Small Wars Journal

The Price of Professionalization

Fri, 12/25/2015 - 4:38am

The Price of Professionalization

John Q. Bolton

Lucilla: Leave the people their… Emperor Commodus: Illusions? Lucilla: Traditions. Commodus: My father’s war against the barbarians, he said it himself: It achieved nothing,  but the people loved him.
Lucilla: The people always love victories.
Commodus: Why?  They didn’t see the battles?  What do they care about Germania?
Lucilla: They care about the greatness of Rome.
Commodus: The Greatness of Rome?  Well what is that?

- Gladiator

Entering its 14th year of continuous combat deployments, the American Military is increasingly separated from the American Public. The gulf between the public and the military is real; manifested not only in the public ceremonies, social media, and military blogs, but also in recruitment data. The most important aspect, however, is its impact on American Foreign Policy and military budgeting, both of which have devolved. The separation has many causes, but the proximate reason is the adoption of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in 1973. The AVF allowed the military to shed the burden enlisting a recalcitrant public while the public was able to enjoy the benefits of security requiring no injunction higher than to “support the troops.”[1]

The current state of affairs bodes poorly for a democratic republic established on the principle of participatory citizenship.  In this light, it is worth considering the intellectual and historical antecedent of the American Constitution, the Roman Republic. Certainly, there are differences between the Roman and American experience, but this article seeks to highlight the similarities between them with regard to the impact of professionalized military.

The Founders, all intimately familiar with Livy and Plutarch, viewed the last generation of the Roman Republic as exemplary of both republican virtue and dangerous autocracy. “The English, American, and French Revolutions were all consciously inspired by the example of Rome. We flatter ourselves, in the democracies of the West, if we trace our roots back to Athens alone.” [2] But our combined cultural heritage, including many “fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury, beauty, and even humor, is largely Roman.”[3] Our Constitution, with its division of powers and differing terms of office, as well as American symbolism such as the National Mall and the eagle as a symbol of national power, all echo Ancient Rome. Even American Geographic Combatant Commands are similar to the Roman Pro-Consular system.[4]

The Roman Precedent

The Rome and Roman Army that enters the mind of most comes from movies such as Gladiator or the HBO series Rome. This differs greatly from the republic the Founders sought to emulate. The Imperial Legions shown in that film—roughly equivalent to a modern Brigade Combat Team in terms of size and subordinate units (Infantry, Cavalry, Engineers)—were not the armies that established Rome as the preeminent power in the Mediterranean. Until the 1st century BCE, the Roman Republic fought with citizen armies based on property levies. It was understood that each citizen of means was expected to serve. He could be called up during emergencies or for a period of overseas service with an expeditionary force. Citizens were divided into three castes of units (Triari, Principes, and Hastati) based not only on experience but also means.[5] Citizens provided their own arms, so wealthy citizens had to provide better armor and weapons. Republican armies were led by one of the two Consuls, who held executive power during one-year terms.

The citizen militia system served Rome well for over 300 years since its founding in 509 BCE. The militia allowed the state to raise massive reserves of manpower; each citizen was, after all, expected to be a soldier.[6] This manpower, and the stubbornness of the Senate, allowed Rome to endure the catastrophic losses of the Second Punic War against Carthage. However, the militia could not meet the needs of the expanding Roman dominion. “Since veterans were discharged at the end of each campaign or conflict, no permanent officer corps existed to rapidly expand the army and capture experience. Furthermore, Rome’s far-flung territories were hardly the concern of the average citizen, who owned land in Italy.[7]” Like post-WWII America, the Romans “did not start out with a grand plan of world conquest,” but they gradually grew their sphere of influence through foreign campaigns, often defensively, sometimes at the request of sovereign states.[8] Nevertheless, by middle of the 1st century BC, “Almost the whole of the Mediterranean world was governed through the institutions that the Romans had evolved for the [city-state] of an earlier age.”[9]

Similar to America’s expansion during the 1800s and the growth of American interests after WWII, the Roman Republic found itself with imperial responsibilities, but lacked the apparatus to administer its new domain effectively.To the Romans, it was the intoxicating quality of power that made it so dangerous.... And yet—the growing extent of the Republic’s reach confronted the Romans with a dilemma. Now that they were citizens not of a small city state but of a superpower, the demands on their attention appeared limitless. Wars flared up everywhere.”[10] Like the America, Rome opted for professionalization of its military as a solution to the problem. Prior to this, the Roman Army had more in common with the American Colonial Militia than our professional army.

