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. Is it a better alternative to the professional army?

What are the concerns regarding a professional army that is not directly connected to the majority of the citizens of the state?

Finally, when helping to create national armies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, is the US model professional army the right model for those societies?  What cultural and political factors should be considered when choosing the appropriate army model?


September 11, 2013 - Posted by | H100, Uncategorized


  1. I think the argument over volunteer vs. mercenary is largely semantics. We tend not to apply the terms strictly according to the definitions, but rather according to our societal values (or our perception of our values? Or according to how we want others to view us?). The bottom line is that in our society we have a very negative connotation of a mercenary. So how do we distinguish between professional and mercenary? We do it by reaching back into our past, and our proud history of volunteerism. I would propose that perhaps our use of the term volunteer is more a bow to our history than a true description of what type of armed forces we currently have.

    That said, I think the historical progression of the military is comparable to farming: with each advance, a lower percentage of our population is required to both feed and protect our society. The US requires less than one percent of our population to feed ourselves, and as our SG student leader pointed out the US military is comprised of less than one percent of our population as well. War as a national effort seems to have ended with WWII, and as long as this trend continues we will have this debate. A professional military retains capability while employing less and less so that the greater number of our citizens can enjoy their freedom as they see fit.

    Comment by Roger Webb, 17B | September 11, 2013

  2. I do not agree with the above analysis. Although our current Army is typically well compensated for their services, an individual is still raising their hand and swearing an oath to ‘support and defend the constitution’ instead of pursuing other, oftentimes more financially lucrative, opportunities. They are ‘volunteering’, maybe in more the traditional sense like those cited above in the previous comment, when they could have certainly pursued other sources of employment. I also do not believe it is possible to label anyone from a conscript Army as ‘volunteers’. Just because it may come from a democratically authorized conscription, most individuals do it simply because they are law-abiding citizens (and perhaps fear the repercussions of not obeying the law) – and there is still a contract that exists between the Soldier and the State.

    Conscript Armies may provide states with certain benefits, such as sheer numbers available for the conflict and getting a more full/complete representation of the society it serves, but I would argue the service itself will be viewed quite differently by the individuals within such an Army. It’s easier to use the above arguments with popular supported conflicts such as WWI and WWII, but they lose their ground when it comes to more unpopular wars such as Vietnam. Many of the lessons learned from our conscript Army that fought in that conflict relfected a largely unprofessional fighting force ripe with issues with regards to discipline, standards, and general commitment.

    There are always concerns raised about an Army that isn’t fully representative of the society it serves, but I would argue that a truly professional Army doesn’t necessarily require such a close representation (although the delta likely can’t grow too far) as it would fully understand it’s role within society. The concerns are that a professional Army must want to continue to serve its society, something that may grow increasingly more difficult if they don’t feel a strong, direct connection with that society.

    I’m not sure if we are applying the right model in our efforts to stand up a professional Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. My personal experience in Afghanistan tells me that there are many more cultural factors at play (tribe, lineage, seniority, etc.) that will directly effect a person’s ability to lead (or follow) within an organization. Our answer cannot always be “what works for us, must work for them…” that is failed logic and it is ignorant to not allow cultural and political factors play a role when shaping their Army.

    Comment by Jeff Pickler | September 11, 2013

  3. The argument equating Soldiers, who are paid, with mercenaries is a logical fallacy; Mercenaries fight for pay and Soldiers receive pay so Soldiers fight for pay and Soldiers are mercenaries. Accepting compensation for performing a service does not prove motivation. As a field grade officer, I am well compensated. However, my personal reasons for serving have nothing to do with compensation. I am, as I would anecdotally argue are most of today’s Soldiers, motivated by things like service to the nation and love of country. The fact that I cash my paycheck each month does not change my motivation. In fact, I have turned down more lucrative job opportunities because they were not in service to my country. Furthermore, calling a conscripted Soldier a volunteer is a stretch. He did not volunteer. At best, he voted for the politician who implemented a draft, which is not the same. At worst, he was politically uninvolved when he was “volunteered’ by others to do the fighting/dying.
    To the question of the advantages of largely conscripted armies, there are a few. First, conscripted armies are cheaper. Keeping a training cadre that can rapidly grow an army in time of need is certainly cheaper than keeping that army garrisoned and trained before it’s needed. Second, a conscripted army helps to bridge the civil-military divide; all eligible draft-age people and their families/friends not have a personal connection to the army. Third, academically speaking, a conscript army is cheaper to replace/re-grow. This affects how/where it’s used and could lead to it being used with less regard for the lives of the Soldiers.
    Lastly, I do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to creating national armies, for example in Iraq or Afghanistan. Jeff (comment 2) was right when he talked about all the cultural factors that naturally come into play. Forcing the currently preferred American Army style on one of these nations would be no more successful than forcing the current style of American democracy. Local national preferences, beliefs, traditions, etc., must be part of the creation of their army.

