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« Another First Draft | Main | Embracing Their Inner Geek »

Mercenaries

The blogosphere is abuzz with this bit of vile nonsense from William Arkin at the WaPo.

Lileks isn't impressed. Neither are the guys at BlackFive.

Neither am I. Disregarding the notion that those fighting for our country should have at least as much freedom of speech as anyone else (those ingrates!), the notion that they are mercenaries isn't just wrong--it's slanderous. As Lileks notes:

But it is the United States and instead this NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.

Oops, indeed. That just slipped out. He temporarily forgot the patriotism that motivates many, and provides a definitional difference between mercs and volunteer soldiers, but thank God he caught himself in time. As for that dirty work, it is best understood in terms of soiled linen, which wives are ALWAYS complaining about. We donít do the laundry, we donít do it right, we mix the bloody clothes with the silk shirts, et cetera.

Arguably, there were, and are, some people who joined up to get a job and an education. But I think that ended on September 10th. The men and women in the armed forces now are largely there because they think they have an important job to do, and many of them could be making a lot more money stateside, with a lot less risk to life and limb, given the booming economy and low unemployment rate. If I were in the service, I'd be as furious, and perhaps more furious than Uncle Jimbo. I might even drop the F-bomb, too. In fact, I'm not in the service, and I find Arkin's piece beneath contempt.

[Update at 9:30 AM]

Glenn Wishard, in comments over at Winds of Change:

I think Blackfive delivered only half the kicks that Arkin deserves for this, because the First Amendment of the Constitution doesn't begin to cover the sacred, centuries-old right of the soldier to gripe.

Soldiers are bound by law and duty to obey orders they don't want to obey, and fight wars they may not agree with or understand, and to lay down their lives for ungrateful cretins like William Arkin. In exchange for this they have a right to disapprove of the American people, second lieutenants, bad food, poor supplies, the weather, the atomic weight of cobalt, and the entire metaphysical structure of time and space. There is even ritualized griping in the military, a sort of art form, often featuring a guy named Jody who is back at home screwing your sister, your girlfriend, and your mother.

Arkin ought to recognize Jody. He is Jody, the ungrateful, spoiled rotten civilian who has been protected and cared for his entire life. He sits at home lecturing and pontificating while better men hump heavy loads through the worst places on earth, and he feels entitled to look down on them for this service. He congratulates himself on being smarter than they are, and credits himself with a superior moral character on top of that.

[Mid-afternoon update]

Don Surber writes about free speech ping pong.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 01, 2007 06:44 AM
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Comments

One of those interesting perspective issues:

When a handful of soldiers indicated they opposed the war, the Left-side of the blogosphere cheered them on. Their names were proudly recited, as evidence that the military itself opposed the war.

When a handful of soldiers (and let's remember that Arkin only lists a few) support the war, Arkin, long of the Left, damns the entire military, noting that they should be grateful that their kind are not spat upon. He even goes so far as to repeat the Kerry-esque charge (undoubtedly seared, seared into his faculties) that the military is filled with rapists and murderers.

As ever, free speech for those who agree, but none for those who don't.

Posted by Lurking Observer at February 1, 2007 07:47 AM

The men and women in the armed forces now are largely there because they think they have an important job to do, and many of them could be making a lot more money stateside, with a lot less risk to life and limb, given the booming economy and low unemployment rate.

Then they should go ahead and do that, instead of fighting for an ungrateful public.

(For that matter, the economy isn't "booming" for the median household. It's up slightly at the median, but it's only a bonanza for the top 1%. Army enlistees will of course choose based on their own career prospects, not on the basis of someone else getting rich. But that's not the biggest problem with your post.)

Posted by Jim Harris at February 1, 2007 07:49 AM

As ever, free speech for those who agree, but none for those who don't.

Counterfactual. Arkin clearly explained that these resentful troops are entitled to free speech, they only need to be told that they are wrong. Being told that you are wrong isn't censorship. On the contrary, the troops are censored from the other side. Soldiers who criticize the Army too much can be punished for disloyalty.

