Super Bowl XLI
Colts Win

"Mercenaries"

What does it mean to say that a US soldier is a "mercenary"? 

Mercenary isn't just an adjective.  In the context of war, it has a specific legal meaning.  That meaning is established in the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949:

A mercenary is any person who:

(a) Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;

(b) Does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;

(c) Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;

(d) Is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;

(e) Is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and

(f) Has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

So, the first thing to say about Arkin and the Kos kids is that they're just wrong.

The second thing to say is this:  the Conventions provide consequences to being a mercenary.  A mercenary is a form of unlawful combatant, like a terrorist who fights without uniform. 

The consequences are spelled out:

A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.

So, to say that US soldiers are "mercenaries" is to make a moral as well as a legal claim.  The moral claim is that they are no better than the terrorists.  It is to claim that the insurgent is right simply to shoot a US soldier if he should capture one.  It is to claim that our soldiers deserve no better.

"Screw them," more or less.

The legal claim is flatly wrong.  The moral claim is worse.  The Coalition soldiers and the Iraqi forces they've trained are the only parties in the conflict who uphold the Geneva Conventions.  They are the one side who has sought to defend the idea that there is an honorable way to conduct a war, and that morality isn't to be set aside just because you take up arms.

And no, I don't want to hear about how 'Bush has blah-blah-blah with the rule of law.'  The President is not the military.  Whatever your opinion of the Bush administration, it should be noted that LCDR Charles Swift was the man who went to the Supreme Court in defense of the expansive reading of the Conventions, and in defiance of the administration, and who won there.   

The Geneva Conventions have no greater defender than the US Military.  Those who care about limiting the horrors of war owe that military their thanks and friendship, as well as their support.  There is no excuse for slandering them in this way.

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