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 21, 2012 - Posted by | H100, Uncategorized | , , , , , ,


  1. No, within the last ten years, less than 1% of US Citizens have served in the military. The US is more diverse than ever, however this diversity is not represented in the military nor does the military have a close relationship with the civilian sector. Considering that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed a year ago, the diversity of the military has not changed much. In fact, looking at the demographics of the military reveals that the military closely resembles those civilians that consider themselves conservatives. Currently, the conservative party represents the minority party, meaning the fewest available votes. This association does not reflect the mass opinion of the US, nor does it represent a military that is willing to adopt new cultural values.

    Comment by Luke Jacobs | September 26, 2012

  2. The army of paid professionals may not be pure volunteers, nor are they true mercenaries. The contractual relationship of the paid professional to the state may deny the idea of a true volunteer. The amount of pay and direction of loyalties of the professional soldier also denies the idea of a true mercenary. A mercenary signs a contract and agrees to fight for pay as his true goal. He is a “soldier of fortune,” expecting the pay to be commensurate to the danger he agrees to endure. The paid professional, if his true goal were fortune, would ask, “Where’s the fortune?” A professional soldier volunteers to fight for the nation more like a conscript rather than a self-interested mercenary. The fact that he signs a contract with the state makes him more like a hybrid between the volunteer and the mercenary.

    A conscript army allows a state to build a large army in a short amount of time to respond to crises. The American Army of both World Wars was raised very rapidly as a result. A conscript army also is fervently loyal and more motivated to fight for the nation than paid soldiers. Because of how quickly volunteers train into a fighting force, they are less capable and less professional than today’s professional army. The conscripts may incur higher casualties or conduct more violations of the laws of war due to such poor training.

    The People’s Liberation Army of China demonstrates a conscript army in action in the Chinese historical film, “Hero.” In the movie, starring Jet Li, PLA conscripts fill in as the huge armies in battle scenes. The Chinese army shows how a large, less trained conscript army can easily provide a horde of movie extras for a role requiring little instruction. Could that same force adapt and fight in a counterinsurgency like Iraq or Afghanistan?

    America’s current professional army has more of the key traits of a volunteer army. It is composed primarily of volunteers who join out of national loyalty rather than pay. The issue with today’s professional force is it draws volunteers from a small segment of the U.S. population. Minorities or lower income members of society are largely represented in the professional U.S. army, while the middle and upper class are less represented. The rest of the American people, particularly politicians, are distanced from today’s army with fewer sons and daughters serving in harms way. This leads to concerns that civilian policymakers are less reluctant to send the army to fight in wars. The professional army also may find it having less in common, particularly in values, with the society it exists to protect.

    Comment by Keith Boring | October 5, 2012

  3. I do not agree the Chinese Army or any other conscript army is a better alternative to our professional Army because of the mere fact that a conscripted army’s term of service is limited. So the questions arise as to how much training the conscripted army soldier receives during his or her term of service. Proper training can take years to master. The loyalties of a conscript army can be questioned because the individual might not want to get conscipted, and may therefore leave the country to avoid it. As for national loyalty, because Americans volunteer to serve our nation, it can be argued we have more loyalty to our country than one who is told to serve. To compare professional soldiers to mercenaries because we are compensated for our service is probably not a good comparison: we do not fight for ourselves and only for money. We fight to preserve and protect our freedoms, and to protect our nation’s interests here and abroad.

    Comment by Chris Hristofidis | October 10, 2012

  4. I would argue that today’s Army is a volunteer Army.  However, it is not a come and go as you please Army. Despite this being a an overt fact, the statement deserves further explanation. To volunteer means to offer one’s self for service or undertaking. For the integrity of the profession individuals may volunteer, but in doing so they must meet an obligation via contract. For most this obligation is a specified amount of time. When comparing this service to those who served in the Napoleonic periods, for example, the only difference is the motivations for why individuals serve.  We still find the citizens voluntarily consent to military service through the actions of their elected representatives. The contract, therefore, only serves as the legal and more civilized evolution of dealing with deserters. 

    Additionally, I would argue that the professional army does represent the people and it’s values. Although this is not a perfect system we can look at moments in history where the consequences of war were unimaginable, yet people still volunteered to serve. The best example is the death tolls of World War I. Globally, all sides took losses and this would be recognized as the deadliest war in history. However Americans still volunteered to serve. Moreover, a little over twenty years later America found itself in a second world war. The fact that people served proudly in this war as well, despite know the horrors of warfare, supports the argument that this professional army does represent the American people and their values. 

    Comment by Ryan Scott | October 23, 2012

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