The composition of our armed forces seems to support the contention that we've become an empire.
Last week, on my flight to Indianapolis, I found myself next to a New Mexican rancher who was headed out to his brother's funeral. "He was never right after we came back from Vietnam," he said. "Last week he'd had enough, I guess."
Early that morning, driving to the airport, I'd listened to a report by Libby Lewis on NPR (Iraq War Stirs Memories for Vietnam Vets) about how the reporting of the Iraq War was triggering stress among Vietnam Vets who feel like they are watching a rerun. The rancher's story about his brother's suicide made this abstract news report seem more real.
On the other side of me was a young woman my daughter's age - a 20 year old who was returning from time with her Marine boyfriend in Hawaii. She was returning to the small town in Indiana where she grew up and said that there were few job prospects for kids there. But when she was sitting around in one group of military in Hawaii, there were five people from her little town. Jobs that these kids can't find in their home towns they can find in the military.
The U.S. now employs about 180,000 private contractors in Iraq - many of whom would fall into the category of mercenaries who are able to carry guns and kill with even less impunity than American soldiers. What is less commented on is that even our soldiers are, in a sense, mercenaries who suit up as often for economic as patriotic reasons.
Napoleon made conscription a key element of his republic. Before that, the military force of empires was often made up by mercenaries. Empires have money and force - they don't have willing citizens who see military service as an act of patriotism.
All this to say that the trouble with Blackwater - the private contractors whose license to operate was revoked by the Iraqi government once they indiscriminately killed Iraqi citizens - is inevitable. Emperor Charles had hired mercenaries from Germany - the land where the revolutionary Martin Luther had turned sentiment against the pope - and they ended up pillaging Rome. The resultant Sack of Rome in 1527 was an embarrassment to the good Catholic Charles (even though it did prove beneficial to him in future dealings with Pope Clement (the Medici pope who denied Henry VIII his petition for divorce and thus helped to created the Church of England) who was rumored to have fled from Charles's marauding mercenary troops disguised as a nun). Mercenaries are hard to control.
Today, we are more dependent on mercenaries than at any time in our history. Such a dependence buttresses Chalmers Johnson's claim that we've morphed from a republic to empire, tracing the fall of the Romans some 1500 years ago.
It's hard to believe that Americans wouldn't step forward in the millions to actually defend this country. As our military objectives come to look more like the objectives of an empire, more clearly fueled by economic calculus, the support from individuals for those objectives seems to itself rely more on such economic considerations. It's worth remembering that the British we defeated in our own revolution were often Hessian (a German kingdom) mercenaries. Mercenaries proved no match for our founding fathers, in spite of their superior resources and training.
This is a great country but a miserable empire. One can only hope that Ron Paul's message about the dangers of empire seep into the campaigns of every candidate. Because the one thing that is certain is that our empire will fall. They always do. The only question is whether the empire will fall atop of our country because we've been foolish enough to support it or whether it will fall because we've finally stopped giving it our support. It seems to me that the simplest place to start would be to stop funding mercenaries.