By: Stephen Dalton

These awesome commercials (great song) for the new ‘Mercenaries 2‘ videogame got me thinking a lot about the ‘gun for hire’ profession. But what is the modern-day mercenary industry really like?

The mercenary has garnered distaste throughout history as a soulless merchant of death merely looking for a paycheck. Even the feared ‘Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow’ was a Hessian mercenary during the Revolutionary War. But weren’t they really one of the world’s first entrepreneurs? And unlike today’s start-up entrepreneurs, these guys were the ultimate in bloodthirsty warrior manliness. Not the Starbucks-drinking, power tie-wearing computer programmers launching IPOs nowadays. This distinction makes being a real merc sound pretty awesome, right? (more photos after the jump)

Well, according to Article 47 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, a mercenary is pretty clearly defined. (Although some countries, including the United States, do not endorse these classifications).

But it seems the shift to modern day mercenaries for hire has become a profitable one. Remember all the trouble the Blackwater Group got into for having some questionable practices as an Iraqi security contractor? Despite all that, those guys are still earning the big bucks as ‘private defense contractors’ on the front lines.

Although numbers are hard to peg down, I’m satisfied the average salary range for a Blackwater-type "mercenary" working in the Middle East or South America can easily earn between $60,000 – $150,000 a year depending on his years of experience as a soldier.

Not a bad haul, right? Then again, it’s probably one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Beat that, Deadliest Catch dudes. Still, the whole thing sounds pretty bad-ass if you read articles like this about the lifestyle of an adrenaline junkie ‘gun for hire’.

The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization has an interesting take on the whole situation:

From Iraq to Afghanistan, the US and its allies are relying on private military companies (PMCs) to provide a range of security services commonly associated with national militaries. Raenette Taljaard, Member of Parliament in South Africa, cautions that this move toward the privatization of security should not go un-checked. As unregulated non-state actors motivated by profits, PMCs can serve to heighten tensions and complicate conflicts in the world’s hot spots. At present, there is little oversight of PMCs, and attempts to regulate them with national legislation have proven inadequate. However, Taljaard writes, tighter international regulations may be able to stave off the whole-sale privatization of war. – YaleGlobal

I’d be interested to know if the money is right for anyone to actually call this a dream job? I’ve even read that some of these guys can earn upwards of $1,000 for working in high-risk areas. Is this just something guys ‘with nothing to lose’ are opting for, or is this a potential career path for your average guy as well?

Maybe taking this quiz and taking a look at the evolution of mercenaries throughout the years will start you out in the right direction.

More links

BusinessWeek: The Other U.S. Military, May 31, 2004

RollingStone: Heavy Metal Mercenary, Sept 9, 2004