    Comment by Seth G. Hall | September 11, 2013

  4. Interestingly, in researching a pithy comment to make in reply to Jeff’s comment above, I stumbled across George Washington’s opinion on this, retrieved from the following location: (Retrieved using Google Chrome, 2104hrs, 11 September 2013).

    “It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defence of it, and consequently that the Citizens of America (with a few legal and official exceptions) from 18 to 50 Years of Age should be borne on the Militia Rolls, provided with uniform Arms, and so far accustomed to the use of them, that the Total strength of the Country might be called forth at a Short Notice on any very interesting Emergency, for these purposes they ought to be duly organized into Commands of the same formation…” (Originally from The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799. Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick. 39 vols. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931–44. “George Washington, Sentiments on a Peace Establishment, 2 May 1783”.)

    Washington was arguing for the establishment of a local militia in every state and region, but he was arguing for a form of conscription, nonetheless. As blasphemous as it may be to say, I don’t necessarily agree with the father of our country on this point, speaking strictly with respect to conscription. I’m 100% in favor of a volunteer force; I think preserving it is rightly on the list of the CSA’s priorities for us going into the next decade. The benefits of a conscripted force as stated by Seth– lower cost, rapidity of fielding, mass, etc.– are outweighed by the moral weight of forcing ostensibly “free” men to fight and die against their will. Better that our wars should be of the sort that make men line up and wait for days for their spot in the recruiter’s officer. Those wars which require conscription speak to a larger failure: a failure to have a reason for fighting which captures the heart of the American populace, which makes it feel invested in the outcome of that fight as an extension of America. In creating armies in other countries (which I would argue in a separate forum ought not be one of our top priorities in the first place), conscription might be necessary in order to fill the ranks, but I make this statement predicated on the idea that for the US to be in that country, somehow vested in the efficacy of their army, things must be pretty dire indeed.

    Only in the most extreme cases could conscription work, and I do not think it ever again has a place in America.

    Comment by Ryan M. Crosby, CPT, LG, Section 17A | September 12, 2013

  5. Roger — excellent analogy to farming. The fact that military effectiveness is not as manpower dependant as in previous generations is percieved as a geniune problem by those who advocate conscription. Those conscription advocates (not in the US but in younger democracies who want a direct connection between their people and their relatively new democratic constitutions) have actually advocated a less effective but bigger military in the interest of increasing or maintaining the concept of the citzens relationship to representative government.

    Comment by dimarcola | September 12, 2013

  6. Jeff,

    YOu have articulated pretty well why we like professional armies. Vietnam is great example of the failure of the “people’s army” whcih was manned by the draft. Consider this however, some might say that Vietnam is precisely why we should have a people’s army –because it will fall apart if its emplyed the “wrong” way, such as in Vietnam. Thus, it limits US forgeign policy to fighting the “good wars” versus the bad ones.

    Comment by dimarcola | September 12, 2013

  7. Good comments Seth. What do you think about the idea that since we have a professional Air Force and a professional Navy who can do major damage in a conventional war, we can go back to some type of cadre for the conventional army except for a few contingency brigades and the SOF?

    Comment by dimarcola | September 12, 2013

  8. Ryan — very very nice quote from Washington. Of course its not great debating technique to disagree with the father of the country after you quote him 😉 Still, he states well the founder’s position against a professional army and the question becomes, is that a dated position? What do you think of a mixed force?

    Comment by dimarcola | September 12, 2013

  9. The system advocated by George Washington as shown in the quote presented by Ryan is remarkably similar to the system the Swiss practice presently. Professional soldiers only constitute about 5% of the Swiss Army. Their militia system requires members to maintain all of their equipment and arms at home.

    Another remarkable similarity is Washington’s views on foreign policy and the foreign policy practiced by the Swiss; one of commerce without political and military intervention.

    With these similarities in mind, Washington’s position is not dated. However, it is not compatible with current U.S. foreign policy.

