The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

The Professionals

The 18th Century saw the perfection of the concept of the professional army. From the point of view of the monarch they were a great asset to the kingdom –ensuring protection from enemies from within as well as without the crown’s borders. The professional army had numerous positive attributes. It also had limitations. Both its attributes and its limitations directly effectived how the Kingdoms and Empires of the 18th Century waged wars. What were those effects?

Today the Western military forces, including the U.S. Army, are considered the finest professional military forces ever produced. As a professional military force, what attributes, both positive and negative, does the U.S. military, and the army in particular share with the professional forces of Frederick the Great’s Prussia?

Do the professional attributes of the U.S. military effect how the U.S. military wages war in a way similiar to the professionals effect on war in 18th Century? If so, how?


September 2, 2010 - Posted by | H100 | , , , ,


  1. On professionalism:

    Prussia’s officer class was revolutionary at the time, made up mostly of young aristocrats. Key traits that the officers displayed were that they stayed with their units (loyalty), led from the front during battles (courage), and were required to supervise training and administration (leadership).

    While the US Army has built a strong non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps that has largely taken on the responsibility of training soldiers, it is still the requirement of the commissioned officer to supervise and guide the training. Leading from the front, or leading by example, is a cornerstone of current leadership philosophies of leaders at every level in the Army, not just the officer corps. Most officers in the US Army would not even entertain the idea of allowing their unit, the soldiers, to deploy to a combat situation without being present. This largely gets back to the idea of leading from the front and being present on the battlefield with your unit.

    On the negative side, desertion is always a concern when trying to convince human beings to march headlong into a combat situation that could result in their own death. While this was more prevalent in 18th century Prussia, the methods employed by both Prussia and the US Army are very close. Prussia allowed varied degrees of punishment for dealing with desertion, the most extreme of which was death by hanging or being shot (Armies and warfare in Europe, 1648-1789, John Childs). The US Army has its own legal actions that can be taken for desertion with varying degrees of punishment as well, but the death penalty is still on the books as the maximum punishment for such a crime.

    Comment by Kristofer Hopkins | September 3, 2010

  2. Limitations of 18th century warfare were determined largely by the financial backing of the king, weather or not he was going to make the investment to upgrade his weaponry to enhance the overall effectiveness of his army. Most of this was due to the kingdoms economy. We see that today with our struggles equipping the US Army for the irregular warfare battles in Iraq and Afghanistan with MRAPs and Body Armor. You either pay for it today with $ or you pay tomorrow with blood.

    Negative Attributes of the current US Army similar to that of Frederick the Great of Prussia’s Army is Motivation; the idea of what’s in it for me of our leadership. For example, we now have officer retention bonuses that exceed $30,000.

    Positive Attributes include pride in organization, uniformity, top notch weaponry, constant exercises to prepare for combat similar to that of drill of rehearsals. The positive impacts that a Soldier’s family had upon his motivation are invaluable. Lesson learned is the positive impact of a soldiers family being located nearby upon the soldier’s morale (it gave him something to fight for). This is demonstrated by the emphasis of FRG programs in support of Soldiers families while they are deployed and 1:2 year ratios deployment to dwell time.

    Comment by James Lucowitz | September 3, 2010

  3. The effects resulting from the attributes and limitations of the 18th century professional army are: a more disciplined force that lent itself to more control. The professional army also demonstrated more loyalty and esprit de corps based on the establishment of uniformity. I see this attribute in today’s professional army.
    The professional attributes of the U.S. military effect how the U.S. military wages war are similar to the professionals in 18th Century as demonstrated in the orderly and strategic fashion soldiers conduct their operations. The professional soldiers of the 18th century as well as today are bound by guidelines/procedures that enable them to go into battle.

    Comment by Pia Romero | September 9, 2010

  4. Although the positive attributes of today’s current military forces can be traced back to the original professional armies, there were limitations to the 18th century professional forces that no longer prevail among the forces of today. The primary motivation for 18th century professional soldiers to fight was focused around fear rather than esprit de corps. This fear came from the idea of strict discipline and punitive consequences of diverging from orders. Soldiers of the 18th century were often coerced, forced, or tricked into joining these military ranks and then beaten and threatened with death to maintain status quo among the ranks. In contrast, the professional armies of today focus on monetary compensation and nationalistic venues to motivate the soldiers to fight.

    Comment by James Browning | September 9, 2010

  5. The Prussian forces under Frederick the Great and today’s U.S. military share many attributes.

    One attribute shared by the U.S. Army and Frederick the Great’s Prussian forces is the use of military doctrine. Frederick personally wrote various regulations including the employment of cavalry forces. Many of Frederick’s writings were very detailed such as what items a soldier should possess in his pack. Likewise, military doctrine serves as a guide for conducting operations, training, and education.

    Frederick the Great also recognized the value of military schooling. “Quite possibly the views Frederick expressed in later years on the need for better military education were influenced by de la Mont, who had been among the first to show interest in determining the principles of war and who recommended examinations for young military cadets and the establishment of tactical schools for officers.”1 Likewise, the U.S. military places great emphasis on military education, not only for the officer corps but also for enlisted Soldiers.

    1 Jay Luvaas, “Frederick the Great: The Education of a Great Captain,” H100: Rise of the Western Way of War (June 2010): 71.

    Comment by Tim Brower | September 12, 2010

  6. The question of volunteer vs. professional Armies comes down to citizen support of the nation. When the professional military becomes the dominant force, the average citizen begins to lose interest and emotional involvement in their very own nation and its government. This occurred in Rome. At the beginning of the republic, all the Armies were comprised of citizens, either as volunteers or conscripts. Gradually, all the legions became “professional,” and, eventually, mercenaries were used. The common Roman began to have little or no interest in what his Armies were doing, as it did not interfere with his life.

    We need a core of competent, highly trained professionals to provide officers and senior NCOs. There will always be a need for the USMA and its graduates. However, we must eventually return to a conscripted military or risk developing a nation that will be unable to defend itself due to lack of interest.

    Comment by Gary B. Wilhelm | September 23, 2010

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