A few days ago it was announced with some fanfare that employees of the private security firm Blackwater had been convicted for their roles in a 2007 massacre in Iraq which killed 14 Iraqis and hugely set back U.S. efforts to win "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people.
This is certainly an important legal step, reaffirming, as the U.S. prosecuting attorney said, our commitment to the rule of law. Justice has perhaps been done, though it took a long while and may yet be undone in appeals.
Even if that's the case, however, I hope this prosecution may have a longer-term and more salubrious effect by putting paid to the hiring of private mercenaries to fight our wars. Problems are legion: lack of control, the soldier-of-fortune mentality, incidents like the current one, and the high cost of paying these Hessians.
It's the last one that is especially injurious to our overall military effort, I think. Blackwater types inevitably mix with regular troops when in the same combat zone. Stories are heard... for example about wages.. and the mercenaries are paid far more than the regulars. This disparity may have been different back when we had conscription (if we had had these private armies at the time) because the troops were paid practically nothing, as draftees, but could at least console themselves that their second-class status was only for a year.
Now, we have the volunteer army, paid a much more competitive wage than draftees (though complaints exist). If war-fighting is your life's work but you see your government hiring other guys to do similar tasks with far higher compensation, how does that affect you? It's a politician's way out, but it stinks.