    Regarding a mixed force, we have one. Within the U.S. Army, the ratio of National Guard and Reserve to Active Component is currently about 1.03:1 with the current planned AC reductions it will increase to 1.13:1. In the current environment of budgetary constraints, I believe we will see that ratio further increase, new conflicts not withstanding. Our Guard and Reserve forces cover the spectrum of a professional force to one of citizen-soldiers. The Reserve Component of today is a hybrid of professional army and militia. It will be interesting to watch – not to mention, live – how the concept of an operational reserve plays out over the next few years assuming we don’t enter into any new large scale conflicts in the immediate future.

    Comment by Rusty Rhoads | September 13, 2013

  10. Merriam-Webster defines mercenary as: “one that serves merely for wages; especially: a soldier hired into foreign service;” and while our professional army today does enjoy financial compensation and benefits as payment for their services and as a way to increase retention, it hardly meets the definition of a mercenary army. To make the claim that the professional army of today is equivalent to a mercenary army is to negate any call to serve that our Soldiers answer by joining the service. Soldiers do not join solely because of the monetary and service benefits that they gain, other factors such as nationalism/patriotism, civil service, family history, allure of professional military service or a call to duty and they are, by and large, from the pool of U.S. citizens rather than someone being hired into foreign service. I believe this shows in both the current oath of enlistment and the original oath of enlistment established by the Continental Congress.(1)

    While sheer numerical size of an army may be beneficial during some conflicts , there is an obvious need for overall competency and proficiency that a professional army is capable of bringing to the fight. While conscripted armies are likely to be greater in size, at least relative to the population size, the cost and inefficiencies of training the masses for relatively short service tours, sacrifices quality for quantity. While it is often noted that wide net that compulsory service casts into the population to build a conscripted force, the gain of bringing a larger cross-section of society into service, specifically including the more capable who would not otherwise have considered service, does not outweigh the inability to build unit esprit de corps resultant from high turnover and lack of trust in the fighting corps. To paraphrase the sentiment of General McChrystal’s interview with KAJX-FM Aspen Radio Podcast on 3 July, 2012, regarding Soldier effectiveness during conflict and war today, discipline and fear can be effective motivators for a garrison force but during conflict, trust, not fear is the what leaders must instill. This type of trust can not be built as successfully with a highly rotational force built on short compulsory tours as it can be with a truly volunteer professional army as we have in the United States.

    In a developing nation which in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan, I do believe that the goal should be to start with a compulsory service requirement, if agreed to by the government, and develop a system of military service with a sufficient representation by different tribes/religions/ethnicity/geographic regions. A core professional army should be the goal, starting with a sufficiently sized and specialized officer and non-commissioned officer corps; once the government is financially able to support a professional army, these nations should transition to the professional army model, or a hybrid such as compulsory civil service where some could be selected for military service and others for other government organizations and service related projects. However, there must be a strong focus on civilian control of the military built into the foundation of the government to prevent potential senior military leaders and hero’s from seizing control of the government after having influenced such a large portion of the nation through his/her leadership of the military.

    While not specially discussed during class, I believe that, and would be interested in others believe that the massive compulsory service policy (and near mandatory support of the military from those not in the ranks) of France’s Levee en Masse was the major enabler in Napoleon’s ability to quickly move through the senior ranks and then make the near seamless transition from head of the army to Emperor of France; did Napoleon enjoy unprecedented national public support because he had name recognition and successfully led such a large army which was made of such a large number of the French populous, including the required support for the military (his organization) from every non-serving French citizen.

    (1) Department of the Army, U.S. Army Center of Military History, (accessed 13 Sept 2013).

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | September 13, 2013

  11. In response to your question:
    With all to respect to my sister services and the concept of AirSea Battle, I do not believe having a professional Navy and Air Force would counter balance a conscript Army. Although the US fights jointly, and powerful as our Navy and Air Force are, US national will, especially in a nuanced COIN fight, cannot be imposed through air and/or sea power, alone; it requires boots on ground. Professional armies find this type of warfare exceedingly difficult, conscript armies would find it virtually impossible. Further, quantum leaps in technology continue to allow smaller and smaller groups to ‘make war’ and make war faster. I estimate that as that technology trend continues the US’ action window for successful intervention into future conflicts will proportionately decrease; even more reason to maintain a standing, professional army.

    Comment by Seth G. Hall | September 13, 2013

  12. I must completely agree with my fellow peers in agreeing that our current Army are not mercenaries. I do see Roger’s validity in stating that the term “volunteer” was chosen for a reason; to elicit pride in our service rendering positive connotations. The shear volume in other supporting reasons (pride, family history, selfless service) besides pay, speaks to the idea that what we do as Soldiers is, indeed, volunteering.

