Standing Armies Don't Stand Around Very Long

There are historians like Garry Wills who tell us that the whole question of militia and standing armies isn't relevant anymore. The Second Amendment may have mattered in the early 19th century when Justice Joseph Storey, who was young enough to remember the American Revolution, called it "the very palladium of our liberties," but in modern warfare today things have changed. What strikes me, however, is the continuity of such issues over a long period of time.

In that part of the evolution of a civilization known as the Empire phase, there is always a drift toward volunteer, professional imperial strike forces, to replace the volunteer, defensive militia, what might be called the Cincinnatus model, as of the early Roman Republic. By the time depicted in the recent film Gladiator, the large part of the Roman forces fighting the Germans would have been themselves part of that vast immigrant horde entering the Empire, and finding employment with the State as the most immediate way to better themselves economically.

The emperors Hadrian and Trajan were Spaniards, and later Diocletian, who brought the final phases of state socialism to the Empire, locking people feudal-style into a niche, had himself risen from slavery to don the imperial purple robes. For centuries, increasing numbers of the old Romans had been on the dole, a life featuring bread and circuses as discussed in HJ Haskell's The New Deal in Old Rome (1938).

Have things been any different in the emerging American Empire, thought by some historians to be subject to some mystical historical "exceptionalism"? After the War of 1812, one of earliest wars for expansion, the standing army found new employment by dragging the Indians west along what became known as the "Trail of Tears."

In an article in a text and trade book of some years ago, in the format of a newspaper, News of the Nation (1975), I quoted some of those veterans who considered it the most degrading and immoral assignment of their careers. There was no honor in it.

Even in the mid-19th century, American adventurers were serving the Chinese Empire, and Frederick Ward succeeded the British General Charles "Chinese" Gordon in leading the "Ever-Victorious" army against the T'ai P'ings, while Gordon met his demise at Khartoum.

After the Civil War, having learned the strategy of "total war," the veterans of both the Confederacy and the Grand Army of the Republic, some of them "Buffalo" soldiers, developed tactics of "counter-insurgency" warfare against the Indians in the west.

The Philippine Insurgency was another great training ground, as were the interventions later taking place all over the planet, from the Marines learning auto-gyro tactics against Sandino in Nicaragua in the late u201820s to the "Flying Tigers" organized to fight the Japanese in Asia a decade later.

General Smedley Butler, one of seven Marines to win 2 Medals of Honor in combat, discussed all of this in his controversial book, War is a Racket (1934), calling his own career that of a "gangster" for imperialism. (See also, for example, Hans Schmidt, Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History (1987).

Even in the 1930s, the American Empire had its own "loan a soldier" program underway. Today, of course, the Pentagon talks about the global terrorists organizing these kinds of operations!

A marvelous account of this is Marine Captain John H. Craige's Black Bagdad (1933) recounting his "loan" to the Haitian government as a white officer leading black troops, and which has a wonderful description of voodoo in that country. (See also, Robert Tallent, Voodoo in New Orleans (1951). Craige managed also to serve at one time or another "on loan" in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras.

When the Americans fled Saigon in 1975, many of the former army u2018copter pilots signed on with Bell, which had secured a contract with the Shah of Iran to build a new Persian Empire force, egged on by Richard Nixon, who was anxious to sell him arms, and managed $9 billion worth.

What was known as the "Great Southeast Asia Floating Crap Game," a bevy of Vietnamese whores and their pimps, followed their American clients to bases outside Tehran. Their drunken carousing was propaganda for the Islamic mullahs, who in the inflation had lost their subsidy from the Shah, and now attacked him as well as the wicked Americans.

A syndicated article by Col. David Hackworth, entitled "Wanted: Guns for Hire," amply demonstrates that the imperial war games continue. It seems 80 American paratroopers, part of our standing army in Macedonia "rescued" 400 members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the latter mostly armed with American weapons, from the clutches of the Macedonian army. Why?

Because 17 of their "instructors" are members of "a high ticket Rent-a-Soldier [Gladiator?] outfit called MPRI — Military Professional Resources Incorporated — that operates in the shadow of the Pentagon, and has been hired by the CIA and our State Department" for operations in the former Yugoslavia.

