Bill O’Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel program The O’Reilly Factor, has offered his own solution to fighting terrorism: A multinational mercenary army, based on a NATO coalition and trained by the United States.
“We would select them, special forces would train them–25,000-man force to be deployed to fight on the ground against worldwide terrorism. Not just ISIS,” O’Reilly said on “CBS This Morning” on September 24.
Actually, O’Reilly’s idea is the subject of The Profession, a 2011 novel by bestselling author Steven Pressfield.
Pressfield made his literary reputation with four classic novels about classical Greece.
In Gates of Fire (1998) he explored the rigors and heroism of Spartan society–and the famous last stand of its 300 picked warriors at Thermopylae.
In Tides of War (2000) Pressfield depicted the rise and fall of Alcibiades, Athens’ greatest general, as he shifted his loyalties from that city to its arch-enemy, Sparta, and then to Persia, the enemy of both.
In The Virtues of War (2004) he took on the identity of Alexander the Great, explaining to his readers what it was like to command armies that swept across the known world, destroying all who dared oppose them.
Finally, in The Afghan Campaign (2006) Pressfield–this time from the viewpoint of a lowly Greek soldier–refought Alexander’s brutal, three-year anti-guerrilla campaign in Afghanistan.
But in The Profession, Pressfield created a seemingly plausible world set into the future of 2032. The book’s own dust jacket offers the best summary of its plot-line:
“The year is 2032. The third Iran-Iraq war is over. The 11/11 dirty bomb attack on the port of Long Beach, California is receding into memory. Saudi Arabia has recently quelled a coup. Russians and Turks are clashing in the Caspian Basin.
“Iranian armored units, supported by the satellite and drone power of their Chinese allies, have emerged from their enclaves in Tehran and are sweeping south attempting to recapture the resource rich territory that had been stolen from them, in their view, by Lukoil, BP, and ExxonMobil and their privately-funded armies.
“Everywhere military force is for hire. Oil companies, multi-national corporations and banks employ powerful, cutting-edge mercenary armies to control global chaos and protect their riches.
“Even nation states enlist mercenary forces to suppress internal insurrections, hunt terrorists, and do the black bag jobs necessary to maintain the new New World Order.
“Force Insertion is the world’s merc monopoly. Its leader is the disgraced former United States Marine General James Salter, stripped of his command by the president for nuclear saber-rattling with the Chinese and banished to the Far East.’
Salter appears as a hybrid of World War II General Douglas MacArthur and Iraqi War General Stanley McCrystal.
Like MacArthur, Salter has butted heads with his President–and paid dearly for it. Now his ambition is no less than to become President himself–by popular acclaim. And like McCrystal, he is a pure warrior who leads from the front and is revered by his men.
Salter seizes Saudi oil fields, then offers them as a gift to America. By doing so, he makes himself the most popular man in the country–and a guaranteed occupant of the White House.
And in 2032 the United States is a far different nation from the one its Founding Fathers created in 1776.
“Any time that you have the rise of mercenaries…society has entered a twilight era, a time past the zenith of its arc,” says Salter.
“The United States is an empire…but the American people lack the imperial temperament. We’re not legionaries, we’re mechanics. In the end the American Dream boils down to what? ‘I’m getting mine and the hell with you.’”
Americans, asserts Salter, have come to like mercenaries: “They’ve had enough of sacrificing their sons and daughters in the name of some illusory world order. They want someone else’s sons and daughters to bear the burden….
“They want their problems to go away. They want me to to make them go away.”
And so Salter will “accept whatever crown, of paper or gold, that my country wants to press upon me.”
More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries:
“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends; among enemies they are cowards.
“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”
Centuries ago, Niccolo Machiavelli issued a warning against relying on men whose first love is their own enrichment. Steven Pressfield, in a work of fiction, has given us a nightmarish vision of a not-so-distant America where “Name your price” has become the byward for an age.
Both warnings are well worth heeding.