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Stern, Eric

Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt granted former US military captain Claire Lee Chennault the right to recruit “fighter jocks” from the Air Force and Marine Corps. To attract pilots, Chennault said they would be paid between $600 and $750 as opposed to the $260 that the majority of Air Force pilots received. The pilots would receive an additional $500 for every Japanese plane shot down. Other than the monetary incentive, the methods used to hire pilots still remain undisclosed. The motivation for joining Chennault’s group varied—some fled personal problems while others needed the money. Chennault and the other one hundred mercenaries, officially known as the American Volunteer Group (AVG), traveled to Burma in mid-1941 to guard a supply road from Japanese assault. The three-squadron force soon received the nickname “Flying Tigers” due to the recognizable shark teeth printed on the noses of their P-40 Warhawks. During their time overseas, the contract pilots managed to destroy 296 Japanese jets and around 1,300 riverboats; the Flying Tigers only lost sixty-nine aircrafts and twenty-four men. The AVG were successful, but annoyed that new material and equipment for their planes had not arrived when the US Army came to Burma. In addition, the Japanese had begun to develop strategies to fend off the contract pilots. Soon enough, members of the AVG filtered back into the American aviation services. Nevertheless, ten AVG members organized the Flying Tiger Line, the first private airline dedicated to carrying cargo.

Because the American contract pilots in the AVG were being paid to fight in World War II, they can be considered mercenaries. In this case study, these specific mercenaries fall under the organized state mercenarism category since President Roosevelt was responsible for the group’s creation. Because of their success against the Japanese, the members of the AVG were able to instill fear in the enemy. Around 1941, the notion of mercenarism in the US was socially acceptable since the pilots were American, fighting for their countries best interest. After all, the Flying Tigers were a covert group of pilots performing acts similar to those in the American military. Because of this, the AVG failed to establish new social behaviors. By fighting for America, the contract pilots were carrying out their social duty—protecting American citizens on the home front. By allowing Chennault to form the AVG, President Roosevelt created another channel of protection for America while also laying the framework for the future of “modern mercenarism.”