This is a kind of tactical, military version of the Carlyle Group, led by former Pentagon official Frank Carlucci, employing former president George Bush and many of Carlucci's former Pentagon officials, contracting for billions of $$ to advise other governments, especially among our client states.

MPRI, which is headed by former U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Carl E. Vuono, "is filled with former U.S. Army personnel, from generals to senior sergeants, all of whom draw handsome wages on top of their Army retired salaries."

In the early 1990s this same outfit trained soldiers in Croatia for "Operation Storm," which resulted in the "ethnic cleaning" of some 200,000 Serbians.

MPRI even has a web site. Check it out. It advertises: "Providing the world the best defense, law enforcement and leadership training — capitalizing on the experience and skills of America's best seasoned professionals. Integrity, ethics, professionalism, quality, and cost competitiveness are our hallmarks."

It sketches out four areas of expertise: National, International, Strategic and Law Enforcement. Nationally, it has representation in 48 of the 50 states, and all kinds of connections with the regular Army, while internationally it lists "a long list of humanitarian and peace operations around the world," including shipping more than $900 million in donated food and medical supplies to the newly independent states formerly part of the Soviet Union.

Strategically, its Senior Leader Seminars are available abroad, and it even has a National Seminar Series. Finally, in Law Enforcement, its Alexandria Group offers all kinds of training, in case your local police are not up to snuff.

The potential here for humanitarian help is simply staggering. Imagine the lives that could have been saved in Waco if MPRI had been contracted with, instead of those less well-trained personnel at the BATF and the FBI. And abroad, the Executive Administrative State need not bother with the Congress, and cumbersome laws like the War Powers Act, when a quick, clean intervention is required.

Declaration of War by the Congress? Vietnam, and other interventions have demonstrated that is a constitutional nicety of the past, as obsolete as the Second Amendment. Standing Army? It's not even an issue, if you have a standing contract force of veterans at the ready.

Col. Hackworth observes, "While Ollie North's Contra boys and the mercenaries who botched up the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion might not have been so businesslike — or so blatant — they did establish an unfortunate tradition of hired guns sticking our nation into one minefield after another."

He reports that dozens of his former Army pals are joining MPRI, or other military contractors, in locations like Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, ex-Yugoslavia, and Columbia. "We're talking booming business here."

Hackworth mentions that a number have rejected such offers of "a high-paying mercenary job," or as one still-serving veteran of 3 wars said, "A number of contactors have been pitching me to work for them after I retire. I said no. There's no principles, no love of country, no honor — just MONEY. I can't…sell my soul for a buck." And, the Col. concludes, "There are laws on the books that prevent American citizens from serving foreign governments, It's about time Congress did its duty and enforced them."

Hackworth is part of a long line of American military men who have questioned this interventionism, often late in their careers. The recent book by General Wesley K. Clark, the former commander of the Nato forces in the former Yugoslavia, Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat (2001), makes it clear that this battle continues, and is raging between groups within the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom, and between each of those bureaucracies operating the Empire.

How will it all end? History offers no sanguine lessons on halting Empire. Despite its several historical inaccuracies, it is well to recall that in the film, Maximus' soldiers owed a personal loyalty to him, and not even to the authoritarian State, while the Republic of laws was several centuries in the past.

The film opens with the launching of huge missiles by catapults, the guided missiles of their day, and the struggles by military contractors for supplying the army with everything from sandals to shields, had been a great arena of political corruption since long before even Julius Caesar. Even without a vote, women ran the political machines, and that old reactionary Cato the Elder could bellow in the Senate, "How is it that we Romans, who rule over all other men, are ruled by our women?"

So relax, enjoy all the sports events this season, watch them live in some arena and on television, or take a vacation trip abroad, safe in the knowledge that MPRI, and other such companies, stand ready to defend our Freedom in their own inimitable humanitarian and professional fashion, both at home and overseas. Ain't Corporatism Grand!

July 14, 2001