Razor's Edge

Razor’s Edge, Introduction
img008Most employment experts suggest putting a professional “summary” at the start of one's resumé or CV. I think mine describes me quite well.
The majority of my professional life has been associated with the military/security industry. I have had extensive local and international experience, dealing with multi-national, high-profile clients. I have strong management and training skills, and continue to be very much involved operationally.
This means I prefer to spend at least part of my time in the fìeld “doing” as well as planning, managing and training others to do - important as that is. But what have I been doing? There are a few questions one might ask. Am I a mercenary? Am I a security consultant? Am I a private military contractor? Am I a freelancer, or, as they sometimes say today, a deniable? Am I a bit of all of them, perhaps? Decide for yourself as you read on. Personally, I am not sure the question really needs an answer, or that an answer is really relevant.
See the movie
The Wild Geese. This first-rate film is loosely based on the career of Major “Mad” Mike Hoare and events in the Congo in 1964 and 1965. This is a good film, but also one with lessons. The lead character, played by Richard Burton, and the other main and supporting characters, are soldiers for ‘hire’ - and for a lot more money than they earned in the military. The soldiers Burton and his men are fighting against are brutal and murderous, seemingly more interested in serving their commanders and their own privileges than in serving their people. Burton and his men are working to rescue a democratic leader. So who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys?
Is soldiering for pay, by definition, bad if you do it for another government? But is it no problem if you do it for your own government? Is regular military service a good thing if it is for a bad cause?
Reading this book, you are going to realize that I did not always use good judgment - no one always uses good judgment. But I like to think that at least, as to goals, if not always methods to reach the goals, I was ethical, or at least tried to be. One lesson I learned is that the ethical way tends to be the more practical way. Rough methods, to put it mildly, may be necessary - but be very careful. Ends only rarely justify the means. Doing a small bad for a big good only rarely works.
Whatever I am, I joined a long tradition.
Probably the first work of serious military history was
The Anabasis — at least after the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Anabasis by Xenophon tells of the adventures, or misadventures, of a force of Greek mercenaries trying to get home from Persia. Xenophon and his men get caught up in and end up on the wrong side of Persian politics. Their leader was betrayed and murdered.
Xenophon was one of those who took over and had to get his men home. Getting home from a war has been a classic plot element since The Odyssey. Cave men probably sat around the fire telling tales of how they returned from some adventure. It still appears in such books as
Star Rangers, the classic science fiction novel by Andre Norton, heavily adapted from The Anabasis.
The tradition hiring outside soldiers continued. The Roman army hired auxiliary troops, recruiting them directly or through local chiefs. Most of these troops were non-Roman citizen residents of the empire, or of friendly barbarian tribes. The auxiliaries were first hired to bring skills in that the Roman army was short of, in particular, cavalry. However, the Romans probably had no conception of deniability, at least in dealing with other nations. They wanted people to know about their power. In the Middle Ages, in a transition time between feudal armies raised by the local lords, and varying mixes of professional and draft armies, kings sometimes relied on mercenaries when they could not afford to keep a regular army.
During the American War of Independence, both sides used American Indian allies to attack the other side, even civilians supporting the other side, often brutally. The British government most famously used troops hired from the ruler of the German kingdom of Hesse - the infamous Hessians. About one quarter of the British combat troops in that war were Hessians. Not so infamous in ali cases, it seems, as many of them stayed in America after the war ended - roughly 5,000 of the roughly 30,000 who served.
The young French aristocrat, the Marquis de Lafayette, ended up commanding troops in George Washington’s army. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a Prussian officer, showed up claiming to have been a general under Frederick the Great. He was a bit of a con man - he had not been a general, maybe not even an officer, and the “von” marking Prussian nobility was questionable - but this con man delivered what he promised, professional quality training to American troops, and contributed to the birth of the United States.
Things have changed since World War Two. The concept of “deniability” has always existed, particularly with spies and other secret agents. During the Cold War, a country, particularly a major power, did not want to have its 'signature' on a military operation. One example is the British/French/Israeli actions, which managed to tie down thousands of Egyptian troops in Yemen, with only about 100 men in the early 1960s. The American involvement against the Soviets in Afghanistan after 1979 was much the same. But, this time, the deniable third parties were the Afghan rebels. This is also a good example of the need to stick around after the job is done, and of the need to control those working for you. Neglect of Afghanistan after the Soviets left in 1989 left a power vacuum and is credited with helping to set the scene for the Taliban to come to power, and all that followed. Afghanistan is a complex situation, not solved as of this writing -the end of 2010.
Deniability can be clearly defined when we use the dictionary. However, in reality, it is massaged into any given situation, with no clear answers. It is used in such a way that those asking the questions are confused and frustrated with the lack of progress in attempting to find the 'truth'.
'Watergate' is one of those very public good examples of deniability. (From the Nixon Administration point of view, the best thing to do might have been to keep denying - and not plot a cover up while you knew you were being recorded.) For many of you who have 'normal' jobs, when such news hits the TV screen, it is hard to believe what you are hearing. It's probably a good thing that you really don't know the 'facts'.
There have been occasions in the past, when I did ‘contract’ work for certain parties. It was always made very clear from the onset that, if things went bad, I was on my own. In other words, they would deny that they had any part to play in what I had done. They would deny that the action ever existed. They would not, under any circumstance, step forward.
When I went before the courts on a particular occasion, an Australian Federal Police officer who was going to address the court advised me, “Don’t get upset with me; I'm going to tell them that you are a ‘Walter Mitty’. If they accept that you are, you will get a lighter sentence.”
(Walter Mitty, from the James Thurber story, was a man noted for heroic daydreams, while leaving a mundane life.)
As it turned out, the officer was right. In short, deniability is stamped on both sides of the coin, and things really depend on what side of the coin you are on.
Private military contracting, like normal ‘public sector’ warfare, requires understanding and proper response to the context. It requires command and control, and taking responsibility, even if not publicly, for results. It requires thinking about all the consequences and, since you cannot anticipate every consequence, monitoring for the almost inevitable unexpected results...
The debate over the private military contractor, PMC, seems to be one of who does the job best. But it should also be expanded to one of control - see just above. Governments are responsible for seeing that such jobs get done, whomever they choose to do the job. The control may not be perfect. The Iraq War has produced incidents of PMCs going way overboard, and some Coalition troops, crossing the line. In defense of whatever the allegations were, or maybe in the future - only those 'on the ground' truly know what actually happened.
PMCs are likely to continue to be a fact of life, as long as there are wars to be fought and governments seek the cover of ‘deniability’. Look at the recent Academy Award-winning film The Hurt Locker. In one scene, the American unit on which the story centers runs into what they think is a group of Arabs in the desert. They turn out to be British personnel - probably PMCs. (My guess; as was portrayed in the movie, and the kit they had, they were ‘22’ boys!)...
We have to be sure that PMCs are used in the proper context. That whatever the task, it falls within the legal frame work that has been sanctioned by the government. They must be willing to take the ultimate responsibility for the PMCs actions. When all is said and done, let them get on with doing what they are trained to do. Be there to oversee, but don't interfere. Because the job of government is to ensure that things are done by the most efficient and effective means possible - private sector or government.
P1060970… Some of you may think I'm a ‘nutter’. I hope that there are some out there who can read between the lines and see what I am really saying.
At the very least, I hope it creates the opportunity for you to put yourself in just one of these places, when it was at its worst, and try to imagine how you would not only survive, but how you would adjust when you came home. Take some time out, and put yourself there!
But enough philosophy - travel with me on Razors’ quest to fìnd himself.