The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

The People’s Army: An Idea Whose Time Has Past?

Some say that the concept of a “People’s Army” that is large, represents the responsibility of citizens doing their duty in service to the nation, but is relatively untrained, is a quaint 19th Century idea that is irrelevant to the modern nation state. What the modern nation state needs is a military that is highly skilled, manned by expert long service professionals, who are capable of precisely wielding the sophisticated high technology weapons of the 21st century to achieve decisive effects with minimum collateral damage. A professional l military allows war to be executed quickly and with the minimum of casualties to all concerned. A “people’s army” is good for violent, costly, and chaotic revolution, but the professional army of the stable nation state is the ultimate military force.

A different point of view insists that the professional army is a costly and wasteful arm of government that permits a nation to constantly wage war without the commitment or approval of the vast majority of the population. The standing professional army is inherently destabilizing to the international system. This argument maintains that when the cost of war is low than war is common. Thus, the relative ease and lack of debate with which the U.S. entered war with Iraq was a function of the standing professional military that made engaging in war “too easy” for the American population.

Does a professional army allow a country to go to war with the minimum of disruption to civilian life? Is this a good thing or does it contribute to the willingness / ease with which a country might decide on a war option?

The trend of Western Armies is toward small, professional, volunteer forces. Has the nature war changed in the 21st Century to make the people’s army irrelevant? Or, have transnational groups taken the idea of the “people’s army” to the next level and found a way to match it asymmetrically against a professional force?


September 22, 2011 - Posted by | H100, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , ,


  1. I believe that the people of the “Western World” like the certainty that professionals bring to their lives. Westerners like knowing that the doctors treating their illnesses/injuries, the teachers instructing their children, and the craftsmen building their homes are professionally trained and regulated. Professionals are experts in their areas and Westerners like that experts are working to ensure their part of society’s web of intertwined reliance is functioning efficiently and effectively. This is what Westerners have grown to know, expect and demand from members of their society.

    Building upon my belief that Westerners like professionals working throughout society’s varied labor segments it only makes sense that Western Nations would fund, train, and equip professional armed forces. With professional armed forces Western Nations know exactly what kind of capabilities their service members can provide and for how long at their current manning / funding / sustainment levels. Maintaining professional military forces gives Western Nations a level of certainty that their societies are “safe” from outside dangers. This means that as long as the professional military keeps the national boundaries secure from invasion that the other professionals can ensure that the hospitals are staffed, the next generations are properly taught in our schools, and our nations’ infrastructure continues to provide the civil services that make urban life sustainable. In other words, secured nations are able to grow and evolve their societies in ways that war torn nations are not…

    I think that it is a good thing that our professional forces shield our nations’ civilians from the horrors of war. This is our profession of choice, not theirs. Many of us have the skill sets to be very successful in any number of civilian careers but chose to serve instead. We do our mission (protect our nations) and the rest of the Western Professionals will keep up their part.

    Lastly, looking through history (I know written by the victors…) I do not think that our modern governments go to war any more frequently with today’s professional armies than any other period’s governments. In fact, I believe that today’s Western governments are more reluctant to conduct total war with their professional armies than previous governments that had “people’s armies”.

    Comment by MAJ Chris Moore, 17A | September 24, 2011

  2. A professional army does allow a country to go to war with minimum disruption on civilian life. It is a good thing based off two points. One, because it has such little impact on the rest of the nation (directly), the population feels safe and as a result continues to conduct their day-to-day lives and keeps their nations society functioning normally. Second, there is nothing wrong with having a strong military to respond to threats. It driving a willingness to be used as a first option is unlikely because once we commit forces to conflict, it impacts other areas of the nation beyond Military (economic, political and informational)

    I believe we have moved to the next level of a people’s army. Because we have an all volunteer force we (as a force) represent all aspects of our society. So we now have a micro society that matches society as a whole, but is well trained and can fight the wars of the 21st century .

    Comment by MAJ Chittenden SG17A | September 26, 2011

  3. I believe the citizens of the United States want us to maintain a professional army because of the lack of disruption to the nation while at war but as their will to fight decreases they want to reduce the expenses related to the profession of arms.

    I would argue that having a professional army reduces and prevents conflicts instead of the idea that we go to war because we can. But since the military is professional and capable to expediately attack, the politicians are able to “leave all options on the table” that some could say the military is abused for political gains.

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

  4. Yes, a professional army does allow a country to go to war with minimum disruptions to civilian life. This something that has improved within the last few years. Prior to laws being implemented it was not common for military reserves to return to their jobs in the same positions or no job at all. Other than the reservists, I do believe disruptions are as evident politically, informational and economically (DIME). In terms of politically, during times of war politicians often question the President’s motives for staying the course and/or the long waging war. Informational is how the media speaks and writes about every aspect of the military. Although most is negative and/or unreliable sources for gaining an informed accurate account of what is actually occurring. In terms of economically, the large amount of money being spent on wars.

    It is a good thing that our country has a professional military that is able to fight for our freedom and protection against terrorism. Of note is that serving is all volunteer unlike a drafting approach that was once used. Though in many country their is a requirement to serve in the military (i.e Korea). As americans we value our country and are willing to go to war at any cost. Going to war is not something that our military solely does it is a professional, often overlooked in terms of the diving line between pay of service members and the civilian sector. Its all politically driven and is waged will attempting to gain something (i.e freedom, stability).

    Comment by MAJ LaShaunda Jackson 17A | September 28, 2011

  5. I agree with MAJ Moore, I think the American people like the certainty of the professional Army. A Soldier must have their mind on the mission when they deploy. A professional Army gives balance to civilian life and sense of security. If we force people to serve it takes away from the dynamics that a dedicated volunteer brings. They are there because they support the ideas and values and want to make the organization better. The support of the people is because our force represents all types of people and they can relate. You will always have people that disagree but the but I think our professional system is great and gives us a big deterrence factor.

    Comment by MAJ Carl Mason, 17A | September 30, 2011

  6. I agree with several of the points made about our professional rmy – you’re not going to find that level of devotion to duty in someone when they’re forced or “consripted”. However, the notion that we are sort of a “King’s Army” and can be employed as the leader sees fit is so tru, t’s scary! The public’s life as a whole, does remain uninterrupted. In order to wage a winnable war, it has to be one that the people are behind 100% – maybe I’m too nostalgic, but to me that means ALL citizens are involved in the war “effort”. If you’re not wearinf the uniform (which is fine), make a contribution in some other way; a yellow ribbon on your care or a “I support the troops” magnet isn’t really enough.
    If, however, people’s lives WERE disrupted, it would take a lot more steps in the approval process for us to go to war.
    I firmly believe that Congress needs to approve the dployment of our Armed Forces BEFORE we deploy, not AFTER.
    Lastly, I’m “FOR” mandatory service to the nation. I beleieve ALL Americans need to serve in form or another and I personnaly favor a three tiered approach: Miltary Service, Domecstic Civil Service, or Foreign Civil Service…………what an eye opener it would be for most Americans to see how othes live around the world. I think a lot more folks would appreciate what we’ve been freely given (Freedom itself) if they saw injustice in other places.

    Comment by Daniel T. Rempfer, SG 17D | October 3, 2011

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