The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

The Draft Army is the True Volunteer Army


To call an army of paid professionals a volunteer army is a misnomer.  Paid professionals don’t volunteer for service, they are paid compensation for services.  They are essentially mercenaries who are hired by the state.  The only difference between a paid professional army that works for the state and mercenaries is that the mercenaries work for a sub-contractor of the state.  The details such as citizenship, military law, and other differences are not differences in kind, but rather just differences in the nature and strictness of the contract that governors the relationship between the paid professional and his employer.

True volunteer armies are those that are manned by the democratically authorized conscription of citizens.  A truly volunteer army was the French Army of the Napoleonic period or the American Army of World War I and II.  The citizens voluntarily consent to military service through the actions of their elected representatives.  That service is truly voluntary in that there is no contract between the state and the individual, and there is no just compensation provided back to the individual soldier.

Do you agree with the above analysis of volunteer army versus professional army?  Why / why not? 

Regardless of the validity of the above argument, conscript armies have many benefits to the state.  What are they?   What war making advantages do they have?  What are their disadvantages?

The Chinese military is currently a largely conscripted force.  Are they a better alternative to the professional army?

Today’s American army is a professional army but is it a volunteer army and does it really represent the American people and their values?

September 9, 2010 - Posted by | H100 | , , , , , , ,


  1. I haven’t yet started my readings; I thought I’d look at the blog first. Having read the piece above I feel compelled to write something straight away, such is my opposition to the notion suggested.

    There is a polar difference between a professional army paid by the state and a mercenary force. To suggest that it is just an issue of contracts is simply wrong. Serving one’s nation as a volunteer member of the armed forces is one of the very few ‘noble professions’ remaining in modern society where individuals frequently sell their souls for financial reward. Many of my former colleagues have left the British Army to seek greater financial rewards. I do not consider myself to be in the same state of employment as them!

    As a member of a professional volunteer army I am proud of my service and my country is proud of me and my family. The Military Covenant which exists in Britain between the State and the Army articulates the very special relationship between the two. Really it articulates the relationship between the State and each and every soldier. No paramilitary or mercenary organisation share such a covenant.

    I have volunteered my service to my nation as have my colleagues serving in their volunteer armed forces. We are each prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country if required. Financial reward does not play any part in my decision to serve; pride, honour and service do. I accept that I may lay down my life in pursuit of the just cause that my nation sends me to strive towards. Not for the financial rewards.

    Comment by Major Sam Cates | September 9, 2009

  2. I would have to ultimately agree with Sam on this point. I think it a disservice to say that a volunteer army is not a professional army. I do agree that there are and can be differences between the two and that in certain situations they can be wholly one or the other. I believe that the Army of the French Revolution was a volunteer army and at the time, not a professional army. I would also say that a group such as Blackwater, albeit on a smaller scale, is a professional army and not a volunteer army due to any higher order, except for personal gain. That does not mean that an army cannot be both. As Sam alluded to above, I consider myself both a professional military officer and a volunteer officer. I serve my country because I feel that it is the right thing for me to do, and I enjoy what I do. If I didn’t, then I can get out at any point. I would say most of us agree that we are not in the military for the money, but there are other compensations besides the money, such as travel, security, training, or simply doing things you’ve always wanted to do that you cannot do in the civilian world such as drive a tank or fly a fighter jet. However, compensation is the only way to support and sustain our family and ourselves. The only time that the military has completely provided for all my needs is during my tours to the desert. If I go to the chow hall in garrison, my meals there are not free, so if the military doesn’t provide them, I have to have a way to pay for it. So does that mean that when I go to the desert, I am a volunteer soldier and when I’m back in garrison that I’m a professional solder? I think everyone would agree that is not the case. We have transitioned over time from professional armies to volunteer armies and I would say are now in an era of combined service.

