The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

The True Volunteers?

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 6, 2011 - Posted by | H100 | , , , , ,


  1. A popular term used to describe the U.S. Army during the last ten years (or longer) has been the “all volunteer force.” In the most recent campaign, “A Profession of Arms,” it seems that the U.S. Army is making a strategic shift from the self-identified description of a volunteer force to a professional force. Just as Soldiers embraced their identity as “an all volunteer force” so the next generation of Soldiers may embrace their identity as military professionals. This could lead to a cultural shift within the Army. A problem for our Nation regarding this identity of the military as a profession is that professionals demand higher pay and benefits… volunteers do not. Is our country ready to accept the responsibility of fielding a totally professional force? 

    Comment by MAJ Mark Nakazono | September 6, 2011

  2. In China, the State of Qin instituted universal military service following the registration of every household. This allowed huge armies to be levied, and was instrumental in the creation of the Qin Empire that conquered the whole of China in 221BC. As of the early 21st century, many states no longer conscript soldiers, relying instead upon professional militaries with volunteers enlisted to meet the demand for troops. The ability to rely on such an arrangement, however, presupposes some degree of predictability with regard to both war-fighting requirements and the scope of hostilities. Many states that have abolished conscription therefore still reserve the power to resume it during wartime or times of crisis. In the United States, conscription, also called “the draft”, ended in 1973, but males between 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System to aid in resuming conscription. I prefer the professional Army.
    The only reason I am considered part of a volunteered force is because I was not drafted. I do receive pay for my services to protect my country, American people, beliefs, values, and our way of life.

    Comment by MAJ Wayne Kinney | September 8, 2011

  3. I believe that conscripted armies, whether democratically authorized or not, are not volunteer based armies. As we discussed in class this week it was the local leaders that chose which young men served in the French army and which ones were allowed to serve France in other capacities (farming, uniform/clothing repair, medical, weapons production, etc). To me, young men conscripted for military service are no more volunteer soldiers than the serf/peasant soldiers of the dark ages.

    I believe that a more accurate example of a volunteer soldier would be the first colonial militiamen that defended their frontier homes from Native American raids. Many of these first militias were formed for the general protection of their settlements. They did not get paid but were expected to defend their settlement as part of their duty as a settlement member. These local militias truly volunteered their services not only defend their homes but to mount rescue operations for fellow settlers that were taken by Native American raiding parties.

    It was not until later in the 1600s and on that the larger settlements began to financially compensate their militias for military action against the Native Americans and opposing colonial powers. Starkey’s “European and Native American Warfare 1675 – 1815” gives ample examples of how the colonial settlements transformed the militias into paid military formations expected to leave their settlements to conduct strikes against the settlements’ enemies, sometimes hundreds of miles away. This effectively ended the era of the volunteer colonial militia. After this point colonial and later U.S. service members expected to be compensated in some way for their service, even draftees received pay.

    Comment by MAJ Chris Moore, 17A | September 8, 2011

  4. I don’t agree that the Napoleonic Army was a true volunteer Army. The collective may have consented to military service but not all individuals did. I also don’t consider myself to be a mercenary. I also don’t necessarily agree with the premise. This is not an either or proposition. Being a professional doesn’t mean I can’t volunteer or vice-versa. The state pays for services that it needs in order to provide for its citizens: doctors and nurses for medical services, policemen for local law enforcement, and the military to provide for national defense. Otherwise, when I go the clinic, am I seeing a mercenary doctor? when I need legal services, are they provided by a mercenary lawyer (probably not the best choice of profession here). Or better yet, when I am in school, am I being taught by a mercenary professor?

    I think many make the mistake of overstating the financial motivation of the volunteer force. Does one really place himself in a position to take an IED or mortar round and keep doing so deployment after deployment solely (or even primarily) for financial gain? I for one am not so willing to dismiss service to one’s country and pride in the profession of arms as an even greater motivator and principal reason for continued service and the sacrifice it entails.

    One major advantage of the conscript army is numbers. A state can call up a significant number of troops and continue to call up personnel as they take losses in war in a relatively short period of time. However, size is also a major disadvantage in terms of cost. A state requires a significant of money to resource such a larger force.

    I do not believe that a conscript army is a better alternative to a professional army. Only if one looks at it strictly in terms of cost and only then in terms of the money required to maintain it. Noenetheless, there is also a high cost to pay if a state “gambles” their national defense to the lowest bidder. In the case of China, it is hard to tell if conscription is a better alternative since we have no reliable statistics regarding discipline problems (for ex, dessertion rates) to go by. However, it may be safe to assume that dessertion could be a significant problem in a longer, protracted conflict.

