I walk into the bar at the Sapphire, knowing I’m early for this interview, but I don’t want to keep my contact waiting. He’s obviously a busy man, but has been convinced by a mutual friend to give me half an hour of his time.
The bar itself has a certain well-worn charm that reminds one of friendly little pubs in Europe — all dark wood, fake leather and dim, smoky corners. Except that there’s no smoke anymore. Sri Lanka’s draconian anti-tobacco laws have banished smoking to a glass-walled cage at the far end of the room. I curse softly and park myself in a cubicle, ordering a gin-and-tonic, and wait for the man.
The place is more or less empty — it’s not yet 6pm — and ten minutes later, I’m on my second G&T, when he walks in. Or at least I assume it’s him. I’ve no clue what he looks like, though he should recognize me since I mailed him the link to my blog the day before. It’s all a bit James Bondish, and I feel quite silly until he spots me and veers over to the cubicle.
Major Rohan — I’ve agreed to use only his first name, and not take any pictures — shakes my hand and sits down. He’s a big guy in his late thirties, close to six feet, but athletically built, with shortish hair and skin that’s negro black from long hours in the sun. He’s dressed in a short-sleeve button-down shirt and jeans, and looks exactly what he is — a businessman out for an informal drink. Continue reading
Hessian mercenaries surrender to Washington at the Battle of Trenton in 1776. (Library of Congress)
A recent post by Indi on the correctness of allowing people with foreign interests to hold high military office got me thinking about the whole private military contract business. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading The Road to Hell by Brian Geddes, a British mercenary (or private military contractor as they are now called) in Iraq.Indi’s post basically pointed out that the SL Army commander, Gen Sarath Fonseka, the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, and a few others who are US green card holders, cannot be trusted to hold such high positions as their loyalties could possibly be divided.
Regardless of whether Gota & Co are actually foreigners or not, I tend to think that nationality is beside the point when it comes to fighting a war — or cleaning up after it for that matter. The soldier of fortune or mercenary warrior has had a long career — one that parallels the history of the citizen soldier, both in length and quality. Mercenaries have been employed as far back in time as the 13th Century BC, when Pharaoh Rameses II employed 11,000 mercenaries. In the 3rd Century BC, Hannibal of Carthage used Spanish and French mercenaries in his conquest of Italy, and Roman Caesars hired Visigoths to serve as the Praetorian Guard. More recently, the British used Hessian mercenaries against George Washington in his War of Independence. Two of the biggest private armies in history were the British and Dutch East India Companies which carried out proxy wars on behalf of the British and Dutch rulers, and were commercially motivated. Other famous mercenary organisations like the French Foreign Legion and the Gurkha regiments have rightfully earned a ferocious reputation as fighting troops. Continue reading