The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H104: 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.

A Parent who “Volunteers” at the school library isn’t paid.  A professional who is paid to work at the library is not a volunteer but rather a contracted employee of the school.

Professionals 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?

October 4, 2016 - Posted by | H100, military history, Professional Military Education | ,


  1. A century ago, automobiles only had manual transmission systems. In order for something to be called a “car” during that time, it had to have a manual transmission because that technology represented the highest evolution of the concept of a “car.” Today, conditions have changed and cars can have manual or automatic transmissions. In that sense, the concept of “cars” has expanded to include these developments. It would be improper to deny that cars that have automatic transmissions are not cars based on the original concept of a car. In the same way, the concept of a volunteer army has changed to adapt to current social conditions. Despite the fact that American soldiers receive pay for their services in the military, the American military should still be considered a volunteer force; the “volunteer” concept has changed in significant ways since the volunteer armies during the French Revolution. Volunteer armies during the early modern period of warfare did not receive pay and rulers frequently employed mercenary armies to fight their wars. But the American military, working for pay, should not be considered mercenary armies and the differences are differences in kind. The volunteer American soldier is subject to military law, special restrictions in political activity, and other sacrifices that make him/her loyal to the state in ways that traditional mercenary armies were not. In fact, loyalty was such an issue with past mercenary armies that it contributed to the decline of the practice. The special requirements and subjugations of the American soldier means that individual soldiers must “volunteer” to give up significant freedoms and accept significant risks that the average citizen does not bear and past mercenary armies did not care about/respect.

    The compensation that American soldiers receive is simply a reflection of the current social systems that govern our society today. Capitalism and the free market did not exist in the early modern period in the same way that we know it today. This is one of the critical distinguishers of the term “volunteer” when compared across time periods. Kingdoms and rulers in the early modern period didn’t have free-market principles to offer their citizens in exchange for their service. They used what was at their disposal under the social systems of the day to mobilize forces. The American military does the same thing, but uses the social/government systems of the day to do it. Additionally, under the purest definition of “volunteer,” even conscription armies aren’t truly “volunteer,” because the governments that employee that system argue that their service is a “price” of their citizenship. At least under the American system citizens have a choice to “volunteer” for service, whereas the conscripted soldier never even gets that choice- in that sense, they are less of a “volunteer” army.

    Comment by Scott Harr | October 4, 2016

  2. Conscript armies, such as those seen during Napoleon’s time were largely successful due to the fact that they were able to feed off of the nationalism of the people involved. The people were more inspired to fight and risk their lives for a cause they truly believed in and this along with the charasmatic leadership of Napoleon himself were a recipe for a great many victories. Based on Clausewitz’s trinity, we can see that the French army was directly influencing the people, who in turn were supporting the government.

    When compared to the modern Chinese army, the idea of a conscript based system doesn’t do as well. This is largely because of the cultural differences between the French and the Chinese. The Chinese based class system only affords the opportunity to advance and enter the officer ranks based upon one’s station in life. This station, determined by birth, is non-negotiable and does not afford the opportunity to transcend classes. Loyalty therefore is something demanded and carries less weight compared to if it was earned.

    Professional armies, while not perfect do have their advantages over “volunteer” armies, but if the goal is to maintain a balance between the people, military, and government, history has shown that this is easier said than done.

    Comment by Justin Reddick | October 7, 2016

  3. I do not agree with the above analysis of volunteer army versus professional army, form my opinion there is nothing called a True volunteer army. A volunteer means that doing a job by full of his well with expecting nothing in respond. that not existed ever always there is something in respond for the individual could be motivation to be called a hero, or taking money with an indirect way of the individual and his family for example not paying tax, even the Muslim volunteer did that because if death he will go to paradise. there is always goal so it is not a True volunteer but may be just a volunteer who has a hidden professional character.
    The Chinese military is currently a largely conscripted force, but from my opinion, it Is not a better alternative to the professional army, because it makes them pay a lot of money to be capable of stabling that huge army, this money if not paid it will increase the lifestyle of the regular Chinese person who some if they eat dogs because of the poverty.
    Finally, when helping to create national armies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, I think that the US model professional army is not the right model for those societies. The cultural aspect of their ideology, religious, and their level of education should be considered besides that the level of convenience of the legitimacy of their political system varies within the people so the loyalty for that system will vary, These people will be will build the army and they supposed to be well trained who will guarantee their loyal to be their government, not their tripe. from my opinion the first step is to find a good political system that convinces people by its legitimacy, then I think the appropriate army model is the Egyptian army model as they almost with te same culture and even with two recent revolutions within two years they stand on one heart and provide legitimacy not for a president but for the Egyptian people.

    Comment by mohamedmillataryleader | November 3, 2016

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