberals were not so anti military, more of a representative cross section of US citizens would be in. As far as the true measure of what the military is supposed to do, I would say that the current volunteer force is a great success. Many of the current soldiers have served multiple tours in both theaters of war. Considering that both are what I would call $h1t holes and the fact that thanks to a certain segment of politicians, the American Public has not fully backed them, I am in awe of these folks.

    That their missions have not been completed yet is not their doing. The disgraceful lack of leadership by the political class, has caused things to stagnate. Indecision is a fatal disease in war.

    When history of this period is written, Obama’s ambivalence towards victory will be prominent.

    I will speculate that the draft would shorten the war for the same reason it shortened the Vietnam War. It would turn the public against the conflict and secure American defeat. It would also make fighting future small wars less likely, which would bring on a big one sooner. The 1930s repeated .


    • [Perhaps if Liberals were not so anti military, more of a representative cross section of US citizens would be in] I guess you missed my point about the draft means everyone is subject to going.

      Nothing I said suggested anything about the politics of the troops or dishonored them in the least.

      So – public opposition would make us ‘lose’ the war(s). Pray tell what ‘winning’ those wars means? And how is it going to happen. And how many more trillions of $$ and lives and years are you okay with?


      • As for Vietnam, the only way we could have ‘won’ the war usiog the definition of hawkish generals like Westmoreland would have been to nuke the North. That’s what the good general wanted.

        And that would be a win?


  13. I think it fair to say the military doesn’t necssarily represent a cross section of society at large. In general, they seem to be more “conservative”. Seems like that makes their taking orders from a civilians they don’t perhaps respect, problematic.


  14. Pingback: Fight our wars with citizen soldiers! (via Whatever Works) « Brucetheeconomist's Blog

  15. If I may chime in here. I find everyone right on certain aspects of the discussion. Private Military Contractors hired by, say, the Indian government to protect a dam construction site from guerrillas can legitimately be called Private Security. But those same PMCs, working to protect that same dam construction site in an active war zone, pursuing offensive actions against a declared enemy can legitimately be called mercenaries. And mercenaries are problematic for any professional military (just look up how Roman commanders felt about having mercenaries in their legions). True, many of the PMC contract employees are ex-military. They have found something they’re good at and have found someone to pay them a very good wage to do it. I’m of the opinion that, since we don’t have an inexhaustible source of manpower for our military, hiring PMCs to perform rear echelon security & support functions isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But, I’m also of the opinion that putting PMC employees in the front line areas, or having them work alongside active duty troops (as they seem to be doing in Iraq & Afghanistan) is a terribly bad idea and harmful to troop morale.

    America has never had, nor as long as it is a representative republic will it have, a “military caste.” However America has, from the beginning, had a proud military heritage. How we got troops to fight for whatever reason was popular at the time has varied over the decades (During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate armies were made up primarily of volunteer militias from the individual states. By the time Vietnam rolled around we had a standing military. Even though the draft still existed, and many were drafted between 1961 & 1973, the majority of troops called to fight were reservists and guardsmen (i.e. volunteers). Is drafting a “great equalizer?” I think, yes, it is. What got out of hand in the latter years were college deferments and “ticket puncher” officer assignments. But, I digress.

    Many people with long family histories in the U.S., such as me, have lengthy family lines of people who have served. I am a veteran (Cold War), son of two veterans (WWII), grandson of a veteran (WWI), great grandson of two veterans (Spanish American War), great great grandson of a veteran (Civil War) and great great great grandson of two veterans (War of 1812). Before that it gets a little sketchy. Being a Virginian, I am also what is sometimes called a “Son of the South.” As Moe pointed out, many of our troops (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen & Marines) are from the states that once comprised the Confederacy. Now simply referred to as “the South.” Alan made (I presume tongue-in-cheek) reference to a “patriotic quota.” Of course, there is no such thing. Nor was there one when we had an active draft. But the South does have a very definitive military history going back to the Revolution. And the South, being overall more conservative than much of the rest of the country, raises most of its children with a philosophy of “God, guns and guts made the South (and, by extension, America) great.” This leads to a desire to provide service and many is the family who holds military service in high esteem. This is, I believe, the primary reason for a disparate number of military officers and enlisted coming from the South. We’ve had an all volunteer force for close to 40 years. So the distribution will, understandably, not be even across the country.

    Frankly, I’m not certain if I think reinstating an active draft or requiring x number of years of “national service” of everyone is or isn’t a good idea. One thing I do know. Unless America faced a dire emergency of the proportions of WWII, neither one of those is likely to happen in my lifetime.

    Bruce, I served under 4 Presidents (Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr & Clinton). And I never once disobeyed an order given me but executed those orders to the best of my ability. I, like any other American, liked/disliked policies established by each of these presidents to varying degree. But my oath was to protect and defend America and to faithfully follow the orders of those placed in authority over me. This, of course, includes the Commander-in-Chief whoever he/she may be. And being a Son of the South, I take my oaths quite seriously. That is why, I think, many wouldn’t find taking orders from a civilian they don’t necessarily respect to be problematic. Does that make them automatons, incapable of independent thought or action? No. Does that make them good Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen or Marines? Yes!


    • Harry – what a family history! As the granddaughter of Irish immigrants, I can say that my Irish side boasts many generations of warriors – in Ireland. I have photos of my grandfather as a young man in his Sam Brown belt with a rifle in his hand and fine Irish wool cap on his head. On the other side, a Civil War vet (just one that I know of) and three uncles in WWII (my own Dad was caring for a sick father, four children, his father’s business while he was ill and working full time as an attorney. The country decided he was more useful right where he was.)

