Ready for War: Mercenaries on the Streets of Portland

DHS has deployed brutal, private mercenaries to American streets.

By Anatole d’Ecotopia

Mercenaries are useless, disunited, unfaithful

They have nothing more to keep them in a battle

Other than a meager wage

Which is just about enough to make them wanna kill for you

But never enough to make them wanna die for ya

John Cale
Mercenaries (Ready for War)

The mercenaries have always been with us. From ancient Greek armies fighting for pay for the Persian Empire to the Sileraioi offering their swords to the tyrant of Sryacuse, through to the Condottieri and Landsknecht of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, there have always been armies for hire — and there have always been those willing to hire them.

And they have always been a problem. Niccolò Machiavelli had this to say on the subject:

…if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies…

And yet the temptation to resort to such flawed resources never quite goes away. George III resorted to Hessian mercenaries in a failed effort to contain a rebellion in a far corner of his empire — and Donald Trump is resorting to the same failed measures in an attempt to contain what could be the beginning of rebellion in the northwestern corner of the failed empire he now treats as his personal fiefdom.

For most of its history, the United States of America did not employ mercenaries. That changed, as did so many things, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Dick Cheney and George Bush’s ill-considered (and on-going) adventure in Afghanistan, combined with their equally atrocious (in the most literal sense) invasion of Iraq, exceeded the resources of the U.S. regular army. In order to pursue these massive campaigns, the U.S. Department of Defense (more honestly named in earlier times as the War Department) turned to what are euphemistically termed “Private Military Companies” . But Machiavelli would know them for what they are… and so would George III.

These private military companies are capitalism of the most obvious and unfettered kind. The best-known among them, Academi (formerly Blackwater), had earned in excess of a billion dollars by 2007 in exchange for providing Cheney & Bush with guns for hire and related services. They have since gone on to play profitable roles as well in U.S. domestic operations — most recently and notably as contractors for the Department of Homeland Security.

As reported in Medium on July 22, Academi subsidiary “Triple Canopy” is now providing contractors to DHS subsidiary Federal Protective Service — the agency charged with carrying out Trump’s absurd Executive Order to protect statuary, which is also being used to justify the current unrestrained violence and brutality directed toward individuals in Portland, Oregon protesting — of course — police violence and brutality.

And, of course, no action taken by the Trump administration would be complete without an additional layer of cronyism and corruption — and as it happens, Academi/Blackwater founder Erik Prince just happens to be U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ younger brother. That madame DeVos is one of the most epically under-qualified occupants of that cabinet seat in history and herself a beneficiary of cronyism is perhaps a topic for another day… then again, maybe not.

What is certainly within scope of discussion is how very much the employ of mercenaries, particularly against one’s own citizens, is very much the last resort of an incompetent despot. It also doesn’t work. George III’s use of mercenaries was one of the 27 specific grievances called out in the Declaration of Independence, and helped stiffen the resolve and resistance of the American Rebellion. Donald the First’s attempt to quell protest in Portland by similar means is having a similar result. The likelihood that deploying his domestic Hessians to cities like Chicago may end badly is all too likely.

But of course, would-be King Donald wants it to end badly. The theatrical rehearsal for the imposition of martial law is essential to his plans for impressing his mouth-breathing “base” with his Nixonian commitment to “Law & Order” — particularly when the rule of law is being used primarily to incarcerate people of color and their progressive allies. And the actual imposition of martial law may be the only thing standing between King Donald and a small domestic army of a slightly different sort: The many public prosecutors waiting for our would-be president for life to be stripped of executive privilege and protection. Those of us who longed to see Dick Cheney and George Bush in matching orange jumpsuits may get the deferred gratification of seeing the scenario played with a later chief executive who favors the color anyway — if we’re lucky.

And as reprehensible as it may be to see a president of the United States deploy an army of mercenary paramilitaries against the citizens of his own country, it would be naive to suppose that this county’s own military has not frequently played the role of mercenary as well. As General Smedley Butler famously observed:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

The only thing that has really changed in the ninety years since Smedley Butler has been the opportunity for the odious likes of Erik Prince to privatize the racket of war — but, of course, “privatizing” is what Republicans do. It may well be that, in this point in the descending arc of late-stage capitalism, “mercenary” is an obsolete term from an obsolete time when a distinction could be drawn between those who entered into conflict for honorable purposes and those who were merely in it for the money.

If so, it is more than dissent that is being crushed on the streets of Portland. It is what William S. Burroughs once described as “…the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams…”


  • Show Comments

  • Ian

    Is there verifiable documentation of Academi’s use and participation in the Portland occupation? I can’t find any. While it’s consistent with their use in past conflicts I want to be sure it’s true before sharing it.


  • Timothy moore

    King Donald? These idiots are tearing portland apart and you ridicule trump for doing something about it. What’s wrong with. Your also a drama queen, with all your little medevil quotes. Man up Mary. Order needs to be regained.

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