Flying Tigers are a Model for Sensible Projection of US Power Abroad

By late 1940, Japan had conquered Manchuria and was pushing south and west across China.  Japan planned to subdue China and then turn east, towards American possessions in the Philippines, Guam, Wake, and Hawaii.  President Roosevelt wanted to fight Japan in China before the war came to us, but what we’d now call “boots on the ground” was politically impossible:  America had recently helped win the largest war in history, and wanted to let the rest of the world stew in its own juice.  

align=”left” Mercenaries have been used (with varying though often impressive success) at least since Ancient Persia, and continuously throughout the 20th Century.  They are the middle ground between conventional fighting and shoulder-shrugging.

That October, leather-faced ex-Army flier Claire Lee Chennault arrived in Washington from China, where he had been Chiang Kai-shek’s air advisor since the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937.  The Chinese didn’t have the training or the equipment to fight the Japanese in the air.  Chennault had an interesting proposal:  a mercenary air force of American planes flown by American volunteers.  The idea appealed to Roosevelt, who authorized the American Volunteer Group in April 1941.  Roosevelt’s advisor Thomas Corcoran set up a shell corporation called China Defense Supplies, which bought a hundred P-40 fighter planes and recruited the pilots to fly them, in most cases straight out of the US military.  Pilots received a much higher salary than they had in the army, and got a danger-bonus of $500 for every Japanese airplane shot down.  The volunteer squadrons were to fight under the Chinese flag.  But it was all paid for with US tax dollars.

This modest expenditure turned out to be absurdly efficient.  The group became the “Flying Tigers,” famously recognizable by the devouring jaws with which they decorated their planes.  They were the first Americans to fight the Japanese in World War II, and in less than a year produced more than twenty aces and shot down 230 planes.  And though their first combat mission was a few days after Pearl Harbor and the AVG would be reincorporated into the U.S. military the following year, the Flying Tigers remain a cultural icon, a symbol of American fighting spirit––and an illustration of how America can fight a war without ordering troops to do it.

The United Nations Mercenary Convention of 1989 bans the use of mercenaries, but the United States is not a signatory—neither is the UK, Russia, or France.  The French Foreign Legion remains the most renowned mercenary force in the world today.

In American law, the Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893 was intended to prohibit the government from hiring private detectives to act as policemen (the largest detective firm at the time was the Pinkerton Agency).  With odd logic, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1977 deemed this highly specific injunction to prohibit military mercenaries.  Congress could fix that simply enough by authorizing a new American Volunteer Group.  

It would start experimentally with one infantry regiment and a company each of armor and artillery.  Like the original AVG, it would operate under control of a foreign group we wish to assist:  the Kurds in Iraq would be a natural choice.  They are already fighting what is more broadly the West’s war against ISIS, but lack the men and training and equipment to do more than hold their own ground.  Operating with the Kurds, a new AVG would have much freer rein than the heavily handcuffed American Special Operators already in the region.  If they happen to dip into Syria to shoot up ISIS there too, we won’t mind.

Mercenaries have been used (with varying though often impressive success) at least since Ancient Persia, and continuously throughout the 20th Century.  They are the middle ground between conventional fighting and shoulder-shrugging.  Individual Americans could join the fight at their own option.  It would be the counterargument to ISIS’ own recruiting success.  And American volunteers to fight ISIS would not be lacking:  it’s an opportunity for young men to hit the battlefield with good pay, test their mettle and shoot at some of the people who are shooting at us.  It is an unusual strategy, but we know it can be done—we have Claire Chennault and his Flying Tigers to thank for that.

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9 responses to “Flying Tigers are a Model for Sensible Projection of US Power Abroad

  • We might have to wait until the Courts are less under the control of the usual cabal of progressives who would, as with the immigration EOs, bend over backwards to tie any such move up in knots. It’s interesting that it was a Dem president who saw the strategic benefit in being “two-faced” on the international stage. Officially you are neutral toward an enemy. Unofficially you are throwing everything you have at them (and getting very valuable combat experience into the bargain freed up from the tedium of UN peacekeeping obligations and other inconvenient UN regulations and rules). The volunteer force is a good idea – it would work extremely well with the Kurds who occupy what should be a pivotal role in the region and would help them to be a check on a more theocratic Turkey and a constant thorn in the side of Syria and Iran (and a stable, functioning and reliable regime in a region notable for failed states and states run by nutjob regimes). But fill those hundreds of Judicial appointments first otherwise everything will get bogged down in predictable libtard “lawfare” tactics and it will be a good idea that dies before it gets off the ground.

    • I’d never let the threat of a lawsuit deter the government from trying anyway. Tying down the resources of groups like the ACLU is a good thing.

      In one since, these groups do not have to be unofficially supported. I’m personally 100% okay with the US unofficially supporting Flying Tiger like volunteers joining with the Kurd forces. BUT, an important consideration here is the Turks.

      I’d also like to see US volunteers fund their own private armies that are not supported at all by the US government. Precedent for that is the “Abraham Lincoln” Brigades who fought in the Spanish Civil War. So let the Neoconservative Russiaphobe tough guys fund and volunteer for their own combat units to support the Ukrainian regime. Let John McCain himself go over there and lead from the front lines. I’ll bring the popcorn.

  • As a combat veteran and the author of numerous books on military history, I must disagree. The use of mercenaries – as JFK and LBJ did in Laos and elsewhere in the 1960s-70s – is a means of conducting military actions without the consent of Congress and the knowledge of the American people. Yes, the Flying Tigers did great things – but by the time they went into combat, the US was already in the war. Incidentally, Roosevelt carried out other unauthorized and thus illegal activities in violation of the US neutrality proclamation, activities that were classified for half a century and are mostly ignored by historians. For instance, it was a US Navy PBY that discovered the German battleship Bismarck in 1940. Remember that after WW II, the Truman administration established the CIA, which has become heavily involved in political activity and engages in domestic spying.

    Incidentally, the modern US military is a mercenary force and has been since Teddy Kennedy proposed establishing a mercenary military and ending the draft in the early 1970s. They all all-volunteer and paid very well in comparison to society as a whole.

  • Why not ignore the liberal “Judges” just like the Obama administration ignored Congress. We should not have men as corrupt as Obama and Holder thumbing their noses at the elected representatives of the people ever again. A proper start would be impeaching the most leftist “Judges” as in, you’re fired!

    • Your IQ is nowhere near 132.

      Where in the world did you get that idea?

      How far did you get in school, Jethro?

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