    Comment by Maj Scott "Spyder" Walker | September 10, 2009

  3. The draft army is fundamentally NOT a volunteer force because its members have been compelled to service rather than volunteering for it. Visit Soldier’s Mail for the perspective of Sgt. Sam Avery on this topic during World War I. Those who served in both the Regular Army and the National Guard did so willingly by having voluntarily enlisted for service. Those who were drafted were forced by government mandate. The fact that the members of the military are paid has no bearing on whether they are “volunteers” or not. Likewise, members of the military belonging to a government are NOT mercenaries because they are not individual non-state actors.

    Comment by worldwar1letters | September 13, 2009

  4. The question of whether our Army as it stands today is truly a volunteer Army or not elicited much debate during and following class. I would argue that we are still a volunteer Army. Wikipedia defines volunteering as, “the practice of people working on behalf of others without being motivated by financial or material gain.” We enter into military service to serve and protect our Nation, and our reasons for doing so are rarely financial or material gain (to me this implies becoming wealthy as an objective). Many definitions of the act of volunteering suggest a component of altruism, a selfless concern for others. Surely this was SFC Paul R. Smith whose selfless actions and ultimate sacrifice saved many lives, and there are many others who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, not for financial gain.

    Comment by Maj Chad Weddell | September 13, 2009

  5. I also agree that today’s Army is a combination of professional and volunteer Army. My comment will focus on the volunteer piece. After 9/11, recruiting stations were inundanted by thousands of Americans wanting to serve thier country. Patriotism, not financial gain, drove them to be a part of something bigger. Even 8 years after the terror attacks, recruiting and retention remains solid. Some may say it is because of the state of today’s economy. I believe it is because Americans still feel they are needed in this global war on terror. From a personal point of view, my decision to serve was not financially driven. As a civil engineer, I would be much better off financially in the civilian sector even in today’s economy. My reason for serving is that same as it was 14 years ago when I first took the oath to serve…to give back to a country that has given me and my family so much.

    Comment by Anant Patel (17C) | September 14, 2009

  6. After reading the above comments I have to disagree with Sam, Spyder and AP. I do not think there is any doubt that our situation would be financially improved if we worked in another area. The real question is what constitutes a volunteer. By my definition it is based on a person accepting a task willingly with no reimbursement. We use the volunteer term interchangeably. The military can have two types of volunteers. Those that volunteer to serve, but expect payment and those who serve knowing that they will not get paid. Sure the majority of our forces volunteered to join, but everyone of them…us included, expected a payment. This does not make us a true volunteer service. Even the countries that place all men and women in the armed services for a period of time can not be considered a volunteer service. The truth of the matter is that based on economics, military organizations and current policies against pillaging. A truly volunteer force can never exist, not in this modern day. This is why I believe that the French Army of the French Revolution was the last truly volunteer army.

    Comment by LCDR Marc Davis | September 15, 2009

  7. I agree with MAJ Chad Weddell above.

    Comment by Todd Bailey | September 15, 2009

  8. In comment to the question on the conscripted Chinese Army, are they better than a professional army? My comment is we don’t know yet. The Chinese aren’t exactly sharing discipline problems or desertion rates with us. Although they had initial success in the Korean War against us we could look at the later stages of that war and possibly see an erosion of their effectiveness. Also their initial successes could be attributed to surprise and numbers. I think both surprise and numbers on the battlefield today would still be a benefit albeit short lived for them. But a benefit they do have by being conscripted is just the sheer numbers of trained troops they can put into play compared to our professional military that represents only 1% of our free society so that is a big benefit that we can not compete with. But if the Chinese conscripts were put into a situation that required long term resolve (without government supervision) I think the weaknesses of a conscript Army would start to show. In similar fashion we saw our own partially conscripted military show lapses in discipline in Vietnam and ultimately that led to the all volunteer force we have today.

