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Max Boot: Mercenaries are ok

[Mr. Boot is the author of The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.]

Since I have been defending, in recent days, the general idea of using mercenaries—even while calling for greater oversight of what they are actually doing in Iraq—I have often heard from skeptics that it is somehow “un-American” to rely on hired hands to do your fighting. Often cited is the fact that Americans have long hated the Hessians (actually, they came from all over Germany, not just from Hesse-Kassel) hired by the British to fight the American rebellion that began in 1776.

Well, of course, any nation will hate foreign troops who fight particularly hard and even viciously, as the “Hessians” did. But that’s hardly an argument against employing them. Quite the contrary. In fact, the U.S. has a long tradition of celebrated mercenaries. Here is a partial list:

• The privateers who harassed British shipping during both the War of Independence and the War of 1812.

• John Paul Jones, who, after the American Revolution, was an admiral in the Russian navy.

• The Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben, two of the most celebrated foreigners who helped the Continental Army fight for independence.

• The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which provided intelligence for the Union, and personal protection for President Lincoln, during the Civil War.

• Various Native American allies, who provided invaluable help in battles ranging from Jamestown to Wounded Knee.

• The Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of the French air force composed of Americans in World War I.

• Douglas MacArthur, who in the 1930’s, after stepping down as Army chief of staff, became a field marshal in the Philippines armed forces.

• The Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots led by Claire Chennault, who flew on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek in World War II.

• The Eagle Squadron, a unit of the Royal Air Force composed of American pilots in World War II.

• The Montagnards, the tribesmen who were recruited and organized into an armed force by the CIA and Army Special Forces to fight the Communists during the Vietnam War.

Mercenaries all, and yet they are all heroes of American history. Why is it impossible to imagine that mercenaries today could be equally useful, and sometimes even heroic?

Read entire article at Commentary Magazing (blog)