Can You Score 29/35 on This Quiz About Private Military Contractors?

Torrance Grey

True or false: Private military contractors only work for governments.

Governments hire private contractors quite often, despite having standing militaries. But a controversial aspect of this line of work is that major corporations are also able to afford them, suggesting "private armies" that operating in the Third World, carrying out agendas that might run counter to the aims of a country's government, or the well-being of its people.

Mercenaries will only fight for ______.

Despite the name, ("mercenary" comes from the Latin word for "price") foreign and un-enlisted soldiers fight for a variety of reasons -- including philosophical ones. This might include, for example, young Americans and Canadians of Irish descent who fought for Irish Independence in the early 20th Century.

On which continent do private military contractors not operate?

Don't rest easy if you live in a civilized, First World democracy -- your government is probably using a private contractor within its own borders, on domestic security issues. According to experts on PMCs, these companies operate on every continent but one -- Antarctica.

Which country famously has a mercenary Foreign Legion?

The French Foreign Legion isn't exclusively made up of non-French soldiers, but it is open to enlistment by them. A drawing card is French citizenship for those who serve three years, or sooner, if they are wounded in service to the Foreign Legion.

In which country was the French Foreign Legion first active?

France was a major colonial power in centuries past (though they don't like to be reminded of this by Americans!) One of the countries they occupied was the African country of Algeria, where the Foreign Legion served in the 1830s and 1840s.

True or false: A mercenary is entitled to the same protections under the Geneva Convention that an enlisted soldier is.

The Geneva Convention is a post-WWII treaty that defines the rights of those captured in wartime. Employees of PMCs cannot expect to fall under the Geneva Convention if they are captured in a foreign conflict.

Which of these duties would a modern-day PMC be unlikely to undertake?

A lot of a private military contractor's job is low-level soldiering work -- a far cry from what paperback adventure novels would have us believe. Diplomacy is carried out by political leaders, not hired soldiers.

"Soldier of _____" is a common (and flattering) nickname for a mercenary.

The term "soldier of fortune" has a double meaning. "Fortune" can mean "fate" or "luck," meaning that the mercenary goes where the winds of fate blow him. Or it can refer to the money a mercenary demands for his skills.

A "privateer" is a mercenary in what specific line of military work?

The early navy of the United States, during the time of the Revolutionary War, was made up of privateers -- ships and captains authorized by the Continental Congress to defend the new country's shores. However, "privateer" is often a delicate way of saying "pirate."

Which of these contractors became virtually a household name during the Iraq War?

Blackwater contracted with the US government for security work in Iraq, but became notorious after its employees killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. It has since changed its name (twice, if you're counting). The original name came from the swampy Virginia land where its training facility was located.

Blackwater was founded by which of these?

Leave it to Blackwater to have a founder with such an appropriately dashing name. Prince's partner in his early days was Al Clark, who is rarely named alongside him on first references to Blackwater. (We wonder why ...)

What is Blackwater's current name?

About two years after the killings of Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Blackwater became Xe. At this time the founder and CEO stepped down, and an ethics program was launched. The current name was adopted by a group of investors who took over Xe in 2011.

True or false: PMCs have been known to work for humanitarian groups.

The hiring of private military contractors by private corporations or organizations is controversial. However, few people would argue with their use in the prevention of rare-animal poaching in Africa and Asia. This is one example of humanitarian use of PMCs.

In which country was the now-defunct Executive Outcomes based?

Executive Outcomes was dissolved in 2004. It had come under frequent criticism from media watchdogs, inspiring headlines like "Peace, Profit or Plunder?"

"Soldier of Fortune" is also the name of a ...

"Soldier of Fortune" magazine was founded in the 1970s. It was controversial for allowing mercenaries (whether real or self-styled) to advertise in its classified ads. This led to several contract killings, and then lawsuits against SoF, which were all settled out of court. The magazine finally ceased to accept such ads in the 1990s.

One famous contributor to "Soldier of Fortune" is former Lt. Col. Oliver North. Which military-political scandal made him famous?

Lt. Col. North was implicated in the sale of arms to Iran by the Reagan administration. The proceeds were to be funneled to the "contras" of Nicaragua, to support their attempt to overthrow the Communist government. (It's complicated; we suggest you look it up if you're interested in the details). Suffice it to say that North's reputation survived, and he became a Fox News host as well as an SoF contributor.

Which nation has been criticized for relying heavily on PMCs for domestic security, at the expense of the poor (who can't afford them)?

This criticism has come from within the country and from the international community. South Africa has a sharp rich-poor divide, and critics point out that the poor are undefended, as only the rich can afford private security. South Africa does have a police force, but many consider it to be underfunded, which the prevalence of PMCs only perpetuates.

In South Africa, about how many security contractors are there per police officer?

It's hard to believe, but this is the ratio according to recent estimates. It underscores the nation's reliance on this industry.

Which of these companies is NOT based in the US?

Control Risks is based in the UK. Sidenote: Isn't the name of one of these US companies, "Custer Battles," bad marketing? Didn't Custer's last battle go pretty badly?