[there was a time] when a legion had indeed embodied the Republic at war…. For centuries the all-conquering Roman infantry had consisted of yeoman farmers, their swords cleaned of chaff, their plows left behind, following their [country] to war. For as long as Rome’s power had been confined to Italy, campaigns had been of manageably short duration. But the expansion of the Republic’s interests overseas” changed all of this.[11]

The professional (imperial) legions emerged after major reforms by Gaius Marius. During a campaign in Northern Africa, the Senate forbid Marius from issuing levies, so he raised volunteer units, paying them from his own funds. In 107 BCE Marius “bowed to the inevitable: the army was opened to every citizen, regardless of whether he owned property or not. Weapons and armor [were supplied] by the state. The legions became professionals. From that moment on, possession of a farm was no longer the qualification for military service, but the reward.”[12] As a result, their loyalty was to him, and it was his responsibility, not the state to train and equip them.

The professionalization of the legions had immediate benefits. The change fundamentally altered the character of the legions. Experience no longer left after each campaign season and discipline, previously severe, improved. Military service became a career for 20-25 years, with a reward of pension, land, and citizenship.[13] Military expertise was now resident with the legions, enabling better engineering, logistics, and medical care. The professional legion was far more flexible on the battlefield than its Republican predecessor. Stability also gave rise to the professional centurion, who led company-sized elements.

However, professionalization disconnected the people of Rome from their army. Whereas the masses previously had cause to be concerned with yearly levies, it now became the concern solely of the Roman Senate and aristocracy. Whereas previously the old army “had been the entire state and people under arms,” the new Army came solely from the poor, foreign, or dispossessed.[14] These new soldiers were loyal to themselves or their generals and cared little about the fate of the Republic. “At all events, the unsatisfactory integration of the Roman armies into the republic was the most serious problem of the age.”[15] Despite this, and perhaps because of it, professionalization did not save the Republic. In fact, within a generation, less than 50 years the Republic was dead, replaced by the autocracy of the Roman Empire. The soldiers who unquestioningly marched with Caesar to Rome in 44 BCE were professionals, and it was they who helped end the Republic. “It was a conflict not of citizen against citizen, but between two generals and the armies loyal to them…. To this extent the bulk of the citizens behaved precisely as Caesar expected: they took no part in the war.”

The American Experience

[Our military is] professional and capable, but I would sacrifice some of that excellence and readiness to make sure that we stay close to the American people. Fewer and fewer people know anyone in the military. It’s become just too easy to go to war.[16]

-ADM Mike Mullen, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs

For the American Military, 1973 was a watershed year; in addition to formally leaving Vietnam, after 5 years of combat followed by 3 years of “Vietnamization,” the military ended conscription. Though the draft was atypical throughout American history, having only been used during times of major conflict (Civil War, WWI, WWII), it was the basis of the militaries enlisted manpower requirements since the 1930s. The draft was also firmly entrenched in society one of the things young men did; indeed, joining the military is still viewed as one of the few universal paths to manhood. However, the length of the Vietnam War coupled with a lack of support at home resulted in draftees increasingly hostile to service.