Posted by Jim Harris at February 1, 2007 07:58 AM

Methinks Arkin knew full well that he was going to stir up a storm with this one. So why did he write this? A drunken fit? Hmmm? ... In any case, as for the soldiers, it's time to stop asking them what they think: pro-war or anti-war or whatever. The decision to wage war, continue war, or fund war isn't theirs. Or if we do ask them what they think, it's time to stop reporting this as news one way or another. Their thoughts on how well or badly the war is going can be digested by their superiors rather than by the media.

Posted by Toast_n_Tea at February 1, 2007 08:09 AM

Then they should go ahead and do that, instead of fighting for an ungrateful public.

Perhaps they think that it's important to continue to fight, regardless of the opinion of a misinformed and ungrateful public, as long as their mission remains.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 1, 2007 08:24 AM

TnT: I fully agree. The decision to dispatch troops is made by the political authorities, not the military.

So, let's also have an end to the chickenhawk nonsense, yes?

Jim H:

Wow. So, if soldiers agree w/ the mission and are unhappy with the lack of popular support, they are to be told they're wrong? And btw, as Arkin notes, the troops should be grateful that they're getting "obscene" support?

Somehow, I must've missed the similar Arkin argument that soldiers who disagree w/ the mission should be told that they are wrong, because it's not their job to agree or disagree but to do their jobs?

BTW, in the military, there is no freedom of speech, so the least Arkin could've done would've been to be consistent about it, rather than deciding how some exercise should lead to being told you're wrong, and remaining silent on others.

Posted by Lurking Observer at February 1, 2007 08:24 AM

If I had my way I wouldn't support "the soldiers" or this terrible war, but the income tax makes my opinion irrelevant. Where is the honor in invading a country that has not attacked us? Where is the glory in bringing chaos and terror to a people who have had enough trouble without our help?
What are the options for someone who believes this war is wrong? Just shut up, wave a flag and "support the troops"?

Posted by Walt at February 1, 2007 08:38 AM

I agree that anybody who opposes the war is opposing our troops. That makes them, in effect, supporting the enemy and therefore traitors.

So I'm all in favor of rounding up the 2/3s of Americans who are opposed to the war and throwing them in jail.

Posted by Vin Hirst at February 1, 2007 08:41 AM

Perhaps they think that it's important to continue to fight, regardless of the opinion of a misinformed and ungrateful public, as long as their mission remains.

Then that's just their business. It would be nice the taxpayers were equally free to decide whether they should still pay for the war in Iraq. They deserve better than "I'm the decider".

It would be nice if people in this discussion remembered basic libertarian and Randian thought. Ayn Rand insisted there is no greater danger to the world than altruism. Now, I don't agree with your namesake on all points, but she isn't entirely wrong either. A selfish interloper can be bought off or otherwise deterred, but the altruist will never stop. The troops in the NBC basically said, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." In ordinary times, virtually all libertarians would take that as a red flag, or even a threat, but these are not ordinary times. In addition to the physical damage of 9/11, it also led to widespread mental impairment.

Posted by Jim Harris at February 1, 2007 08:53 AM

What are the options for someone who believes this war is wrong? Just shut up, wave a flag and "support the troops"?

Here's an option for you: protest if you feel you must, but how about not supporting morons like Arkin who libel our troops.

Posted by kayawanee at February 1, 2007 08:55 AM

The Lileks link goes to the same Arkin article. Did Lileks post in the comments of that article, or was this a slip?

Posted by John Breen III at February 1, 2007 09:06 AM

In the military, there is no freedom of speech

That's right, in the military, freedom of speech is already highly restricted. Arkin certainly didn't call for censorship, but even if he had, attacking him for it would still be whining.

And yes, there is something obscene about the care packages. The government is already spending $600,000 per soldier per year in Iraq, so how is it that they still need hand warmers? If they need really need hand warmers, then the logistics officers are a pack of idiots. If they aren't idiots, the care packages are just saccharine on top of public expense. Do you send the government flowers when you pay your taxes?

