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The Dogs Of War

They are called adventurers, filibusters, soldiers of fortune, gunslingers, ronin, knights errant, dogs of war, the wild geese and now private military companies. But popularly they are known as mercenaries. They are soldiers hired to train troops, provide security or engage in combat operations. Governments look upon it as a necessary evil particularly democracies, which have to contend with public opinion when regular armies are sent to war abroad. This articulated by former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw in his introduction to a green paper on the use of private military companies He holds the view that "In developed countries, the private sector is becoming increasingly involved in military and security activity... It is British government policy... to outsource certain tasks that in earlier days would have been undertaken by the armed forces." In fact the UK Government is thinking seriously of legalizing mercenary companies. Are mercenaries a modern day phenomenon, which is the result of growing global conflict zones? The answer is an emphatic no. Mercenaries have existed right from the dawn of history.

Mercenaries in ancient times

During the heyday of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the younger wanted to usurp the throne of Artaxerxes II. For this he used a group of Greek mercenaries called the Ten Thousand. Much later during the Second Punic Wars in 218 to 201 BCE Hannibal employed Celtebarians as mercenaries. Apart from them he also employed Celtic Gauls and Spanish Iberians.


In 220 BCE Republican Rome was trying to expand its frontiers into Northern Italy. But they met with stiff resistance by two Gaulish tribes called the Insubres and the Boii. These two tribes hired two mercenary chieftains called Aneroestes and Concolitanos. They were popularly known as "Gaesatae", or "the Spearmen".. The Roman republic too had made use of mercenaries like the Cretan archers, and in the Eastern Roman Empire, the Emperor had hired Varangians who were later made the bodyguards of the Emperor.

Mercenaries in Medieval times

The Catalan Company

The conflict between the House of Barcelona and the House of Valois ended with the treaty of Caltabellota in 1302. But this left numerous mercenaries out of work. It was then that Roger de Flor recruited them and offered their services to the Byzantine Empire. The Catalan company as it was called, was used to fight the Ottoman Turks to recapture lands conquered by the Sultan. But Flor and company pillaged the territory and unleashed terror. It was also believed that Flor had plans to establish a kingdom in Anatolia. This perturbed the Byzantine Emperor, who ordered the elimination of Roger de Flor. This proved to be an unwise decision, because the Catalan Company now turned against the Byzantine Empire and ransacked imperial lands. This only abated after the Catalan company took up the service of the Latin Duchy of Athens. The Duke however committed the blunder of refusing to pay the Catalans and threw them out of the land. The Catalan company in retaliation not only seized the Duchy of Athens but also killed the Duke in the process. The result of all this was that they built a fearful reputation, which still persists in lands that they had pillaged. In Thessaly for example the word ‘Catalan’ was used as an insult until the early part of 20th century. But in Catalonia they became folk heroes. His life inspired Joanot Martorell to immortalize him in his novel Tirant lo Blanc , which was published in Valencia in 1490. It is believed to be the best medieval literary work in Catalan language.

Sir John Hawkwood and The White Company

Another mercenary of the medieval period was the Englishman Sir John Hawkwood of the White Company .In Europe however he was known by other names like Jean Haccoude in France and Giovanni Acuto in Italy. At first he had served the Pope and later for three decades various factions in Italy. He was both cunning and cruel and had no qualms of slaughtering civilians if ordered to so. Frances Stonor Saunders in the book Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman has not only recorded his life but also the history of 14th century Italy for posterity.

Modern Mercenaries

‘Mad’ Micheal Hoare

Among modern mercenaries, it is Thomas Michael Hoare who has become a legend in his lifetime. Born in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland, he first served in the British Army in World War II and rose to the rank of Captain. After retiring from the army he settled down in Durban and led a quiet life as a safari operator. But in 1961 suddenly everything changed. He headed a group of mercenaries called “4 Commando” in the breakaway province of Katanga in Congo. After a brief lull he was once again back in Congo with a new team of mercenaries called “5 Commando” His tasks included helping stranded Europeans and missionaries in Stanleyville to be escape from the marauding Simbas. He was ably assisted by group of Belgian paratroopers and Cuban exile pilots who were later to be known as the “Wild Geese”

"An unscrupulous man with a highly cavalier attitude to the truth”

After Congo Michael Hoare was inactive until 1978. That year he led a group of mercenaries who were hired by the former President of Seychelles, James Mancham to stage a coup in the island state, which turned out to be a total fiasco. An international Commission set up by the UN Security council found that South Africa was deeply involved in the coup attempt by providing arms and ammunition. But strangely Hoare was booked not for organizing a coup in a foreign country, but for violating the Civil Aviations Offences Act of 1972. Justice Neville James however correctly assessed Hoare and described him, as "an unscrupulous man with a highly cavalier attitude to the truth”. Despite this adverse assessment, Michael Hoare was instrumental in glamorizing mercenary activity and hogging the limelight. Many books have been written about him and even a film by name ‘The Wild Geese’ was produced on this theme..

