“Soldiers for hire invariably had no controls. It’s all about control,” says security contractor Cobus Claassens. “That’s what people fear.” One of several interviewees asked to define “mercenary” in the documentary Shadow Company, Claassens says that the contractor, whether paid by a government, another company, or an individual, is not bound by the same sorts of political, moral, or even legal obligations as members of a national military. As he recalls medieval mercenaries, “they paid their own way by raping, looting, and pillaging. So I think we’ve got a hereditary sort of recollection of mercenaries being bad dudes.”
The examination of private military companies (today’s preferred term within the industry) undertaken by Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque’s film is at once informative and provocative. Interview subjects range from former and current “hired guns” like Claassens and Robert Young Pelton (identified here as “author and adventurer”) to scholars, executives, ethicists, and analysts. (Even Stephen Cannell, co-creator of The A-Team, chimes in with a rather cunning appreciation of his show’s fictional excesses: “What is that testosterone cowboy that needs that adrenaline rush in order to make his life feel complete?”)
The movie opens with narration (by Gerard Butler) taken from Captain James Ashcroft’s Making a Killing, in the form of letters from Iraq. “The contract is huge,” James says over images of weapons, helicopters, men with blurred-out faces, and GMC trucks. “Two hundred men doing close protection tasks, or PSDs, the Americans call it.