But what is truly obscene is that the troops are not far from a lot of people who really do need care packages. Namely, millions of Iraqi refugees who have fled for their lives and lost their homes. America isn't doing squat for them, not even for the ones who suffer extra danger because they worked for the occupation.

Posted by Jim Harris at February 1, 2007 09:14 AM

Here's the Lileks link:
http://www.lileks.com/bleats/

Arkin is obviously a journalist doing the work of those who hate the US and all it represents.

Posted by Ron Thorne at February 1, 2007 09:21 AM

> It would be nice the taxpayers were equally free to decide whether they should still pay for the war in Iraq.

Did you ever notice how lefties whine about paying for things that they don't like but get all in a tizz when someone wants to get out of paying for any of the leftie boodoggles.

Posted by Andy Freeman at February 1, 2007 09:29 AM

"Did you ever notice how lefties whine about paying for things that they don't like but get all in a tizz when someone wants to get out of paying for any of the leftie boodoggles."

So much of this could be avoided - on both sides - if the Constitution were merely followed to the letter.

Posted by Ed Minchau at February 1, 2007 09:45 AM

Sorry, I've fixed the Lileks link.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 1, 2007 10:10 AM

Did you ever notice how lefties whine about paying for things that they don't like but get all in a tizz when someone wants to get out of paying for any of the leftie boodoggles.

See, this is the difference between a reasonable man and a fanatic. The reasonable man is willing to say, "I don't usually agree with you, but this time you won the argument on my terms." The fanatic instead says, "Hypocrites! How dare you borrow my ideology for your own ends?" The fanatic is incapable of real cooperation with other factions.

Certainly the war in Iraq has been conceived and prosecuted by fanatics. They attacked every objection, because every objection was seen as a weapon of the "lefties". They redefined conservatism to equal themselves (as Rand perceptively noted a few days ago), and they set on a course that won't do any good for any side of America.

(Okay, it's been good for war profiteers, but let's charitably not count that as a side.)

Posted by Jim Harris at February 1, 2007 10:17 AM


Is this the New Chickenhawk Argument?

First the Chickenidiots say that only those who have served have a right to free speech. They never talk to those who serve, of course.

When they finally get around to it, they find out that those who serve don't agree with the Chickenidiots.

So, now only those who DON'T serve have a right to speak?

Posted by at February 1, 2007 10:29 AM

Please, label them correctly. Not Chickenidiots: Chickenshits

Posted by Mike Puckett at February 1, 2007 11:12 AM

There's so much wrong with Arkin's article all I'll say is, "..aw horse poop Mr Arkin".

Posted by Steve at February 1, 2007 11:29 AM

Commenters on the Left may want to survey their favorite blogs and see if theyíve broken silence on this article. It appears that these commenters have followed Mr. Arkin Over the Top into No Manís Land without any covering fire from their artillery, e.g., Kos, My DD etc.

Posted by G. Weightman at February 1, 2007 01:08 PM

I'm sure the troops believe in the mission.

You can't pick up a rifle and pack and go out into
the shadow of the valley of death, without
1,000% belief in what you are doing and what the
men in your unit are doing.

That said the mission is garbage. Everyone knows it,
even rand knows it.

If rand believed in this mission, he'd be over in baghdad
nation-building, not pontificating.

I'm sure rand would be eminently qualified to work as
a civil affairs officer in Anbar. He could explain
libertarianism and ayn rand to the Arabs.

Posted by anonymous at February 1, 2007 01:19 PM

A J-H,

1) What is the maximum age for non-prior service enlistment?

2) What is the age of one Rand Simberg?

3) Which is greater?

4) Do you want a towell to wipe that egg off your face or do you want to keep comitting the same stupid fallacy over and over?

You are like the stupid kid who keeps humping the sofa. You are so dumb you don't realize people are laughing AT you and not WITH you.

Posted by Mike Puckett at February 1, 2007 01:46 PM

Mr. Arkin and, surprisingly, many of his critics have forgotten that the definition of "mercenary" has two parts:

(1) You get paid.

(2) You don't fight for your own country.