    There are several pros and cons to a conscript army. An estimated 93 countries have conscript service of one form or another ( Being able to recall a large amount of personnel in a time of need is extremely important, but does quantity out weigh quality? A professional army maintains a continued state of readiness through the personnel, training, and maintenance. However, Conscription works well for many countries such as Estonia, Yemen, and Spain. Maintaining a smaller professional army and a larger conscript army is seen in many countries. This fine balance keeps a professional trained and maintained army, while also allowing quantity of force to be kept if need so arises.
    And since so many agree in the example of AFG, that there is not one military method that should/could be applied to all, conscription is best decided on per the needs of the country.

    Comment by Mai Lee Eskelund | September 16, 2013

  13. Sir,
    In response to your point on the legitimacy of having a people’s army that ensures we only engage in “good wars” vs the bad ones, it is an interesting point that I had not thought about. In such a system, my question would be who determines what is a ‘good’ war vs. a ‘bad’ war and when is that determination made? Following 9/11, I believe the majority of Americans and scholars would have agreed that it was good and necessary to deploy our armed forces to Afghanistan. Following that, I still believe that the majority of Americans would have initially supported mobilizing for combat operations in Iraq, as well. It was only after our failure to produce any hard evidence of WMD, the prolonged conflict, failed transition strategy, and waning support due to rising casualties that the majority of Americans changed their minds on Iraq.
    The danger of this school of thought is determining who establishes the litmus test for good vs bad wars and what are the agreed upon prerequisites in order to mobilize a conscription and, finally, do the costs associated with such an idea outweigh the potential strategic message we send the rest of the world (in terms of how quickly we are able to mobilize and how important popular support must be)? In an era when an ex-KGB agent turned Russian President is able to successfully influence much of American popular opinion on potential US military action, this idea has dangerous implications with regards to the power and importance of influencing the American people.

    Comment by Jeff Pickler | September 16, 2013

  14. In response to MAJ Pickler’s discussion of the who provides the litmus test for “good and bad war,” I would propose that since military action is, at its heart, a political decision; the ultimate deciding factor on if a conflict is inherently “good or bad” lies with the electorate (at least in a U.S. view) regardless of if the force is conscripted or not. In the principles of Just War Theory that we discussed in the course regarding “Jus ad bellum,” specifically, just cause as a the National Security folds into it, is vital to justification of action.

    While Russian President Putin has been vocal about potential U.S. involvement in Syria, especially in the NY Times Op-Ed he wrote and sourced to a U.S. Public Relations (PR) firm to place, I believe that real problem is more domestic. While much of the American public knows that the Op-Ed exists I doubt that the majority have read the piece or had their views affected by it. I believe the true failure has been the inability to relate weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Syria to our national security. Regardless of personal views regarding the issue, we have failed to inspire the greater American populous to action, or at least support of the objective, by not creating a a clear and focused communication plan and inability to staying on message. In my view, the “advertised” reasoning behind proposed involvement in Syria ranged from counter-proliferation of WMD, humanitarian reasons, terrorism concerns (including access to WMD), the Syria Accountability Act language, U.S. world view and standing with allies and non-allies and emphasizing precision strike and scope of involvement; the message even appeared to oscillate between this Syrian events being of critical importance to national security and having no direct impact on national security. The American people appear to have less inspired by Mr. Putin’s article then they were not inspired by the U.S. argument for action.

    As illustrated in recent events, I do find it interesting to note that Mr. Putin used a U.S. PR firm to place the article. This is not out of the ordinary and has been done not only by Russia in the past, but is done routinely by an increasingly number of countries. The fact that so many nations work or hold on retainer powerful U.S. based PR agencies shows the power of and potential in voicing dissenting, or at least opinionated, views to further political and national goals. I believe this may hint at a greater U.S. shift, the erosion of our ability to successfully connect significant real world events to national strategy, at least with a large portion of our populous, even for incidents that threaten military involvement. I would question if this erosion is the reason that such PR initiatives, as what we see used by foreign governments, have gained a footing because there is the ability to influence our electorate and policy makers?

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | September 17, 2013

  15. Ryan, Thank you for quoting our founding father, but I have to say that I disagree with your assessment of his argument. A conscripted Army is ideal for the protection of the nation. While it would not be a direct “volunteer” force like we have today, the motivation of the people through pure nationalist ideals, would allow the nation to not have to pay such a heavy cost for a professional Army.