True or false: PMC companies sometimes involve themselves in kidnapping negotiations.

While PMC companies prefer to advertise themselves as being in the line of "executive protection," i.e. bodyguarding, sometimes the protection has to be after the fact. While governments frown on paying for hostage release, private companies do so, and PMCs aid in the negotiations and logistics.

Which of these is NOT considered to be a PMC company?

Kroll is one of the biggest names in private investigation, with offices all over the world. They do not, however, offer services in the area of "soldiering."

US-based PMCs are estimated to be approximately a $ ______ industry.

Bear in mind, too, that this figure was estimated in the early 2000s. It's likely to be even higher now.

Which of these is NOT a private military contracting company?

Notice the "dryness" of the names -- contrary to common marketing strategies, PMCs often choose names as "unsexy" as possible. The less attention-grabbing the name, the better.

True or false: PMC involvement in Iraq ended with the troop withdrawal of 2011 under President Obama.

If anything, the role of private security contractors has become more important since the withdrawal. This highlights the complicated role of private contractors, who offer a government a discreet way to continue a military engagement while officially "withdrawing the flag."

About how many deaths of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are believed to be deaths of PMCs?

Obviously, numbers are harder to keep track of when there isn't one central agency -- like the Department of Defense -- keeping statistics. But private contractors have hardly been exempt from the human cost of these foreign wars.

True or false: Private contractors were prosecuted for abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.

Agents of Titan Corporation and CACI, both American companies, were implicated in the prisoner abuses. However, they were not prosecuted, which underscores the slippery legal status of private guards and soldiers in wartime situations.

Private contractors have been active in drug interdiction efforts in which South American nation?

President George W. Bush co-authored "Plan Colombia" with Colombian President Andres Pastrana. The plan to combat drug smuggling and the left-wing insurgency included both regular US military and PMC support.

The Gurkhas were paid, non-national fighters for which country?

Technically, Gurkhas served the British Army as well, while England was the colonial ruler of India. Gurkhas were soldiers from nearby Nepal.

Which famed political strategist, the author of "The Prince," was not a fan of mercenaries?

Machiavelli wrote that a leader who hired private soldiers could not count on them to take the kind of risks as soldiers who were fighting for home and country. He also feared that a mercenary army grown too powerful might simply decide to overthrow the government that hired it.

One of the earliest modern private military companies, WatchGuard International, was formed by veterans of what service?

Two SAS veterans, David Stirling and John Woodhouse, founded the company. It was the dawn of a new age for an endeavor with a long history.

One of WatchGuard's less successful (and honorable) missions was a failed attempt to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. What nation did the unpopular Gaddafi rule?

Gaddafi (sometimes written "Khaddafi") was the longtime strongman of Libya, a nation famously closed off to Western influence and trade. The failed coup took place in 1971, after which SAS's founders respectively stepped down (Woodhouse) or took on a reduced role in the company (Stirling).

Hessians were German mercenaries who served the British mostly in what conflict?

Hessians made up about 25 percent of the British troops sent to quell the American rebellion. They are memorialized, in part, in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," in which the Headless Horseman is the ghost of a Hessian who died in the war.

Which of these is a 19th-century detective agency that could be considered a PMC group?

Although "the Pinkertons" were commonly called a detective agency, they operated a lot like a PMC in their early days, contracting to do law-enforcement work for the federal government. They were especially known for their "investigation" into labor unions -- which was thinly-veiled union busting (see also "the Coal and Iron Police" of Pennsylvania).

What eventually became of the Pinkerton Agency?

The Pinkerton Agency survived the hits to its reputation, the rise of the FBI, and the proliferation of other PI agencies. It continued to operate into the 20th century and was bought by Swedish firm Securitas in 1999.

Frederick Forsyth wrote a novel about mercenaries in Africa. What was its title?

The story is about soldiers hired to depose the leader of a fictional African country. The title comes from Shakespeare: "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!" (in "Julius Caesar").

Explore More Quizzes

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

What comes to mind when you hear the word "mercenary"? A reckless hired gun? A hardened ex-soldier with no moral compass? A commando with a thousand-yard stare and his kills notched into his gunbelt? All of these things might come to mind. There's still a subset of "men's fiction" devoted to the romantic idea of the mercenary, who might seem as rare a figure nowadays as the pirate. 

The truth is a good bit different. These days, the term "mercenary" has fallen out of favor, replaced with "private military contractor," which can refer to a company as well as an individual. And far from being amoral hired guns, many PMCs share the political beliefs and patriotic ideals of enlisted soldiers. Many work for their own country's government, to further its aims. This is especially true of the American contractors who were, and still are, working in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither are private contractors dashing loners carrying out high-risk missions. The fact is, many PMCs work as security guards, bodyguards and drivers -- work that can involve long hours of boredom, little glory, and as much order-taking as regular army life entails. 

How well do you understand the world of private military contractors? Our quiz will cover the history of mercenary work, some of its famous figures, and its techniques and practices. Good luck -- even if you don't score high, you're likely to learn some things about this little-understood line of work!

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!