    Comment by MAJ Chistopher "Kit" Johnson 17-D | September 15, 2009

  9. First of all Chad, thanks for citing Wikipedia. I thought I was the only one using Wikipedia as a reference. SG 17B rocks!!!
    However, I disagree. We are a professional, and not volunteer, army. I understand we volunteered to join the Army, but teachers also volunteered to become teachers and policemen volunteered to become policemen. No one was forced into those jobs. Chad also stated that our goal isn’t to become wealthy. However, I argue that the Army provides financial stability that only a few occupations can provide. If the Army decides to cut pay by 75%, then I wonder how many people would join or stay in the Army.
    I believe it is very difficult to have a volunteer army. In fact, the only way for a country to have a volunteer army is through adversity (Invasion, WW III). Even then, it will be short lived. What we are is Professional Army: we are disciplined, we acknowledge our mission, and we understand our duties.

    Comment by J Lee, 17B | September 15, 2009

  10. The use of conscription to build armies has numerous weaknesses. It requires large amount of financial resources. States or countries that do not have a large cash reserve or war chest will have the size of their army limited by the amount of financial resources available. Conscription also requires large amounts of effort and resources to maintain. Conscripted armies usually consisted of very large numbers of lower class society, which resulted in a poorly trained and poorly educated force. In some states, if conscription was considered permanent, some Soldiers were required to serve in the military for their entire life, were not allowed to see their family, and served under extremely harsh conditions, similar to being in prison.

    However, building conscripted armies also had its advantages. Having the ability to mass large armies in relatively short periods of time was the primary strength of conscription. Despite the many shortcomings of conscription, the strength outweighed the weaknesses on many occasions throughout history. This is supported throughout history, as France adopted conscription in the 18th century. France later stopped use of constriction, but later adopted modified forms of it a few years later. It was also used in the 18th and 19th century by Russia (1920’s Civil War), the United States (1860’s Civil War), Germany (1930’s), and Japan (1870’s), when the need for larger armies was warranted and force generation time was short.

    Comment by John Palazzolo SG 17A | September 15, 2009

  11. I agree wholeheartedly with the comment by worldwar1letters. What it really comes down to is definitions rather than suppositions and connotations. According to the North American Encarta Dictionary, volunteer, when referencing the military is 3. ”Voluntary recruit to armed forces- somebody who has freely offered to serve in the armed services”.
    Nobody made me sign up for the Military. I “volunteered”. Yes I am paid, which is completely contrary to another definition of volunteer. North American Encarta Dictionary, 1. “Somebody who works for nothing -somebody who works without being paid”. However the key piece of information missing in definition #1 that is in definition #3 is the word military.
    So no matter how you suppose it, or which connotation you apply to it, if you are in the U.S. Army today you are in an all Volunteer armed force. Hooah…God Bless America

    Comment by Maj Bjorn "SWEDE" Johnson | September 15, 2009

  12. You guys are confusing me with all of these big words like Wikpedia and Encarta. I do know that when I walked into the recruiter’s office, I was not recruited or drafted, I volunteered. Being payed was just an extra bonus. Anyone of us can volunteer to leave the military at anytime. I do not think the issue of financial gain should be the ultimate factor in determining a professional military. The French did somewhat successfully field an army who were volunteered. However, the entire country was volunteered into the war effort, and for twenty years, they did not do much of anything else.

    Comment by MAJ Roe 17B | September 15, 2009

  13. I think it depends on a person’s motivation for serving. The French were motivated to volunteer by nationalism (or what would eventually become nationalism), a sense of wanting to keep their nation together rather than become subjects of a monarchy again. One could argue that the motivation was across the board. Would it not be very difficult in those circumstances to say when offered service, “No, I will take my chances with the monarchy”? Of course, it would be difficult because everyone in your community would be providing something to the effort to keep their way of life. Or in the French people’s minds, the OPPORTUNITY for a life devoid of the monarchy.

    We are a volunteer Army of many different motivations: money, benefits, structured lives, etc. My motivation was money for college. I had missed my opportunity for my parents to pay my entire way by blowing off class and not performing. Thus, if I wanted to finish college I had to pay for it. That was enough motivation for me to vounteer. Soon after came the patriotism.

