is the somewhat misleading headline of this pedestrian review of two new books about mercenaries — one a recounting of an aborted coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea and another on mercenaries in Iraq.
I can hazard a guess why South Africans (and Afrikaners in particular) are disproportiantely represented as guns for hire. Afrikaners have lived in a militarized society for about 350 years, starting off with their initial expansion from the Dutch East India settlement in Cape Town in the late 1600s where they faced predation in isolated settlements from the KhoiKhoi, to the confrontation of the Xhosa in the late 1700s in the eastern Cape and to the Great Trek into the interior of the country where they came up against the Zulu kingdom in particular, but battled the Pedi and Swazi kingdoms too.
You could argue that the US had a similar history of militarization, but where as once the US had largely neutralized the military threat from Native Americans in the early 1900s, the Afrikaners took on the might of the British Empire in the Anglo-Boer Wars and then a few decades later faced a renewed political challenge in South Africa for which the response was brutal repression. Imposing peace and order internally was then supplemented by full-scale military conflict in Namibia against Swapo guerillas and regular Cuban troops in one of the Cold War’s set pieces as well as incursions into Mozambique. The infrastructure that was created for training and the quality of the raw material meaned that South Africa ended up with an oversupply of dogs of war in the early 1990s. The success of Executive Outcomes (and messy conflicts throughout the world) has also helped make ‘mercenary ‘ a viable career choice for several thousand South Africans. I’ve never quite felt as conscious of my gene pool’s limitations in terms of physical stature (and brutality) as when I played rugby against a high-quality Afrikaans team. I was quite convinced of the intellectual depth of my gene pool against lesser teams, but that’s a different story.