    This is what I think General Washington meant. The American People should be so thankful for the freedoms they enjoy; it would be their pleasure to serve to protect it, whether that service is at home or abroad. However, the real issue is the continued disconnect of American nationalist sentiment and the loss of “Civic Republicanism” driving people to have full participation in government business. There seems to be a continued disconnect with the Government and the people that is hindering the US from being far greater. I guess I would call that my feeling “American Exceptionalism” to quote President Putin. While this might be why we think we fight or what we see as our true motivation, it is not we few officers that must be convinces to serve. It is the general public that must support the Army by gladly picking up arms. And when they ask us to go to war, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that we are living up to the ideals of the nation. If this was always true, when may have never gone away from the conscripted army imagined by our forefathers.

    Comment by Aaron M. Parker | September 18, 2013

  16. Rusty — Good points. I would suggest, however, that a much higher ratio of reserve to active (say at 1.4 or 1.6 to 1) would be an indicator of strategic investment in the reserves vice regulars. As long as you are essentially 1:1 the reserves appear to be just what they are –reserves. Another thought is that the force ratios are irrelevant: as long as the active force has the ability to meet most if not all strategic contingencies then how many reserves you have doesn’t matter because obviously your active force is big enough for anything. Conversely, a tiny active force backed by a small reserve force is equally problematic. Thus the critical number is the total size of the active force and only then, the size of the reserve force related to.

    Comment by dimarcola | September 23, 2013

  17. Matt, Ref. your final paragraph. Napoleon’s rise and effectiveness as a national leader is certainly, at least in major part, due to the process you describe.

    Reference your initial point. The oath of service aside, what would the enlistment rates be (leaving officers out of the discussion) if the compensation package is severely reduced? Would the factors your site aside from compensation, be suffecient to man the force? How do you explain the loss of significant numbers of highly trained (SOF type) soldiers to civilian contractors other than the civilian contractors pay better? Just some thoughts.

    Comment by dimarcola | September 23, 2013

  18. Good points Seth –tho to your point of smaller groups making war –doesn’t that beg for a very small (primarily SOF) type ground force perhaps backed up by a conscripted national force in an emergency?

    Comment by dimarcola | September 23, 2013

  19. Good point Mai Lee –where does budget –ie. the army they you can afford –enter into the discussion?

    Comment by dimarcola | September 23, 2013

  20. Good points Jeff –so, who should decide what is a good war and what is a bad war? The President? The Army? The People (through Congress)? And, if the people aren’t effected through shared sacrifice, should they get a vote?

    Comment by dimarcola | September 23, 2013

  21. I think that Mr. Putin’s use of a US PR firm tells us quite a bit about who the Russians believe decides when the US goes to war.

    Comment by dimarcola | September 23, 2013

  22. Ultimately budget considerations play an important role.

    Comment by dimarcola | September 23, 2013

  23. Dr. DiMarco, your point regarding compensation is well made. The use of reenlistment bonuses for specific rates in the Navy and even the system that allows communities to stay competitive with civilian counterparts (in terms of certifications, trainings, pay and benefits) clearly shows that there is a tipping point where benefits, vice strict patriotism or oath, are necessary to compel continued service. The idealistic and nationalistic lure of service can’t be ignored but the ability to provide benefits which increase quality of life is vital to retaining competent professional personnel, much like the social changes in 17th and 18th century Europe that elevated the social standing of army officers.

    I don’t have any solid conclusion on the SOF example you brought up but assume that the reasons are similar to what other communities have experiences, such as: increased operational cycle with decreased dwell affecting personal lives and families; personal differences with military/national ideology or requirements; increased recruiting/training throughput affecting competency, promotion and esprit de corps.

    That said, benefits like those mentioned above are an important and valid way to keep the right competence level of and the required number of service members in the military – compensating service member does not detract from their volunteerism. It’s natural that the civilian sector would be interested and compete for many of the same individuals, especially given some of the leadership experience and specific training/skill-sets our Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen have. I would be more concerned if the civilian sector was not interested in our service members as that might be an indicator that we are not training or retaining the right base. It is a strength that the military has to, at least on some levels, compete with the civilian to recruit and retain service members as it has the real ability to improve our capabilities and has increased the value and effectiveness of military training programs, leadership, transferrable skills, benefits and even the view of military members by the general public.

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | September 25, 2013

  24. A volunteer military is an organization that derives its manpower from volunteers rather than conscription or mandatory service. We offer attractive pay and benefits through military recruitment to attract volunteers. Truth be told I have never considered our military to not be a volunteer organization due to the extreme adversity that we face as we go to war. However, I’ve also never known volunteers to get paid monetarily. So, it raises the question of whether or not the Army should be deemed a volunteer force?

    Comment by MAJ T.S. Harris/17B | September 26, 2013

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