    Comment by MAJ Rich Massengale SG 17B | September 17, 2009

  14. I also agree that today’s Army is combination of both a professional and volunteer Army. But I tend to sway more towards the volunteer side, especailly in our reserve components. Take NE for an example, in just the last 5 years thier overall stregth went up by over 900 Soldiers alone. That is 10 times more then the last 25 years. Why? Maybe its because of the economy, but I believe it is more…I believe it is the sence of pride and duty our younger generations are feeling. They see their buddies joining, they hear the stories and they feel compelled to join themselve. I know when I joined almost 22 years ago, it was not for financial reasons it was more of giving back. Then when I left the US Marshals to go acitve in 1991, it was not because of financial reasons….and I think that is what you are seeing today. We talk about a possible downsizing or a regression in the services after the war(s)….I tend to disagree. I mean heck….individuals are beating the recruiters door down, and the worse part is the recruiters in NE have not, could not and can not recruit anymore Soldiers, and they have been sitting in this position now since march because they are over their end strength by 10%. This tends to show you, we are still very much a volunteer Army…..and a professional one at that.

    Comment by Darin E. Huss SG 17C | September 24, 2009

  15. I guess I never looked at the volunteer army that way, because we all voluntarily sign a contract to serve and are not forced to serve by a democratic society of elected officials by the people who make the decision to institute a draft, therefore those who are drafted are “volunteers”. I would agree with the author’s perception of a volunteer army, if those elected officials were truly representatives of the common people (middle class), and not just the politically connected aristocratic privileged of society. A true volunteer army is motivated on pride and will fight for their families, friends, and nation. Volunteers are better team players and prefer to have a say in what the army is doing because they have a deeply rooted self-investment in the army, vs the mercenary who is just a hired gun and out for them selves. I think China would have a large recruiting problem on their hands if they were not a conscript army. Just like Korea, many of the new younger generations do not want to serve in their militaries. Today’s American army is a professional army and it is a volunteer army that really represents the American people and their values, however I’m not too sure abut the elected officials who have their own political agendas and use the military as a hard tool to achieve their political agenda. I totally agree with MAJ “Kit” Johnson and J Lee’s comments on the virtues of a true volunteer Army based on analysis of the WWII and Vietnam draft army vs our current all volunteer army. Today’s professional army is just that, professional and there is a huge difference between them.

    Comment by James "Lucky" Lucowitz SG17A | September 12, 2010

  16. First, I think the analysis about a professional army not actually being a volunteer army is false. I think when we think of a volunteer army, we should think about people who choose to serve. Yes for example, our military soldiers are paid, but we are still an all-volunteer force.

    When we think of a non-volunteer force, I think of the draft. Many people probably did not have a problem serving, but there were many that did. Let us also not forget that they are paid for their service too.

    Therefore, payment for services alone should not be the measure for volunteered service. The bottom line is when people choose to serve, this is a volunteer force. When the state mandates service, this is not. Payment for service is irrelevant in this case.

    Comment by MAJ David J. Price, SG 17D | September 12, 2010

  17. Is the U.S. Army a volunteer force or a mercenary force? I believe that volunteers are primarily motivated by love of country and a desire to protect shared values. However, money could also motivate a volunteer. On the other hand, a mercenary force is primarily motivated by money, although love of country and a desire to protect shared values might also motivate a mercenary. Therefore, a better question might ask, “What is the primary motivator of U.S. Soldiers?”

    Based on the small sampling of students responding to this blog, it appears that U.S. Soldiers are primarily motivated by love of country and a desire to protect shared values which would make us a volunteer Army.

    Comment by Tim Brower | September 12, 2010

  18. It took me a few minutes to realize that the first 14 comments for this blog topic were posted last year. I guess that means there’s not much opportunity for dialogue with the authors of those posts. It looks like there is a lot of correlation between those observations and the ones added this year, though. With the exception of a few outliers, it appears that the majority of us firmly believe that the current U.S. Army is a volunteer Army.
    A few of my counterparts last year mentioned the conscripted Army in Vietnam. My Dad was #1 in the draft lottery in 1969, due to his date of birth. See link below for a brief description of the process:
    He takes great pride in telling people that he was a draft dodger. He did not dodge the draft in the traditional sense, however (thank God!) He decided to enlist in the Marine Corps to avoid being drafted into the Army.
    My family has a proud tradition of military service, and it means a great deal to me to be a part of that. As many of my peers have pointed out, all of us could find more lucrative careers in the outside world. Although we are paid for our contributions, we put our lives on the line in the service of our country. Our willingness to make that sacrifice means to me that we are truly a volunteer Army.