Free market advocates such as Milton Friedman argued that an All-Volunteer Force (AVF) would improve the force and allow for better recruitment. Then-candidate Nixon declared: “Today all across our country we face a crisis of confidence. Nowhere is it more acute than among our young people. They recognize the draft as an infringement on their liberty, which it is. To them, it represents a government insensitive to their rights, a government callous to their status as free men.”[17] Meanwhile, the American Military, particularly the Army, having “lost confidence in the draft as discipline problems among draftees mounted in Vietnam,” was ready for a change.[18]

Friedman’s argument for the AVF in terms of free market economics is logical, if the purpose of the military is to produce a good or service in pure economic terms. However, at its essence, the military is governmental-political tool, entrusted to functions outlined in the Constitution. As author James Fallows noted at the time, “The principal motive for [the AVF] was, of course, a desire to reduce the political cost of the war; but the public justifications were put in the language of economists and personnel managers, rather than that of leaders responsible for convincing men to make the unique sacrifices of combat.[19] Framing the problem in terms of economics—and simultaneously allowing the military to eschew the problems it saw with draftees in Vietnam—the AVF become much more palatable to the nation’s leadership.

“Alas, a permanent professional standing army was, and still is, at odds with American tradition, just war theory, and everyday common sense.”[20] Indeed the Constitution itself uses the language of “raising an army” as opposed to “maintaining a navy.” Though the nation has a clear need for a permanent army, none of the Founders would have imagined a permanent professional force. Therefore, the AVF fundamentally altered the relationship between the military, the state, and society. In the transition, the question of citizenship in a republic became secondary to economic and military-centric viewpoints. This was to have long-term consequences for American foreign policy and the nature of the Republic’s military.

The American Civil-Military Divide

Though the AVF improved pay and overall capabilities of the military, the issue of civil-military relations has arguably declined since 1973. As WWII national leaders left the political scene in the 1990s and the draftee generation aged, fewer Americans had military experience, the rightful utility of the military became less understood.[21] Congress mimicked this dearth of military members; voters with no military experience didn’t place the same premium on military service that previous generations had. To an arrogant post-Cold War America, Secretary of Defense Weinberger and later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs GEN Powell’s conditions for employing military force seemed irrelevant after the fall of the Soviet Union.[22]

We will not use our friendship to impose on their sovereignty, for our own sovereignty is not for sale…. peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever. Our forbearance should never be misunderstood. Our reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure of will. When action is required to preserve our national security, we will act. We will maintain sufficient strength to prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so we have the best chance of never having to use that strength. Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.

                                                                       -President Reagan, 1981 Inaugural Address

Ironically, the success of the Gulf War was largely executed in accordance with the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine. But the military and the public largely took the wrong lessons from the Gulf War; it was less an indicator of the future than the last grasp of the past. Afterwards, a seemingly all-powerful United States increasingly turned to its military as a primary tool of foreign policy, leaving economic and political tools behind. President Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright embodied this trend, remarking to GEN Colin Powel, "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?"[23] The reluctance use of force President Reagan spoke about was all but forgotten in the 1990s as the military became deployed more and more often. In the first decade of the new millennium the trend reached a pernicious acme with the invasion of Iraq.

Like the Roman Army, the professionalization of the American Military was a choice; a response to imperial ambitions that had noble goals. However, it has fundamentally and, possibly irrevocably, separated the American Military from its Republic. The adoption of a solely professional military altered the character of the American Republic in a way that was not expected; and in a way wholly inconsistent with the Founder’s vision. While the nuanced nature, distance, and length of the War on Terror have contributed to the separation between the American Military and the public, the AVF and closing of bases during the 1990s are the proximate causes. Bases that remain today are generally in remote locations (Forts Drum, Riley, Leonard Wood and Whitman and Laughlin Air Force Bases come to mind) while bases in or near populous locations like Ft. Ord, Moffett Field, and Ft. McPherson are gone. With less than 1% of Americans serving, fewer and fewer even know someone who has. This makes recruitment more difficult and forces—along with demographic and societal pressures—the services to entice young men and women with educational and financial incentives.