That's why the Hessians (Germans) were mercenaries when they fought for the British, but the British soldiers themselves were not (although they were, of course, paid). Had the Hessians chosen to fight for Hesse with the exact same pay and motivations, they would no longer have been mercenaries. Even Roman legionaries who were "paid" largely by the privilege of looting the enemy were not mercenaries because, duh, they fought for Rome.

Those not French in the French Foreign Legion can reasonably be called mercenaries. But obviously no one in the US army could be. (Even those who are not citizens must still be legal aliens; the FFL in contrast takes you whether or not you can legally live in France.)

What Mr. Arkin has done is take a word that, as a noun, has a narrow, clear meaning (a soldier who fights for any country, not just his own) and confuse it with a broad civilian adjective derived from that word (the adjective "mercenary", meaning anyone more concerned with money rewards than intangibles like honor or glory). In that way he can take the odium that properly attaches to the noun and imply it also should attach to folks to whom the broad civilian adjective might apply, e.g. soldiers in it more for the pay than the glory and honor.

In doing so, he commits a massive linguistic fraud. It's as if I suggested that, because Mr. Arkin would alter what he writes if it would impact his paycheck, he's a bit of a whore (using the broad meaning of "whore" to mean someone who'll do anything for money), and then concluded that he was an actual prostitute and thus probably infected with AIDS or syphilis.

Does this bullshit happen by accident? I think not. Like many a sleazy wordmonger on the left, Mr. Arkin is an expert in twisting words about so that he can cut 'n' paste emotional nuances from one place (where they belong) to another (where they don't). He's a good example of why journalists, just like used-automobile salesmen and divorce lawyers, need to spend a lot of time and energy congratulating each other on their high morals and noble calling. "But on you the dirt and filth you roll around in look charming, dahling..." I'd have them all shot.

Posted by Carl Pham at February 1, 2007 01:59 PM

Lurking Observer, I never quite subscribed to the "chickenhawk nonsense," so, Yes, gladly! ;-)

Though (ugh I hope I'm not violating the spirit of this agreement already) the neocons or any other group should try to avoid comment on subjects truly out of their actual experience, such as (a) How Arabs Think (b) Who is in charge of Iran (c) Why Global warming is an illusion (d) How the Surge will work, (e) What the Chinese are cooking today, (f) Is the Mahdi Jewish etc.

Or at least we should stop taking these pundits so seriously, both left and right who seem to know all the answers, most of which they Googled the night before, or figured out based on some carefully directed funding at a Think Tank. We should ask them, as any kid asks his Mummy, How do YOU know that? For better answers one could always turn to this blog and comments ;-)

Posted by Toast_n_Tea at February 1, 2007 02:01 PM

The Don Surber link redirects to the space.com article discussed above...

Posted by at February 1, 2007 02:03 PM

See, this is the difference between a reasonable man and a fanatic.

Hmmm...no...I'd have to say the difference between a reasonable man and a fanatic is better illustrated by the person who make five attempts to start an argument with which we're all bored in the same comment thread.

Posted by Carl Pham at February 1, 2007 02:07 PM

Arkin seems like a waste of time. I'm sure he'll find out the difference between "Freedom of Speech" as provided by the government and "being published" as provided by his employer. Afterwards, he will be the new victim poster child of the anti-war crowd.

How long before he drinks smoothies for a week and calls it a hunger strike for the troops?

How long before he gets a photo op with some dictator, "who received more percentage of votes than Bush"?

I may not be morally superior to Mr. Arkin, but I know my future looks pretty good compared to his.

Posted by Leland at February 1, 2007 02:15 PM

Puckett

Ever hear of a waiver?

If rand were really interested in service, he could find
a way. Heck, he could go over take a job with a State department,
AID, UN, DTRA, all sorts of jobs.

Halliburton is still hiring.

No, rand doesn't believe Iraq is worth any form of
sacrifice.

His sofa is far too comfy, for him to risk anything.

Posted by anonymous at February 1, 2007 03:17 PM


> What are the options for someone who believes this war is wrong? Just
> shut up, wave a flag and "support the troops"?

You could renounce your American citizenship, move to Iraq, and fight against the Evil American Empire.

