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The private military run amok?

“In the counsels of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the Military Industrial Complex.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

In 1961, during his farewell address to the nation, President Eisenhower warned the general public of the real dangers of privatized military industry. In an authoritative and dire choice of words, he declared that warmaking, as an industry, had the innate potential to inflict disastrous ramifications in many social, economical and political aspects should it be handled recklessly and greedily. By directly addressing the very real possibility of corrupting influence to the government from certain businesses and interest groups, he hinted at the future of war: profit-driven war companies.

Eisenhower’s speech is relevant to this very day. The very thing he so boldly denounced has been occurring extensively since the advent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the early stages of the aforementioned wars, the U.S. federal government began purchasing the services of select for-profit military companies. These companies, known as private military corporations (PMCs), provide combat forces which function as support, security and assault groups to augment the regular U.S. military.

These companies provide a multitude of services to our military, ranging from menial tasks such as equipment and cargo transport, to the deadly rigors of front-line combat. Not required to comply with the strict regulations and red-tape of the regular military, along with being immune from trial outside of their home countries, workers and soldiers from these PMCs and security companies are much more flexible in both function and appearance.

Here’s an example: A U.S. Army infantry soldier follows the orders of his commanding officer, and carries standard-issue weaponry and equipment while wearing his issued battle dress uniform. A PMC soldier could show up on the battlefield wearing purple cargo pants, basketball shoes, a custom ballistic vest, and an illegally modified assault rifle or light machine gun, should he or she so please. As previously mentioned, these mercenaries don’t have to follow all of the strict military protocol.

However, are they truly “mercenaries?” In all actuality, professional soldiers working under the jurisdiction of a private military corporation are not officially labeled as mercenaries. They are known as “contractors” because of their contract-bound relationship as soldiers with the regular military.

On another note, PMC contractors are not nearly as overt as regular G.I.s in the field; they are decidedly more low-key. This is used to the military’s advantage; contractors are often used as operatives in sticky situations wherein regular soldiers of the standard military would attract unwanted notoriety. Arguably, contractors are the ideal stealth operatives for such situations.

Due to their low profiles, most of the general public is unaware of the existence of these PMCs in the Middle East. Their deaths and injuries do not add up to the U.S. military casualties, and the status of these contractors is not typically announced on the mainstream TV news. As of May 18, 2007, at least 917 contractors had been killed in Iraq, and over 12,000 contractors had been wounded, according to The New York Times. As of Sept. 7, 3,761 U.S. military soldiers had been killed in Iraq, and 440 were killed in Afghanistan, according to antiwar.com. Needless to say, PMC contractor casualties are significant as well. As mentioned earlier, the military enjoys the ghost-like status of the contractors it employs.

Let’s put the statistics aside. Contractors are professional soldiers who are paid by their companies of employment to fight for contract purchasers. When taking the morality of this situation into focus, what is wrong with hiring soldiers to fight for one’s cause? The concept of the “soldier of fortune” is as old as the existence of organized military. Normal soldiers are paid salaries by their governments, so why was Eisenhower so abhorred with business takeover of professional soldiering? Is anything dysfunctional with this profit-based military system?

Regardless of any pro-war or anti-war opinions or beliefs, the idea of purchasing trained fighters is not typically regarded as being inherently evil, and it is a legitimate form of business. However, Eisenhower warned us of the dangers of corrupting influence and of severe military privatization. From his perspective, one might visualize the eventual dissolving of standard militaries, and heavy government reliance on private military corporations and security firms.

As history will tell, the commander of the warmakers is the commander of the world. Eisenhower sought to give people an idea of the potential havoc which a fully profit-driven war machine could wreak on the world, and how it would mangle the foundations of freedom and liberty in the free world.

Eisenhower gave us a warning to keep the Military Industrial Complex in line. But the real question is, is it in line?

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