Blackwater in NOLA: Crossing the Rubicon?

Am I the only one who is very disturbed that Blackwater Security is patrolling the streets of New Orleans? Never in U.S. history has this happened–even the Pinkertons were private security forces (granted, they often worked hand in glove with the Army to crush unions, but theoretically, they were distinct). In New Orleans, Blackwater operatives have actually been deputized and incorporated into police forces (italics mine):

Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for their work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans. Some of the mercenaries say they have been “deputized” by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force. Several mercenaries we spoke with said they had served in Iraq on the personal security details of the former head of the US occupation, L. Paul Bremer and the former US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.

This is a totally new thing to have guys like us working CONUS (Continental United States),” a heavily armed Blackwater mercenary told us as we stood on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. “We’re much better equipped to deal with the situation in Iraq.”

Blackwater mercenaries are some of the most feared professional killers in the world and they are accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences. Their presence on the streets of New Orleans should be a cause for serious concern for the remaining residents of the city and raises alarming questions about why the government would allow men trained to kill with impunity in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to operate here. Some of the men now patrolling the streets of New Orleans returned from Iraq as recently as 2 weeks ago.

What is most disturbing is the claim of several Blackwater mercenaries we spoke with that they are here under contract from the federal and Louisiana state governments.

In light of this, I find what sci-fi author Jerry Pournelle wrote in an essay “Mercenaries and Military Virtue” disturbing:

The depressing fact is that history is remarkably clear on one point: wealthy republics do not last long. Time after they have risen to wealth and freedom; the citizens become wealthy and sophisticated; unwilling to volunteer to protect themselves, they go to conscription; this too becomes intolerable; and soon enough they turn to mercenaries.

Machiavelli understood that, and things have not changed much since his time–except Americans know far less history than did the rulers of Florence and Milan and Venice.

For mercenaries are a dangerous necessity. If they are incompetent, they will ruin you. If they are competent there is always the temptation to rob the paymaster.

Why should they not? They know their employers will not fight. They may, if called a national army, retain loyalty to country–but if the nation despises them, and takes every possible opportunity to let them know it, then that incentive falls as well–and they have a monopoly on the means of violence…

In 88 BC, Lucius Cornelius Sulla crossed the river Rubicon in defiance of Roman custom with his six loyal legions in an attempt to gain control of Rome (his other troops were unwilling to do this). This ultimately led to a brutal civil war, and is thought to have legitimatized the later dictatorship of Julius Caesar.

I mention Sulla because there is a lot of talk of the virtues of ’empire.’ Others would treat the lives of soldiers as servants and not as fellow citizens: after all, “they signed up for it.” Is there any greater contempt than to treat citizen-soldiers as disposable mercenaries? Both the implicit disdain for our citizen-soldiers and the belief in empire do not seem compatible with the concept of a free republic–the Founding Fathers realized this. I pray we will not look back on these years and realize in hindsight that we have crossed our own Rubicon.

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