Soldier of Fortune

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For my [elementary school-aged] Dungeons & Dragons buddies and I, reading Soldier of Fortune was like perusing a Dungeon Master's Guide or Monster Manual. It was a portal to a fantasy world. We talked about killing commies the same way we talked about slaying orcs. Then we grew out of it.
"The Dark Side of 'Soldier of Fortune' Magazine: Contract Killers and Mercenaries for Hire", David Holthouse

Soldier of Fortune is a magazine founded in 1975, allegedly about the exploits of modern mercenaries. In actuality, it is a modern-day version of the men's adventure magazinesWikipedia that proliferated from the 1940s through the 1970s, filled with exaggerated (or fabricated) stories about mercenary exploits, violence and badassery in Third World combat zones, combined with a ferociously right-wing, jingoistic editorial stance.[1]

No real mercenary would, of course, be caught dead reading such tripe. Most of the actual US military, particularly the special operations community, derisively regards Soldier of Fortune as a punchline and the antithesis of the "quiet professional" ethos espoused by actual qualified operators. A subscription or interest in the magazine is treated as something worthy of derision. The trouble with Soldier of Fortune is that some of it is actually solid stuff about military history and theory written by people like former staff officers and retired soldiers and academics. And then some of it is utter woo designed to give wannabe edgy 14 year olds hardons.


Soldier of Fortune — at six, the oldest merc magazine, maintains a tight-lipped distance from the bloody sensationalism embraced by a horde of sleazy coattailers that've sprung up this year like Afro-Commie revolts. Tumescent with authority, SoF features Consumer Reports-like product tests for everything from lethal weapons to survivalist manuals and Nazi regalia, and classifieds where professional adventurers hawk their wares like hookers in Screw. Though tough on pacifist sensibilities, it's not as offensive as rags like Eagle ("Adventure, Survival, Truth"), Gung-Ho ("The Magazine for the International Military Man"), and by far the worst, Battles. This trio accent the decomposing-corpse close-ups and wide-angle napalm strikes, while the text veers dangerously into masturbatory, macho-libertarianism John Wayneisms.
—Lou Stathis, Heavy Metal, October 1981[2]

Originally quite obscure, it became popular in the early 1980s and spawned a cottage industry of copycat magazines, including New Breed and Gung Ho. The magazine's influence was such that it went beyond copycat magazines and led to some magazines on unrelated topics copying Soldier of Fortune's style in an effort to increase circulation. For example, for most of the 1980s Popular Communications,Wikipedia a ham, CB and shortwave radio hobbyist magazine, peppered just about every issue with sensationalistic articles and cover photos on spy, mercenary, guerrilla warfare, and other paramilitary use of radio. The magazine's rise coincided with the survivalist movement moving away from a left-wing/libertarian, Mother Earth News-type emphasis on rural living skills and "back to the land" hippie communalism, and towards the overt right-wing paramilitarism that later characterized the militia movement. This, in turn, conceivably reflected broader social trends in the 1980s, such as the popularity of right-wing action movies like Red Dawn and the Rambo series, and the return of the nuclear fear of the 1950s that came with the rekindling of the Cold War.

White makes right[edit]

Editorially, they supported the white minority governments in Rhodesia and South Africa, the Contras in Nicaragua, the right-wing governments of El Salvador and Guatemala, the right wing of the Cuban exile community in Miami (noticing a trend here?), and the Israel Defence Force, and never passed up an opportunity to shit on "Hanoi Jane" Fonda.

Run-in with the law[edit]

Soldier of Fortune ran into trouble for carrying classified advertisements from "mercenaries for hire", three of which were used to recruit real-life contract killers and led to lawsuits against the magazine. In the magazine's early years they also openly carried advertisements from extreme right-wing groups, including the publisher of The Turner Diaries peddling that book. Their classified advertising section has also always been a notorious hangout for cranks and weirdos in general, including such things as con artists trying to raise mercenaries for their own putative "micronations" or expeditions to look for "POW-MIAs" in Southeast Asia, various anti-Jane Fonda T-shirts and bumper stickers, and private "boot camps" for people wanting to experience Parris Island all over again (and presumably enjoy it).

The occasional good word[edit]

On rare occasions, Soldier of Fortune actually did some valid muckraking journalism. On two separate occasions, they exposed right-wing activist James Gordon "Bo" Gritz as a con artist, first in 1983 when he was collecting money to find POW-MIAs,[3] and again in 1992 when he ran for President on a theocratic, anti-New World Order platform. Another issue in 1994 was devoted to debunking the militia movement and its wacko personalities like Linda Thompson and Mark Koernke.

Still, that doesn't excuse them from essentially being con artists in their own right, selling John Rambo mercenary fantasies under a factual pretense to impressionable people.

Also, following Nelson Mandela's death, they called out mainstream conservatives for their about-face on their views towards the man after the end of apartheid. Of course, they did so from the opposite direction that most decent human beings did, claiming that Mandela was always a damn dirty commie and using his death as an opportunity to dance on his grave and claim that he destroyed South Africa. You could make the argument that at least they're consistent... except for the fact that, after spending the '00s cheerleading for the Iraq War, they now seem to think that it was a bad idea and that we should've been supporting Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, and other "secular strongmen" against the jihadists.

Other use of the term[edit]

Soldier of FortuneWikipedia is also a series of FPS games licensed by the magazine, in which you play as a mercenary in various locations battling African rebels, Yakuza, Russians, Iraqi soldiers, and neo-Nazis. The general consensus is that the first two games are actually pretty decent, though the third one (which was made by a different developer) is agreed to suck a load of donkey balls. They're all known for being extremely gory, especially by the standards of the time, allowing you to splatter enemies' limbs and heads like watermelons. They also included hit-boxes for the groin, so you could kill terrorists with shots to the testicles.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Iver Perterson, Mercenary Magazine Widena Appeal. The New York Times, 23 September 1985.
  2. Lou Stathis, "Merc Alert," Heavy Metal, October 1981, p. 41.
  3. "Bo" Gritz: The Mission He Was Never On (but that he lied about). MIA Facts