Or you could be a "chickenhawk" like Mr. Anonymous. Remain in the United States and enjoy all the comforts and privileges of an American citizen, while giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Tell everyone how "brave" you are for opposing the US Army, without risking anything more than carpal tunnel syndrome.

Posted by Two Options at February 1, 2007 03:53 PM

Or you could vote out the turkeys who got us into this mess.

Posted by Three Options at February 1, 2007 09:01 PM

Or you could vote out the turkeys who got us into this mess.

Dem liberals be working on that. Better stop 'em. But it don't look like there are too many folk eager to continue the same mess after January 2009. Except John McCain but I betcha he will not win the GOP nomination.

Too bad Dubya just can't declare martial law and remain Decider in Chief for as long as it takes.

Posted by anonymoose at February 1, 2007 10:33 PM


> Or you could vote out the turkeys who got us into this mess.

Did you say "us"? Did you dare compare yourself to the men and women who are fighting in Iraq, who protect your freedom of speech even while you're trying to undermine them?

You aren't in this "mess," Mr. Chickenhawk. That would take guts. You're hiding out in the old ole USA. You want to undercut our military in the voting booth and think that makes you brave. What are you risking for your beliefs? A papercut? Chickenhawk. Chickensquawk.

Posted by Is that you, Robert? at February 2, 2007 12:41 AM

"Puckett
Ever hear of a waiver?
If rand were really interested in service, he could find
a way. Heck, he could go over take a job with a State department,
AID, UN, DTRA, all sorts of jobs.
Halliburton is still hiring.
No, rand doesn't believe Iraq is worth any form of
sacrifice.
His sofa is far too comfy, for him to risk anything.
"

So let me get this straight:
You can't advocate the war unless you join.

Once you join, you can't speak in officially in a political capacity unless you have PA training.

When you do speak unofficially once you've joined, you have assholes like Mr. Arkin claim you shouldn't and impugn your motives.

Posted by Aaron at February 2, 2007 02:08 AM

PS. Why do (some) mercenaries get such a bad rap? Sometimes, if you're an undefended African democracy like Rhodesia getting assaulted by the Soviet Union, and the entire free world is trying to think happy thoughts and forget you exist, mercenaries are the only ones you can call.

Posted by Aaron at February 2, 2007 02:13 AM

I didn't read the other comments, but I know my own series of events.

My brother joined the military when I was 12. LONG before that I had dedicated myself to service. I was an honors student in grade school, I was as well in middle school, and in middle school I was also a VERY competative wrestler. I defied my teachers, ESPECIALLY on the day of military action (I can't recall the date) that initiated the "100 hours war" bush the first acted on. My school GAVE EVERY STUDENT the day off, so we could protest the initiation of combat, because THE GREATEST FORM OF PATRIOTISM IS INDOCTRINATING YOUR CHILDREN WITHOUT YOUR OR THEIR WILL TO ACCEPT PARTICIPATION IN A BS protest.

I refused to leave my school, I said, to my principal "if you aren't here, I'm gonna smoke pot in your parking lot"

SURE AS SHIT!!! I and my friends who also had dogs in the fight, smoked pot in the parking lot of my highschool, and weren't punished.

The next day, a number of us (with dogs in the fight, like my brother) got SUS-FLOGGING-SPENDED for calling the school out.

100% true.

Agree or disagree? fine, but ACCUSATION, is WRONG, and PROOF if incorect thinking.

Posted by Wickedpinto at February 2, 2007 03:23 AM

IIRC, Rand is over 50. I have not heard of a waver in modern times for someone over 50.


Do you volunteer to work on every cause you support? Did you go to Kosovo?

Posted by Mike Puckett at February 2, 2007 07:59 AM

bush and the neo-cons cooked up a stupid war,
and it's been so ill thought out, we are looking at
the new centcom commander losing 4 wars simultaneously
Iraq, afghanistan, Somalia, and Iran.

Remember Somalia? US forces were committed, and
the ethiopians are already gone. Now what? Who holds
mogadishu?

Posted by anonymous at February 4, 2007 05:50 PM


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