For as long as there have been wars for global domination, there have been mercenaries or “Soldiers of Fortune,” who trade their allegiance to the highest bidders and effectively kill for a profit as guns for hire. In popular old movies like 1961’s “The Centurion” we discover the mercenaries of Greco-Roman sword and sandal days. Based in part on factual, historic events, this emotional drama has all of the earmarks of a classic war story – filled with adventure, romance, and epic fight scenes with thousands of extras.
Directed by Mario Costa, “The Centurion” follows a Roman imperial gladiator, named Caius Vinicius (Jacques Sernas), who is sent on a diplomatic mission to Greece. Charged with the task of convincing the Greeks to accept Roman rule, he is opposed by freedom advocates. However, the gladiator falls in love with Hebe (Genevieve Grad), the daughter of the head of the anti-Roman faction, the astute Critolaus (Gianni Santuccio). The wounded Centurion is saved by Hebe, who is being wooed by the ruler’s second-in-command, the nasty Diaeus (John Drew Barrymore). After double-crosses and betrayals, Caius Vinicius is tortured and jailed. Hebe agrees to marry Diaeus if he will save the Roman’s life but then a Roman army comes to fight the Corinthian forces and all hell literally breaks loose.
The historic Battle of Corinth was fought between the Roman Republic and the Greek state of Corinth and its allies in the Achaean League in 146 BC. It brought the complete and total destruction of the wealthy state of Corinth. The 140s BC was a decade when Rome proved its military superiority to its neighbors. In 146 BC the Romans stormed the city of Carthage and set it ablaze. The Romans spent the spring of 146 taunting the Greeks. That winter a group of Greek cities retaliated against Rome, leading to a war that doomed the city of Corinth. During these grand battles, the Romans often hired mercenaries including Cretan archers. After meeting in various battles, the Romans recognized their proficiency and they hired the mercenaries themselves.
Who are the new mercenaries?
Today, hired mercenaries and private military contractors (PMCs) are helping countries wage war like never before. Governments draw upon their defense and training expertise and ability to mount offensives on behalf of their clients – all with “plausible deniability” and no blood on their own hands. PMCs represent billion dollar multinational corporations with stakes on Wall Street. Their boards contain business and financial magnates and former generals. Their ranks contain ex-military and law-enforcement personnel recruited globally. They are hired by governments, the private sector, and humanitarian organizations and even boast their own industry trade associations: the International Stability Operations Association (ISOA) in Washington, D.C., the British Association of Private Security Companies in London, and the Private Security Company Association of Iraq.
Sean McFate, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and associate professor at National Defense University, claims private armies have experienced a resurgence in the past 25 years. McFate is a former contractor and author of the book, “The Modern Mercenary.” Companies like DynCorp and Blackwater were major forces in the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing logistics and other services, as well as armed guards and trainers for local armies.
During WWII, only 10% of our forces were private contractors. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, their involvement grew to 50%. Since 2009, the ratio of contractors to troops in war zones has increased to about 3 to 1. In 2014, the Pentagon provided $285 billion to federal contracts – more than all other government agencies received, combined with 45% of those contracts for services, including PMCs.
Private military companies allow governments to disclaim involvement in politically controversial activities. For example, Putin used Chechen mercenaries in the Ukraine. Nigeria has deployed mercenaries from South Africa to fight Boko Haram. Since contractors in war zones don’t count as “boots on the ground,” their numbers are often sketchy and their deaths often go unreported. Sometimes, however, their misdeeds catch global attention. Four former Blackwater Worldwide private security guards were responsible for the massacres of civilians while under contract to the Pentagon during the U.S. war in Iraq. They were later convicted and jailed for their roles in a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad’s Nisour Square that left 17 civilians dead.
Buzzfeed recently reported that the Trump administration was considering a secret, private spy network that would run counter-terrorist propaganda efforts around the world. The plan’s proposal was developed by Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater (known as Academi since its 2011 acquisition by private investors), financial backer of President Trump, and the brother of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. He has reportedly developed the project with former CIA colleague John Maguire, the company Amyntor Group, and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North.
Interestingly, Prince has also been offering his military expertise to support the Chinese government by setting up two Blackwater-style training camps in China. They will train and deploy an army of Chinese retired soldiers who can protect Chinese corporate and government interests around the world, without involving the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. So, it looks like loyalty continues to be tied to business, with alliances formed with the highest bidders for some of these modern day mercenaries.
Watch Centurion on MovieZoot.com here!