    As I stated earlier, professional vs volunteer is not an either or proposition. Being a professional doesn’t mean I can’t volunteer or vice-versa. Today’s Army does represent the American people and their values. Demographically we are similar, we are slightly younger (compared to the civilian working force). There is also only a slight difference in minority representation, for example. There is a slightly larger number of african americans compared to the general population but there is also a slight lower number of hispanics compared to the general population. Basic common sense tells us that we will have commonalities since it is primarily from America that we fill our ranks, hence, we will represent its values.

    Comment by MAJ Efrain Ramos | September 8, 2011

  5. I disagree that a conscript army is a volunteer army. If you are ordered to serve by your government it is little better than being pressed into service by the British Navy just prior to the War of 1812. I would also disagree with the representation that today’s professional military is a mercenary force. Mercenaries fight for whoever pays them the most, and have been known to switch sides in a conflict. Today’s volunteer force sign up to server their nation for many reasons, but the one they all share is a love for their country, and a willingness to put their lives on the line to keep their countrymen safe.

    With a professional core to a military a conscription army has the benefit of fielding a much larger force with greater speed, and at less cost than an all volunteer force. This force will also reflect society and bring the war home to everyone in the country. This helps to ensure that our elected officials are better stewards of the military and will not use them for non vital interests. But there are significant drawbacks to a conscription army. First is the drain on the nation’s labor pool for sustaining an economy, second is the general reduction in professionalism in that conscripted military.

    Comment by Wayne Patras | September 8, 2011

  6. Conscription largely came about with the rise of democracy as a way of controlling and legitimizing the armed forces of the state. The Army of Napoleon’s France is a prime example and is largely credited with being the first to utilize conscription to raise an army. Many countries have conscription enshrined in their constitutions (i.e. Denmark). Was it professional? Yes. Promotion among the officer corps and within the ranks was based on merit and the army was hugely successful in its exploits through organizational change/structure and tactical execution. Was it a volunteer army? Clearly, not in the same sense that today’s non-conscript armies are a volunteer Army, but at the time, most citizens were willing to submit to conscription in support of the republic that came about as a result of the French Revolution and rejection of royalty.

    Many countries today (including Western European countries) still have some form of conscription or selective conscription as a means of legitimizing their armies in the eyes of their citizens. Aside from legitimizing the military in a democracy, and providing the citizenry with the skills necessary to form a militia in emergency situations, conscription has other societal tangibles such as instilling in its citizenry a sense of duty, discipline and in some cases, leadership. It is also a way of ensuring that the army is a close representation of society. These advantages must be weighed against the costs and logistic requirements of conscription and the increasing welfare costs in most states.

    In most countries with a regular ‘professional’ army, the requirement for conscripts is much less than available conscripts, meaning that the percentage of conscripts required are quite often volunteers anyway who wish to ‘test’ the Army. Some will go back to society while others may chose to excel and join the regular army. Without conscription, most regular professional armies fail to represent the society they serve. In Canada, for example, minorities and immigrants, for various reasons, do not volunteer to serve in the Canadian Forces, despite programs aimed at recruiting more women, ethnicities and people with non-Christian religious beliefs/values.

    Comment by MAJ Sonny Hatton | September 8, 2011

  7. I disagree to a point. A conscript army is not always made up of “volunteers.” If 51% of the voting population vote in a congressman who will enact a draft, that leaves 49% of the population that do not want to participate in the military service. A true volunteer army gives each and every individual the opportunity to say “yes I will serve”, or “no thanks, have a nice day.” It may not be an army of the people, so to speak. Meaning it may not be a representation of the demographics of a nation. However the word volunteer has meaning.
    1.a person who chooses freely to do or offer to do something
    2.a person who chooses freely to enter naval or military service, without being compelled to do so by law
    When the U.S. had a draft, how many people were forced into the service (just go ask a number of Vietnam Vets!) Aslo there is a curious phrase in the definition: “Without being compelled to do so by law” when a draft is enacted, can one simply say “not today buddy”? No. the law will throw them in jail for draft dodging. So, I would have to say that in its truest sense, a volunteer army is one where whatever individual, meeting requirements, wants to join can and does on his/her own volition. Thanks and God Bless!
    comment made by MAJ Michael Meskunas September 8, 2011

    Comment by michael Meskunas | September 8, 2011

  8. I do not agree with the above statement because a conscripted army fills its ranks by people who didn’t volunteer. Not to say that there were not volunteers in the US Army during WWI and WWII, even during Korea and Vietnam, but the total force was not all volunteer. The concept of pay for the Soldier is generally irrelevant, the concept of pay is the only way to sustain a standing force; a Soldier can’t survive on valor alone.

