In defence of mercenary soldiering

"Mercenary soldiering is an old profession, as old as warfare and no doubt almost as old as the oldest profession."1 It is also a modern profession and as such cops flak from idealists and many others.

The fact is, mercenary soldiers are sometimes required. Winston Churchill was on the right track when he said, "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us."

Eeben Barlow, the founder of Executive Outcomes, took it further when he said, "What do you do when your house is burning down? You call for help. At that moment you don't care where the help comes from and who the guys are, so long as they come and put the fire out."2

He was referring to the dreadful case of the Chibok girls. You may remember the terror group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 high-school girls from their school in Chibok, Nigeria on the night of 14-15 April 2014.3  Can you imagine the hell that their parents went through, waiting for the Nigerian government to act, to send the Nigerian army after Boko Haram, failing which to send somebody, anybody, even mercenaries? (It is believed that at least 100 of the girls are still missing.)

Yes, mercenary soldiers have their uses, and have been used in countless wars down the centuries but also in modern times. How about the esteemed Gurkhas? How about the popular French Foreign Legion? And how about the now-respectable 'private military contractors' used in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and many other places?

And how about the Cubans? Remember more than 300 000 Cuban troops – that's a lot of men – fought with the MPLA government in Angola against South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.4 If we accept SJG Clarke's definition of a mercenary, namely 'a foreigner in the country in which he is fighting or serving; and he is paid by the government of that country, or some other body, to fight',5 then we must accept that the Cubans were mercenaries. Why do they never cop flak?

And how about Che Guevara? He spent seven months in the Congo near Baraka, bolstering the rebel cause in 1965, and some of his men, Cubans, participated in the defence of Baraka when the town was attacked by Mike Hoare's 5 Commando. Were they not mercenaries? One can only wonder what Hollywood would have made of this battle for supremacy between Left and Right, between Guevara and Hoare, climaxing as it did at that time under the African sun.

The point here is that if Mike Hoare's men were mercenaries, then so were the Cubans in Angola and in the Congo. Somehow, the media forget that.

And finally, it is useful to remember the context in which 5 Commando operated in the Congo in the mid 60s, and what they achieved. The Cold War was on. The Russians and Chinese were backing the Simba rebels and they had taken more than half the country. America, for its own reasons (see next Blog), wanted to keep the communists out and persuaded the Congo government, specifically prime minister Moise Tshombe, to employ mercenary soldiers to do the job.

This accorded perfectly with Mike Hoare's number one condition of employment as a mercenary leader, that the employer should be the government of the day.

And so, the CIA, via the Congo government, funded the employment of mercenary soldiers to do the job … because the Congolese Army had already shown they were incapable of doing so. In fact, it was well known at the time that the Congolese army used to reverse their vehicles into battle so that they could make a quick getaway if necessary.

And all the while, every victory the mercenaries achieved was loudly applauded by those in the Rhodesias and in South Africa who were fearful of the communists. Because they knew the Reds were coming south after the Congo … and they knew they would be in BIG trouble if the Wild Geese could not stop them.

Mike Hoare, for one, often told me he had gone to the Congo to fight because he did not want his children in South Africa 'to grow up speaking Russian'. Thanks, Dad.

Yes, war is a ghastly business, but so is the alternative. It was men like Mike Hoare and his Wild Geese, call them rough men if you like, who saved much of southern Africa from the communists at that time, and it is my experience that many many people of that generation, mainly those who did the applauding, regarded Mike and his men as heroes.

1: 'Mad Mike' Hoare: The Legend, by Chris Hoare

2: Conversation with author, 2019



5: From: The Congo Mercenary

'Mad Mike' Hoare and Larry Murphy CIA

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