Sunday, May 04, 2008

Thoughts on Modern Armies

Congress lately has attempted to restore the "citizen's army" via a draft, as well as their own control over the military and its actions, but for better or worse such days are long past. The conscript military which we depended on since our nation's foundation, the famed Minutemen, is no longer viable in this era where the Professional Soldier reigns supreme.

The professional, or all-volunteer army is vastly better trained than the troops of our grandfathers' day, who would go from the farm, factory, or pharmacy straight into training and soon into battle. Such an organization that called up recruits "for the duration" of a war was too often launched into battle ill-lead and poorly trained, with such disasters as First Bull Run, the Surrender of the Philippines in World War 2, and Kasserine Pass coming to mind. It often took many years to weed out poor commanders, and train the citizen army to a battle winning pitch. In the meantime thousands of needless casualties littered our hallowed battlefields, and the reputations of former revered leaders lay in ruin. Neither would such high percentages of our fallen young men be tolerated for long in today's 24 Hour Media Age.

In contrast, the Volunteer Army has yet to suffer major defeat in the past 30 years, the worse perhaps being the death of 241 Marines in the 1983 Beirut Bombing, which in itself would have been counted a "good day" in the Civil War. Casualty counts are becoming acceptable once again, as long as they remain fairly low, as the less than 4000 deaths suffered by US forces in Iraq attests to. Despite the best designs of antiwar politicians and "peace" protesters, they have yet to force a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East, as occurred so effortlessly during the Vietnam War. The frustration of America with the 5 year war is evident, but this frustration as yet haven't spurred them to action, as in the mass protests of the 60s and 70s, and hardly near the millions of participants of the Nuclear Freeze Movement during the Reagan Era. Apparently, the public is feeling less and less affiliation with the military, as some Democrats contend, thus they have little stake and show less concern over the actions of our commander in chief.

Attitudes toward mercenaries have changed little over the ages. Private Military Companies as they are now called, such as the famed (or infamous) Blackwater Worldwide are just as scorned today as the Free Companies of the late Middle Ages. Somehow the idea of a soldier fighting only for private gain is abhorrent to many, but such organizations provide vital aid to countries lacking experienced troops, or additional expertise and security forces for established armies, as the above mentioned Blackwater provides for the US in Iraq.

For the foreseeable future, we should see a gradual rise in the size of armies, as traditional Western dependence on navies and air forces is countered due to the astronomical cost of high tech weaponry. Perhaps recruiting will also be affected by Globalization, especially as America continues to be the world's policeman. As Europe seems persistently reluctant to provide for its own defense, they could still be a viable manpower pool for the US Army, especially from among the continent's historically elite units.