However, the AVF’s most pernicious results are seen in terms of policy and budgeting. Having severed its citizenship based military, leaders of the American Republic found themselves in possession of a well-funded, intelligent, and capable tool for implementing increasingly grandiose foreign policy plans. For those who felt the war in Vietnam was lost at home due to the draft, the end of the draft meant future foreign wars would be less constrained. After the Cold War ended, despite an assumed “peace dividend,” the American Military found itself deployed more and more. While cutting the military budget, American political and military leaders increasingly talked about power projection and foreign policy looked increasingly militaristic.

These changes occurred with little notice from the American People. Accustomed to global supremacy and unconcerned with military affairs or foreign policy, since neither would affect them directly without a draft, the Public both assumed that all was well and trusted the government to address problems, which now lay beyond the concern of the citizen. Foreign policy and military affairs became the concern of Washington, not Main Street. Complicated debates about military spending, weapons procurement, and overall strategy once occupied the pages of the nation’s newspaper and even resulted in a short-lived Congressional Caucus known as the “Military Reform Movement.” Current military debates in the wake of the “War on Terror” revolved around two main questions: whether or not the US military should attack and how much money we should spend to “support the troops.” Supporting the troops in the era of the AVF is a matter of spending, not duty as a citizen of the republic.

But sometimes even the world’s greatest superpower can’t achieve its goal. When we send our young men and women overseas to fight for their country, we must be sure they’re really fighting for our vital national security interest. [24]

                                                                             -Ambassador Richard Holbrooke


Thus the Bush Administration launched a “Global War on Terror” with no calls for national service, a draft, or sacrifice from the public. Military force was to remake countries in our image, and quick too with little consideration to the after-effects or use of the other elements of national power. Not mobilizing the nation for war was a political, but also practical decision. In the AVF-era, the military cannot mobilize in the same way that it did in 1939-1945. The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan became a matter of deployments rather than victory; continuity and trust with local leaders inevitably suffered. Gaps in military force structure were initially filled by National Guard and Reserve units but without the manpower to fully occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, the military turned to contractors.

Companies like DynCorp and KBR were expensive solutions to manpower shortages previously filled by mobilized forces. Asking the public to contribute was beyond consideration despite the threat of global terrorism and the subsequent invasions and occupations on the other side of the globe. Questions of policy and public service may have been debated in Congress and Washington DC think tanks, but by and large, remained out of the mainstream. The separation between the public and the military and the subsequent lack of civic participation in policy is a major contributor to what Foreign Policy editor David Rothkopf described as “the worst possible combination of overreaction, misreaction, underreaction, and a lack of both international leadership and coordination. The result has been the vastly more complicated and dangerous landscape we face today.”[25]

Both sides of the political spectrum treat the military as an abstract political football. This is easy to do since so few Americans have any connection to their military. “To many on the right, an increase in the military budget can symbolize, all by itself, a renewed commitment to freedom around the world and order at home. Neither side seems particularly interested in the tasks that military forces might have to undertake or the tools they would have to use.”[26] This has created what James Fallows called, “A Chickenhawk Nation,” in which the country is “willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously.”[27]

Since AVF took effect, military budgeting has become an elementary, false dichotomy between high-cost weapons and simpler, cheaper alternatives. Expensive, complex systems are almost always given preference over the alternative since “our troops deserve the best, and the best costs money.”[28] Little consideration is given to the actual effectiveness of weapons or technical systems. Furthermore, the Defense Department habitually chooses to fight the wars it wants as opposed to the wars it actually faces.

Decisions about the F-35—which has failed multiple real-world tests despite billions of dollars and a decade of development—demonstrate DoD hasn’t learned from the past. Issues with the F-35 and other systems are waived away with claims that the future will be different or that technology has irrevocably altered warfare.[29] False choices favoring quality (expensive) over quantity and the public’s disinterest in military affairs have tripled the defense budget since 2001 with relatively little change in the size or composition of the force. Bureaucratic obstinacy and budget hand-waiving exacerbate an American tendency toward high-tech wonder weapons that often fail. Even the billions of documented misspending in Iraq and Afghanistan rarely made the news—and then only when there was clear evidence of graft.

