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ABC Closeup on the mercenary's twilight world

By Arthur Unger / March 19, 1981



There is a breed of man which is truly only at peace with itself in war. These free-lance warriors, fighting throughout the world for money and adventure rather than causes, are examined with revealing insight in ABC News Closeup's "Soldiers of the Twilight." (ABC, tonight, 10-11 P.M., check local listings). It is a documentary about mercenaries which possesses almost all of the essential ingredients for fiction. But unfortunately, the characters it portrays seem to be all too real.

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Produced and directed by Malcolm Clarke, written by Clarke and Marshall Frady under the aegis of Pamela Hill, "Soldiers of the TWilight" explores the shadow world which recruits, trains, and then directs these kill-for-pay soldiers of fortune. While it only sketchily investigates the wars in which they fight and the causes involved for the principals, what it is mostly about is the mentality of those men who, for personal reasons, choose war over peace.

Their motivation comes pouring out in their on on-camera and voice-over speeches. It is there is their eyes as well as in their actions. So revealing are their own words, that it must have taken a master interviewer like Closeup's sensitive host Marshall Frady to evoke their confidence.

This fascinating documentary allows the fighters to reveal their innermost attitudes. Says Maj. Mike Williams: "I don't want to go to St. Petersburg, Fla. , at 55 and play shuffleboard in the sun . . ."

Says "rebel", a rock musician and part-time mercenary: "cochise, custer, Geronimo -- they were men. And if you don't do your part you are not a man. You come out in the desert, strap on your gun and feel like a man. . . ."

This same man, "rebel" concludes with the most shocking though revealing statement in the show: "There's gonna be wars. And why don't they just let us guys that enjoy it do it?"

In none of the interviews is there shown any feeling for the value of life -- neither their own nor the native populations and sometimes opposing mercenaries they kill. That is, perhaps, the most frightening thing about the documentary.

Probably the most timely material concerns the current activity in Central America, the area where these men expect to be earning their living in the next few years. The documentary might have had even more punch if it had been able to uncover more material on the recruiting for San Salvador, etc.

However, Mr. Clarke chose to concentrate on the motivation which drives these "soldiers of twilight" and in doing so has managed to come up with an action-adventre documentary more chillingly violent in its quiet words than many violent fiction shows in their bloody action.