    Comment by Rachel Wienke, SG 17D | September 14, 2010

  19. I agree that todays proffesional Army can be considered a mercenary force. Having served as a Recruiting company commander, I can say that most people who join the Army, whether officers or enlisted do so for monetary gains. Very few actually do it for “patriotism”. Sure, we embrace patriotism as the reason for why we serve but let the paycheck stop being deposited into our accounts and see what happens. Most soldiers would be gone as soon as their obligation is up.

    Is the American army a mercenary force? Yes. We agree to “volunteer” our time and lives for a comfortable salary in return. But let the paycheck stop and see how fast many soldiers would jump ship to the next paying organization that is looking for someone with our skill level. Can I say Blackwater, Wolfpack, Tripple Canopy?

    Comment by Eric Morris | September 14, 2010

  20. This is largely an argument of semantics. We (contemporary Americans) view the term “volunteer” through the lens of the “all volunteer force”, which is associated with the end of the draft. However, the author is viewing the term volunteer through the historical lens of the public volunteering indirectly for conscription through a republican governmental system.

    So, are we a volunteer army? Yes in an individual sense, but no in a public/social sense.

    The American military philosophy has generally been to hybrid approach; maintain a small professional cadre in peacetime, which is capable of mobilizing a large army of citizen-soldiers in times of war. Of course, the problem with this approach is that you must have widespread agreement among the public that committing the nation to war is worth doing.

    This worked well until Viet Nam, a war in which popular sentiment ran opposite of the desires of the political establishment. Rather than continue to accept the will of the nation as the judge of whether or not to go to war (a concept codified in Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution), we chose instead to decouple the will of the people from the process through an all-volunteer, professional army.

    This makes it much easier for political elites to commit the nation to war without consulting the people. In fact, recent events suggest that the decoupling of the people from war is even greater than this; the politicians no longer call for shared sacrifice and the mobilization of national resources to the war effort, rather, they advise the rest of the public to do their part by shopping and going to Disney World.

    Comment by MAJ Trent Lythgoe | September 14, 2010

  21. Words have meaning, so it’s prudent we reach for a dictionary in this case.

    To volunteer is “to perform or offer to perform a service of one’s own free will” (, accessed 15SEP2010).

    Conscription, in contrast, “compulsory enrollment, especially for the armed forces; draft” (, accessed 15SEP2010)

    What does compulsory mean? “Obligatory; required” (, accessed 15SEP2010)

    Therefore, how can a draft Army be voluntary by definition?

    The original post attempts to explain: “The citizens voluntarily consent to military service through the actions of their elected representatives.” This seems to imply that by virtue of birth in a designated territory one offers their “voluntary” consent. Since no one really picks where they’re born, is volunteerism really a function of conscious choice or is it a variable of circumstance?

    Comment by Ryan T. Kranc, 17D | September 16, 2010

  22. By definition a conscript army cannot be a volunteer army. Conscription is, by definition, an involuntary act.

    Draft armies perform a vital service under certain conditions. However, they exemplify the production limitations illustrated by the Project Triangle.

    The Project Triangle posits that you can have something quickly, of high quality, or produced for low cost, but that you can only have two of the three simultaneously. For instance, you can produce conscript soldiers quickly on the cheap, but they won’t be very good.

    Comment by Ryan T. Kranc, 17D | September 16, 2010

  23. I believe that today’s American army is a volunteer army. I believe the people that join the military want to serve their country. Although, the military represent a small number of the American population, it still represent the people and their values. The people that join feel that it is their duty and it is a honor to serve their country. There are other reasons why people join the military, but regardless of what those reasons are ie…money, school, leave home etc…. they are still volunteering.

    Comment by Lisa Robinson | September 29, 2010

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