      I don’t think I have reason or knowledge to disagree with anything you said here. But you didn’t address one issue – the morality of letting our country fight wars in the background and is there a moral aspect to that. Shouldn’t we be asked to sacrifice in some way if we engage in hostility purporteded to protect our country?


  16. I hate to sound crass, but given the general political apathy of the American public and the low-key affect a war has on American society writ large, maybe it would be in the best interests of the world as well as the American public for Americans to feel the wars more intensely.

    If there is little incentive for the public to question the morality of a conflict, there will be less critique of foreign policy and it will enable the swine of the corporatist lobby to litteraly get away with mass murder.

    Noboby but nobody would have supported the Iraq debacle if they knew that Hussien, – despite being as sick, egotistical and power-mad as he was – was not connected to extremism and actually had to deal with extremism by the minority groups of Iraq that he had oppresesd. The selling of the war was based on a lie, it cost over a million people their lives, and the only folks who gained anything were the neo-cons and their corporate sponsers.

    If America wants to remain a superpower, you guys need to be more responsible when it comes to your politics.

    Some have compared Iraq to Vietnam, but this isn’t entirely true: Vietnam had meaning, the confinement of Communist expansion. What meaning does Iraq have? What has made it worth the loss of life?

    If Americans were more affected or more aware, then they wouldn’t allow the US government to declare war on anyone and cause general mayhem without just cause.


  17. [If Americans were more affected or more aware, then they wouldn’t allow the US government to declare war on anyone and cause general mayhem without just cause.]

    And we’re not, and so we do.

    [it will enable the swine of the corporatist lobby to litteraly get away with mass murder. ]

    Of course they already do, just not so much here – yet. Think Union Carbide and Bhopal, think what Shell Oil has done in the Niger delta. People die and shareholders enjoy their earnings.


  18. Moe, in the 20th century, with the exception of WWII, all of our wars have been “in the background.”

    The U.S. was involved in WWI for about 18 months total. We suffered approximately 322ooo casualties and most of those due to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. There was some effort at home to give folks a feeling they were contributing (Scouts handed out informational pamphlets, Sauerkraut was renamed “Liberty Cabbage,” the dog breed of German Spitz was renamed the “American Eskimo Dog,” and the German measles were instead called “Liberty Measles.” Radio and newspapers carried war news. But to the average American it was a European war and not of much interest at home. When Korea rolled around it was another war “over there” that most of the country easily understood was the free world taking a stand against the barbarity of communism, but it wasn’t felt too much at home beyond those that had family involved in the fight. Vietnam also didn’t call for any sacrifices in personal comfort on the part of the folks here at home. The only real contact most Americans had with that war was watching the evening news in the comfort of their homes. And nothing since then (Granada, Panama, the Balkans, Iraq or Afghanistan) has changed very much. And all of this has come from the fact that, with the exception of WWII, large numbers of our population haven’t been required to serve in the military to fight in any of those conflicts.

    You asked, “Shouldn’t we be asked to sacrifice in some way if we engage in hostility purported to protect our country?” As a veteran, I can tell you that I liked it better that my country didn’t need to suffer through rationing of necessary goods or the collection of large amounts of metal, rubber, cooking grease, newspapers, etc simply to keep the troops fed, clothed and armed. Why? Because that would have affected my friends and family back home. And I didn’t want that if it weren’t necessary.

    If you, as an individual, wish to sacrifice something; be it volunteering time to the USO or contributing to charities such as the Wounded Warrior Project or Army/Navy Relief; then no one should stop you. But how is it good or moral to require the American people to suffer some deprivation solely because there are fellow countrymen in combat somewhere on the ground, in the air and/or on the sea? What would that serve when it isn’t necessary?


    • [But how is it good or moral to require the American people to suffer some deprivation solely because there are fellow countrymen in combat somewhere ?]

      Harry – I think my point isn’t so much about the troops as the fact that we’re out there killing people. And too often, what for?

      Doug said Vietnam had meaning – I think that’s debatable. But then, I thought the validity of the entire Cold War was debatable. The Dulles brothers for instance, were a primary creators of today’s Iran. In the 50’s, a very Westernized Iran elected Mousadek (sp?) as president – at the time he was the toast of the west, a sophisticated, educated liberal. But the Dulles saw a commie sympathizer. And so they overthrew him and put in the Shah. A dictator. Who turned the citizens into radicals in their opposition to the state. And we got Khomenei. And that fed the radicalization of Shia all over the world. (Oil, also.)Blowback I think it’s called.

      We fought in Kuwait to protect Saudi oil. And in doing so, put US troops on Saudi soil which enraged Saudi fundamentalists (like Osama). I won’t defend the Saudis for allowing Sharia and getting thier underwear in a knot over an action meant to defend them, but I don’t like hornets either and know not to go around putting sticks in their nests.

      I’m saying that if we are willing to go to war because we aren’t willing to turn off the lights when we leave a room, that is immoral. And if we consider turning the thermostat down to be a sacrifice, we are made of straw. Big guns don’t make big people.


  19. Harry,

    Just to be clear, I see no evidence that our military has ever done anything other than carry out our civilian leadership’s policies as best it could.

    I have the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform.

    I felt there was merit in Moe’s overall point about citizen soliders, but maybe that just a result of my age (I’m 54), and that I remember when a very large fraction of adult men had at least some military service in their background. That fraction is much smaller today I think, but perhaps that normal. What I may remember as “the desireable” norm may in fact have been a historical fluke of growing up in post WW II america.

    In any case thanks for your service.


    • Let me add to your excellent point bruce – when our lawmakers themselves had military experience, they were probably more circumspect about the laws and policies they laid on the military.


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