    Conscripted armies do provide the benefit of size; a better trained force will still have difficulty overcoming a vastly superior force. It can and has been done, but that isn’t always going to be the case, I’d even argue it is the exception versus the norm as the force ratio goes up.

    China’s conscript will only be a better alternative if they can balance the training and equipping to a closer level of the smaller better trained force. With the superior force ratio, they don’t have to be on par with a smaller force, but they have to be close to a degree.

    Today’s professional Army really doesn’t follow our people’s values all that close. We as a force are a micro society of the American people, we are often the subject of social testing before attempts to change social norms on our society, so we tend to adapt faster than our society as a whole. We also have a more strict set of rules than our civilian counterparts and we tend to be more self policing of those rules. We are forced to adhere to a more strict set of rules than our civilian counterparts because of the lethal nature of our profession.

    Comment by MAJ George E. Chittenden SG17A | September 10, 2011

  9. I believe that the true volunteers are represented by the professionals of today’s military. These individuals were required to register for selective service and chose to make the military their profession despite the current lack of a draft and during a time of national conflict. The examples given of conscript armies as “volunteers” such as the French Army during the time of Napoleon or the American Army of World War I or II have several logical fallacies. The first being that they volunteered for service. As great as their collective accomplishments may have been, they only volunteered to not break the law by registering as eligable for the draft. The second fallacy is assuming that the draftee did not benefit mutually from military service. The servicemembers were paid fairly and received discipline and technical skills that could be applied to civilian life. World War II veterans specifically benefitted from the GI Bill, which allowed record numbers of veterans to receive college educations.

    Conscript armies do have the advantages of being an Army comprised by the people which have a vested interest in victory, unlike contract armies. However, they must also be evaluated for suitability and trained for service. China with a blended conscripted and volunteer force may have an excellent paradigm. They can take advantage of unique talents found in the population and screen them for future purposes while maintaining a cadre of professional soldiers. It also makes the Chinese population more aware of the plight of the professional soldier, something that many believe is lacking in American culture.

    Comment by Matthew Wilder, 17D | September 10, 2011

  10. I believe that our Army today represents a true volunteer Army. Looking at the past people volunteered for some many different causes, I feel they were valid and because of their sacrifices we stand today. Moving forward to the modern era, young people college grad or not have a lot of other means that they could choose to spend the rest of their life doing. The Soldiers of the time of Napoleon or the American Army of World War I were trying to stay in lines with the written laws. Many did this to receive some form of training and be in a discipline organization. China’s paradigm of nested volunteer and conscripted force has its advantages. You get a broad spectrum of Soldiers with many talents, but will they adapt to training and etc. Looking at the nature of our mission I feel we have to keep the standard the way it is to maintain our state in the military race.

    Comment by MAJ Carl Mason, 17A | September 11, 2011

  11. Too simple…Essentially, we have boiled down types of armies into two groups. We have the “professional” army that gets paid for its service and we have a “people’s” army that willingly fights for the purpose of the people. The implication is that the professional army will fight as long as there is a will to pay them regardless of the motivation for the conflict and then the people’s army which needs a motivator/catalyst (internal/external threat) to spike the will of the people in order to fight. A professional army is a well-trained standing army, capable of fighting immediately, instigating and not just reacting, and for a duration. A people’s army is neither well-trained nor standing and needs to be raised in order to fight; particularly reactionary in nature and the duration is dependent on the will of the people. I think this is a basic depiction of armies in 1796, but not today. Where do we discuss the will of the people versus the will of the governement in terms of professional or people’s armies? Where do we discuss the type of political system a nation has and how it relates to the type of army it raises? Where do we discuss nationalism as it relates to both types of armies? These are but a few questions that come to mind when discussing types of national armies. Somewhere inbetween these to polar opposites resides most armies of the day.

    Comment by MAJ Blue huber | September 14, 2011

  12. I believe our Army today is a volunteer Army, as it has been for quite some time. Recently will have began a shift toward “A Profession of Arms”. This strategic move is most identified as a shift from a volunteer force to a professional force. A major issue with viewing the military more as a profession, will warrant higher gaps in pay among the military and their civilian counterparts. Currently there is a large pay gap; civilians are paid far more benefits than the military. Often due to the services being deemed as a voluntary force.

