The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

The People’s Army –An Idea Who’s 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 19, 2013 - Posted by | H100


  1. I think one of the core issues is motivation or inspiration. Professional armies are driven by money whereas a people’s army is inspired by something greater. Morale or will to fight even in the face of adversity is stronger with those who are inspired.

    Comment by Maj Jim Smith, 17B | September 19, 2013

  2. I think the modern day professional army does discharge the average citizen’s need to have “skin in the game”. A smaller army of professionals instead of a professional army and all of its bloated costs is a viable course of action. I know I continue to go back to this point but every time I check concerning the U.S. geography still matters.

    Comment by MAJ Chad Neibert, 17B | September 19, 2013

  3. I believe that the shift toward relatively small professional western armies is a result of the technology and scope of conflict that we have seen, especially here in the United States. I see merit in the ability of Americas at home (and abroad) to continue to operate as normal while forces are committed in conflicts around the world. The decision to place our service member’s in harms way is something that is taken lightly, by modern branches of government, and I believe that an important constant reminder of this is provided by the US and worldwide media (unlike the Roman Empire for those who make those comparisons) and is directly results in our attitude at the polls when casting ballots for our elected officials.

    National interests in a global economy mean that countries are far more connected than ever before and the information flow and ease of worldwide travel link our National Security to much more than what nations can threaten our shores with military power. That said, we have national interests and national security objectives that require deployed forces and a well trained and equipped professional military more than endless lesser-trained masses to achieve our ends.

    The smaller professional militaries of today means that life at home can be impacted less and a stable economy at home strengthens us as a nation and mitigates possible impact that conflict will have on GDP, which is obviously an important consideration. While it may impact fewer people when we go to conflict, I do not believe that the decision to commit troops to conflict is any easier today than it was in times of large military forces. Further, I believe that there is greater accountability for the decision to deploy and resource our forces than in more totalitarian governments.

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | September 22, 2013

  4. The last 12 years of the US at war as evidence, a professional army does allow a nation’s military to engage in armed conflict(s) while its greater society continues relatively unaffected. Although I believe a professional army is better for the US than a conscript army, the lack of a collective struggle, while the nation is at war, is not a good thing. When the hardships of war are not shared by the nation, at large, the decision to wage war may be adversely affected; it’s easier for John Q. Public to call for ‘boots on the ground’ when they don’t know anyone wearing boots. Conversely, as I stated earlier, I do not believe the nation’s war can be fought and won with a predominately-conscript army. I believe a hybrid professional/draft army would best serve the US. If all able-body males were required to serve just 2 years in the military society would better understand military service and the consequences of going to war. The hybrid concept is different from a conscript army because although a short two-year military service would be mandatory, wars would be fought, primarily, with professionals. The most important thing, whether it’s through mandatory service or not, is the nation collectively bearing the burden of war, rather than just a few from the warrior culture.

    Comment by Seth G. Hall | September 22, 2013

  5. Good point CHad. Geography is a very important current and historical consideration in terms of effects on strategy, roles and missions, and budget priorities.

    Comment by dimarcola | September 23, 2013

  6. Good point Jim. Some would argue that the ideal conscript is a reluctant but motiviated soldier.

    Comment by dimarcola | September 23, 2013

  7. A standing professional army does allow a country to smoothly transition in and out of war. As seen with both US Reserve and National Guard forces when called to active duty their personal lives are disrupted. Those “civilians” that are self-employed and earn higher civilian incomes are greatly affected. The local community is affected by those who no longer provide services and goods due to being call into active duty. For a professional the disruption is very minimal and is localized to his immediate family. I don’t believe that a professional army makes it any easier for the country to send their army off to war. It seems as if the disruption to the local communities or families is taken into account however there are greater issues at hand.

    Comment by MAJ Jarrod Knowlden | September 23, 2013

  8. It seems to me a function of a large untrained military is in part the value placed on citizenship and the motivations of the government. Western nations prize citizenship and do not view citizens as expendible items on the battlefield at will of the government. A trained voluntary force is desired because value is placed upon it and the citizenry expects prudent application by the government.

    Comment by MAJ Troy Feltis | September 26, 2013

  9. I think our past two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have made it abundantly clear that our current professional, relatively small, Army allows our country to commit to war with minimum disruption to civilian life. Even our most recent Presidential election failed to really bring either war back into the national spotlight. While this likely does contribute to the willingness/ease with which our country commits armed forces, I’m still not sure it warrants a switch to a conscript Army. Warfare has so dramatically changed with respect to technological innovations and what’s considered ‘acceptable losses’ within a war, that I do not think it is feasible to expect a conscript Army to be able to effectively fight/win our nation’s wars.
    I like Seth’s idea with regard to requiring a 2-year service for eligible men and women to add to the more professional, volunteer force (much like IDF), but I’m not sure the potential negatives outweight the positives. I believe it would be a VERY hard concept to sell to the American public, especially if there were no conflicts requiring a draft.

    Comment by Jeff Pickler | October 1, 2013

  10. I believe that professional army does allow a country to go to war with minimum disruption to civilian life. I say that because about a few months ago. One of my friend who also is a Soldier talked about this very subject while sitting in his civilian classroom and was in shock to hear what came out of the mouths of his fellow classmates. Some believed the war was over and that every Soldier was back home, some did not know we were fighting two wars ( yes there were a few), other believe that the death toll of Soldiers killed or wounded was less than a thousand. Clearly war had very little disruption to their lives and they owe it to the many professional men and women that served and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Not to forget those which are apart of a professional army that continue to serves so that civilians like the ones mentioned above can live their lives clueless, sorry with minimum disruptions to their lives.

    Now, is this a good thing that the lives of civilians can have minimum disruptions, yes it says a lot about our army. The Army can continues to transition in to war and out of war with the balancing of end- strength, readiness and modernization and still maintain the best trained, and best equipped force in the world while meeting not only the Nation’s security needs but also the needs of the American people.

    Comment by MAJ Nelson, Kimberly | October 1, 2013

  11. I also believe the professional army allows a country to go to war with minimum disruption to civilian life. The reason I say this is because as Soldiers, we train for possible conflicts. When we joined the military and swore in, we all knew that war is a possibility in our career field. As Jeff mentioned, we’ve seen it during the wars we fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our families are aware that as Soldiers, we may be called to war to defend our nation and thus having a professional, small, volunteer army allows our political leaders to have a force available to accomplish this and not have to disturb the civilian populace that is not part of the military.

    Comment by Yovana Cardenas, SG 17A | November 23, 2013

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