Bob Denard

Another mercenary who dominated the 60’s and 70’s was Bob Denard whose real name was Gilbert Bourgeaud. After serving the French Marines and French colonial police (in Morocco) he became a mercenary. who led uprisings in Angola, Congo, Nigeria, Iran, Yemen and former Rhodesia (presently Zimbabwe). He made news when he along with 30 other French mercenaries overthrew President Said Mohammed Djohar of Comoros. In 1993, a Paris court however slapped on him a five years of imprisonment. He died a few years back


This is one trade, which is shrouded in secrecy and done in subterfuge. Recruitment is made by word of mouth, and is a closed profession. Earnings were around 6000 euros a month in the late 90’s and at one time the French were deeply involved in it. They however did not form companies as we have today.


By the late 90’s mercenary trade had become a big business, which saw a drastic change in its overall characteristics and activity. In an era of big governments, and big organizations, mercenary trade could no longer be done by just a few groups of individuals pooling their talent. Thus emerged Private military companies with specialization in some core activity. In fact a modern day mercenary like Tim Spicer has articulated the need for legitimizing it by providing the following argument "What I had in mind, " he claims "was a commercial way of deploying military skills to help governments in difficulty." And they are not without takers. The former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw holds the view that

"In developed countries, the private sector is becoming increasingly involved in military and security activity ," Mr. Straw said in a foreword to the green paper. "It is British government policy... to outsource certain tasks that in earlier days would have been undertaken by the armed forces…Today’s world is a far cry from the 1960s when private military activity usually meant mercenaries of the rather unsavory kind involved in post-colonial or neo-colonial conflicts".

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Across the Atlantic Rumsfeld too holds a similar opinion. In a seminar he remarked

“It is clearly cost-effective to have contractors for a variety of things that military people need not do, and that for whatever reason other civilians, government people, cannot be deployed to do.”

Some of the companies presently in operation are the following: Please note that this is not a complete list

UK Companies

  • Sandline International established by Tim Spicer fought in Sierra Leone and broke an UN embargo. It was alleged to have the backing of the British Government. Now it provides law enforcement training, logistics, Close quarter training, and security services
  • KMS a company co-founded by ex-SAS officer Major David Walker. In 1987 they were hired to train Sri Lanka’s ‘Special Task Force’ to fight the LTTE Tamil Tigers.
  • Saladin Security co-founded by Walker

· DSLestablished in 1981 by ex-SAS officers, Alistair Morrison and Richard Bethell,

· Control Risks Group Provides of security and armed guards for British Embassies and Consulates

US Companies

  • AirScan Provides airborne surveillance and security
  • MTCSC, Inc. provides flexible engineering and systems integration services.
  • IANO Group Inc provides Consultancy in Security management, Electronics and R & D

· Military Professional Resources Inc

Companies of other countries

  • Executive Outcomes South Africa. It was one of the earliest mercenary outfit and was deeply involved in the late 90’s for the besieged Government of Angola It was disbanded in 1999 after the government introduced a law banning mercenary activity by its nationals

  • Blue Sky Australia
  • Omega Group Norway
  • SIRAS Group Denmark
  • Tundra Security Canada

With outsourcing becoming a global phenomenon, and developed democratic countries wary of adverse publicity and nose diving public opinion, private military companies are here to stay. International politics is becoming murkier by the day, and the mercenaries have made a comeback. But it is pertinent here to remember the words of Niccolo Machiavelli

“Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious, and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men”



The Road to Kalamata: Congo Mercenary's Personal Memoir , Mike Hoare. This book covers Mike's operations in the Congo

Seychelles Affair , Mike Hoare, 1987, A book which provides details about what went wrong in the attempted coup at Seychelles.

The New Mercenaries: The History of the Hired Soldier from the Congo to the Seychelles , Mockler, Anthony. A history of modern mercenaries before the advent of private military companies.


Soldier of Fortune by Richard Harding Davis, 1897

The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth The story is about mercenary operation in Africa in the 1960s, which was sponsored by a big mining corporation

The Wild Geese by Daniel Carney. A global British financial syndicate seeks to rescue the deposed leader of a central African nation. It hires a band of mercenaries to do the job.


The Wild Geese , 1978. A film adaption of the book by Daniel Carney. A tale of mercenaries in Africa and the cast includes actors like, Richard Burton as the mercenary leader, with Richard Harris, Roger Moore, Hardy Kruger, Jack Watson and Kenneth Griffith playing supportive roles.

The Dogs of War (1981). A film adaptation of the book by Frederick Forsythe


Executive Outcomes























Map of Congo crisis

Map of Congo crisis

Map of Seychelles

Map of Seychelles

Seychelles Ex-President Mancham

Seychelles Ex-President Mancham


ram_m (author) from India on January 01, 2011:

Beautiful poetic protest. I do not think that it can be more forcefully said. Hats off to you Micky.

Micky Dee on January 01, 2011:

Watergate. White Water. Blackwater!

Always training for another slaughter.

Like 200,000 people in East Timor.

A Blackwater "contractor" is an evil whore.

They train the evil on America's shore.

May they will go to hell forevermore!

ram_m (author) from India on December 31, 2010:

Thanks Jackavc it was indeed an interesting movie

jackavc from Australia on December 31, 2010:

great piece. The wild geese is a favourite of mine.

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