The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H103: 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?

September 20, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Completely agree with the analysis regarding the volunteer at the library being paid and the contracted employee of the school working in the library. However, many citizens did not voluntarily consent to military service. In fact, many citizens that were conscripted for World War I and II found loops holes in order to avoid military service during a time of way. No just compensation provided back to the individual Soldier? I feel like I am compensated fairly well and the Army has provided a very nice life for my Family.

    Conscript armies do have many benefits to the state. For one, they provide a constant flow of manpower into military service each year. This is vitally important in times of war as casualties can bring a military force to its knees. A second benefit is the entire country shares the load of service in support of the nation. Long gone are the days of the “less than 2% of the population” serving in the military. The army via conscription touches all cultures, societies, and religions within a state. One huge disadvantage is the constant turnover as military members reach their minimum service requirements. Conscript military’s also lack experienced and combat hardened veterans that volunteer forces possess.

    I think the success or lack thereof of the conscription army is highly dependent upon the state and culture of the state that incorporates it. China is a great example of how successful a conscription army can be. However, the conscription army would not achieve the same success here in the United States. The volunteer force is a much better fit for our society and culture.

    Comment by Aaron S. Griffin | September 20, 2018

  2. I agree with the analysis of what a volunteer army is versus a professional army. The example of a volunteer army such as the French one during the Napoleonic period was a great one. Conscription throughout American history has had mixed results. While manning the services during times of dire need, there were also those citizens that found ways around the conscription. Even though the U.S. doesn’t use this system anymore, some countries such as South Korea still do.

    In terms of whether a conscript army is a better option than a professional one….the answer is, it depends. If the population, in general, has a culture that greatly buys into and believes in the national goals and objectives of a country, then I believe it is a better option. However, if the moral and culture of a country isn’t supportive of the leadership, then a conscript army will not be very successful.

    In the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, I think that our model is the right one. I believe the problems within those countries are bigger than the type of army being used and the focus needs to be on building partner capacity, while negating the corruption that runs rampant in each government.

    Comment by Chris Brooks | September 21, 2018

  3. I want to mention about advantages and disadvantages of conscription army through the example of the south Korean army. First, there are several advantages in the conscription army. Through conscription system, the south Korea has been manning huge soldiers in the peninsula in case of contingencies. And drafted soldiers used to be military supporters after their duties. Although young citizens had no interest with national security issues before their duties, they used to learn the meanings of patriotism, nation, security, military, and even their entity in the country. After the duties, they used to be more mature citizens. In addition to this, the conscription system enable the south Korea to have the huge reserves of the armed forces. The huge reserves also have good experiences in their own duties. They have been well-disciplined and well-trained during the duties. So, when in large armed conflicts and in mobilization, they would play the roles well.
    However, the system has also several disadvantages. Most of all, they have low motivation in peace time. Because they are not given any salary and promotion(just three promotions in bottom lines). So, in low-intensified armed conflicts and peace time, there are many soldiers who have no motivation and no professional mindset. Sometimes there are several conflicts between the conscripted soldiers and professional NCOs/Officers due to the professionalism in the military. In this context, the conscription system come to become a social issue. There are two groups with whether the period of draft should be shorter. The conservatives disagree with the opinion because they think the short duty period is not enough to address the security issue. But, the opposite part agree with that because they think what the duty period is shorter would help the country pursue prosperity. They think that young citizen who have productive ability should work early after their duties and it will be helpful to the country.
    There are advantages and disadvantages in the conscription system. Countries should adapt their own military manning systems based on their security environments and own internal abilities.

    Comment by kwon.moon | September 22, 2018

  4. In regards to the comments of comparing the volunteer army versus the professional army, I do not necessarily agree that “true volunteer armies” are true volunteers. Yes, if someone gives his or her free time or service to a library with no reward or compensation, they would be a true volunteer. However, conscription is very similar to a draft. Thus, drafting individuals for service is not the same as volunteering for service. I will look at a few cases why I believe this.

    First, in the case of a nation’s conscription policies, citizens must give a certain amount of years in service, which would be mandated by their specific nation. The individual is not genuinely volunteering but is required to give service based on the laws of their nation. For example, the Republic of Korea has a democratic republic form of government, which has a two-year obligatory military enlistment. Similarly, Communist China also requires a similar service requirement, which is an advantage of each country to meet its military manning objectives. However, the disadvantage to the conscription policy is that there’s significant soldier turnover after individuals meet the two-year requirements of each country, which lead to skilled manning issues for both of South Korea and China.

    In America, conscription was used a half dozen times. For example, during the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and the World Wars conscription was utilized to build up manning numbers for the military. Our Nation’s form of governance is a Republic. We are allowed vote and place leaders to represent us from the local through to national level. In the previously mentioned wars, local boards would select men from their locality to go into the military services. The selectees would be selected based on social classes, level education, and their race. I would hardly call this volunteering. Further, many times in American history, there were riots in cities due to conscription, which citizens did not want to serve or agree with the mandate of conscription voluntarily. Finally, to be an actual true volunteer, there should be no compensation for time and service provided. In these great campaigns in our country’s history, our honorable soldiers did receive an actual compensation.

    However, on a different note, I do think conscription would be good for the United States of America. It would be ideal for the young adult to join the service to gain real-life discipline, enhance patriotism, a sense of purpose, and esprit de corps. On an innovative note, we could keep our current ranking system but add a new rank system for the conscripted subjects. Thus, whatever approach our country takes to implement this methodology, these conscripted soldiers should not be considered true volunteers.

    Comment by Shannon Gorman | September 24, 2018

  5. I don’t entirely agree with the definition of volunteer service as defined above. While I understand it, as defended, I do not believe that volunteer service is exclusive to performing work without pay. I have gone back read the definition and be believe volunteer service can all so mean doing a service on one’s own free will. While we, the US, may not have a volunteer service as defined above, we still have a volunteer serves vs a conscript. Additionally, I do not believe we should have a conscript unless there is a national emergency and the existence of our country as we know is in jeopardy.

    Comment by Taron Epps | October 20, 2018

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