    In response to MAJ Nakozo, I do not believe our country is ready to accept the responsibility of fielding a totally professional force. However, I do believe it will within the next 7-10 years or as soon as we have ended the war in Afghanistan. Maybe with the expected draw down of forces that is imminent after the conclusion of war missions. A smaller service is more likely to gain higher pay and significant larger benefits.

    Comment by MAJ LaShaunda Jackson 17A | September 19, 2011

  13. I entirely disagree with the above analysis of volunteer armies versus professional armies, particularly as it relates to today’s American forces. I concur with much of what was stated in earlier posts. We cannot categorize a force based purely on compensation for a profession, and then claim that a “contract” equates to mercenary status. One only needs to look at our American forces today to see a professional volunteer force, unified by common values and motivations (at the core level, and understanding individuals do have additional values/motivations). Furthermore, I would argue that our forces do represent American people and their values, or at least the values we aspire to live by. We were formed based on a Constitution of the people, for the people. Our service men and women are cut from all cross-sections of American society and culture. Moreover, not every man or woman has what it takes both physically and mentally to serve in today’s military. Ultimately, individuals join the military for their own personal reasons, and the fact that servicemembers are compensated, receive organizational values indoctrination, and have their own institutional rules/practices governing good order and discipline, does not detract from the voluntary nature of the professional force.

    Comment by MAJ N. Hummel, SG 17B | September 21, 2011

  14. MAJ Hummel echoes my earlier sentiment and makes a good point when he says “We cannot categorize a force based purely on compensation for a profession, and then claim that a “contract” equates to mercenary status.”

    Based on the responses, one can also see that those who serve see themselves as volunteers and professionals who share a common set of values.

    To Mark’s question concerning the american public’s reception to “a totally professional force”, I would say that the answer is a resounding yes. Several recent studies reflect that the Armed Forces still command the highest respect from the american public and enjoy the highest degree of trust as an institution. In Gallup’s Annual Poll of American institutions, the U.S. military has ranked number one over the last twelve consecutive years (1998 – 2010) and within the top two positions during the other twenty-two years (1975 – 1997).

    I also want to restate that money as the primary or sole motivator of the volunteer force is not only overstated but clearly misses the mark.

    1. National Leadership Index 2010: A National Study of Confidence in Leadership, 2010, p. 4-5 Harvard Kennedy School, Center for Public Leadership, 28 July 2011

    2. Jeffrey Jones, “Americans Most Confident in Military, Least in Congress,” Gallup On-Line. June 23, 2011; available on-line at:; accessed 21 Sep 2011.

    Comment by MAJ Efrain Ramos | September 22, 2011

  15. I believe we are a volunteer Army now even though we are a professional Army. I would argue that even Napolean’s army was volunteer because I dont believe conscription is the same as volunteering. That is just willing to go when picked by someone else to go fight for your country.

    We are a representation of society because we have citizens that are willing to join. If we didn’t represent society, we would then need conscription to fill the void ranks because citizens would not relate to the military and want to associated with it.

    Comment by MAJ Chris Holmes / 17A | September 26, 2011

  16. I do not agree with the analysis that conscripted armies are volunteer armies – they were called upon, by no choice of their own to serve. Furthermore, I do not agree that paid professionals cannot be volunteers and are liked to mercenaries. I believe todays US military militaries are a volunteer “professional” force. Each one of us entered military service on our own free will – not by coersion, conscript, draft, etc. As many have already alluded, compensation is definately a motivational factor – but by no means the only one (service, duty, honor, pride, loyalty, and straight up love for country are others). MAJ Ramos nailed it when questioning volunteerism and his “either/or” phenomenon.

    Recruiting quotas are geared towards ensuring the future force structure is adequate and balanced with the right mixture of specialties IOT, as MAJ Blue contributes, provide “a well-trained standing army, capable of fighting immediately, instigating and not just reacting, and for a duration”. If we were not a voluntary army then why have a reserve force? If compensation is the main factor that differentiated volunteer vs conscripted/mercenary terminology then we could maintain an active duty military force fully trained and ready – negating the need for a reserve force. Both the AC and RC contain professionals ready to fight for our nations values and beliefs. We are indeed a professional volunteer army and the increased emphasis on education/life-long learning – the profession of arms campaign – will lead us into the future.

    Does the American volunteer army really represent the american people and their values? Yes – we are a fully integrated military force with every race, religion, gender, etc. The repeal of the DADT policy is an example.

    Comment by MAJ Kim DeJesus, 17A | October 2, 2011

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