The Modern Mercenary

This week’s show looked partly at three labels that often confusingly overlap: freedom fighter, terrorist, and soldier of fortune.

In the 1980s, the United States was engaged in an active struggle to define the boundaries between freedom fighters and terrorists in Latin America, where communist militias sought to overthrow militaristic dictators.

And as one interviewee mentioned, the Iraq War marked America’s entrance into the murky world of mercenary armies, as private military contractors started to outnumber American military forces on the ground.

Mercenaries and freedom fighters — and to a lesser extent, terrorists — have been an object of fascination in literature, film, and television for some time. But lately, as they have become a more common on the battlefield, they’ve become a focal point for journalists covering conflicts.

Here’s a sampling of links for those interested in diving deeper into the lives of modern mercenaries. Please keep in mind — some of what follows may contain disturbing or upsetting content. War is ugly.


Superpower for Hire: Rise of the Private Military – VICE
VICE’s short doc on the rise of private military contractors in Iraq.

Arab Spring Break – EPIC True Stories
The story of a 21 year-old UCLA math major who joined the Libyan civil war on vacation.

Secrets of Modern Mercenaries: Inside the Rise of Private Armies – Salon
An excerpt from Sean McFate’s celebrated book on today’s private militaries, “Modern Mercenaries: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order.” The Atlantic has an interview with the author.

The Chaos Company – Vanity Fair
A look inside the world’s largest private security company, G4S, with more than half a million employees in 125 countries. (Ed. — that’s almost 10 times the size of the Canadian Army!)

Derek Hudson’s Best Photograph – The Guardian
Most of us view mercenaries through the romantic lens of television and movies. Derek Hudson captured that image perfectly — just before all hell broke loose.

Use of Mercenaries as a means of violating human rights – United Nations
For those who want a really deep dive into the history of mercenaries and the trouble they pose today, read this report. (Ed. — I recommend skipping to section V: “Historical evolution of mercenaries and foreign fighters” for those not interested in legal jargon. It’s on page 11.)