Absent the draft or other call to national service, “it is easy to understand why military politics usually proceed on two levels: one of expert discussion within the military community, and another of slogans, accusations, and promises made by politicians and public commentators.”[30] The devolution of political debate regarding American foreign policy is especially damaging to the troops themselves. The Vietnam-era draft was despised both for the politics of the war and unfair draft policies, which seemed to target the poor while offering exceptions for the rich (through draft boards) and those attending college.

The draft, did however, focus the nation’s attention on a faraway war and the politics associated with the ever-increasing cost, both in capital and lives, spent in Vietnam. The draft and its public cost mobilized the nation as the war escalated without a clear rationale from American leadership. The AVF, however, took the broad commitment of the public required in a draft and shifted it to volunteers; in short, fighting became someone else’s problem. Essentially, the “AVF provides the President with a standing force and the capability to intervene militarily without public and or congressional support.”[31] In Vietnam, “America went to war without requiring broadly shared sacrifice on the battlefield or on the home front—and now we have, for all practical purposes, institutionalized that undemocratic arrangement.”[32]

Isolation of the Military from Scrutiny

While releasing themselves from the burdens of difficult and often reluctant draftees, within a generation the American Military found itself at the disposal of a far more fickle master: the political class. Whereas previous decisions for military intervention considered the public cost, the AVF muted the public relationship to its military. Since Soldiers were now volunteers, the public at large had little, if any, concern for foreign policy outside of abstract concerns about America’s standing. The cost of foreign wars was now measured in similar terms as other government programs and, like the nuances of the federal budget, foreign policy is now subject to the machinations of the political class.

Ironically, the professionalization of the American Military was not accompanied by commensurate adjustments to its personnel system to develop a truly professional force. In fact, there has been little, if any, major changes to the system since the 1950s. Officers are treated less like dedicated, unique leaders entrusted with special trust and confidence” and more like cogs in an ever-churning factory.[33] The separation between the military and society meant modern development in management and human resources went unnoticed by the military.

The Army, as the largest and most demographically diverse service, embodies this trend. While the modern Army has phenomenal technical and logistical capabilities, its personnel system is excessively rigid. Compared to the 90-division Army of WWII, the modern US Army is excessively centralized and bureaucratic.[34] Seniority and 6-month manning cycles dominate the assignments process. The military personnel system is a “closed-loop,” with lateral entry effective forbidden.[35] It focuses on rigid career timelines, not unique abilities or attributes, nor specific considerations. Officers are assigned to year-groups in which they spend their entire careers and they are largely treated as interchangeable. Even the top-performing officers are rewarded by being promoted at most one year ahead of their peers, only to find themselves at the bottom of their new year-group. To accommodate a thoroughly bureaucratic system, officers are rotated to fill positions along rigid career paths. Since these positions are required for promotion and nearly every officer is on the same prescribed career track, the result is never-ending turnover within Army units and a lack of leadership continuity.

The tremendous competition for these assignments adds to the instability of the [officer] corps and increases the isolation of officers from one another, since they are continually forced to compete with each other…. Excessive rotation also produces an entrepreneurial officer corps. Competition and careerism make every officer look out for himself. Such a system engenders values corrosive of any concept of the military as a special calling requiring special service and sacrifice. It encourages attitudes and values in which one's men are seen as instrumentalities of advancement, and thus erodes any sense of special moral or ethical obligations.[36]

This is rigidity and turnover simply as the “cost of doing business” despite the obvious impact of continual turbulence.[37]Combined with the effects of the AVF, the rigid personnel bureaucracy makes military leadership nearly untouchable, even when clearly incompetent. Since the Korean War, no major military leader has been sacked for performance; even high-profile relief is a function of either personal failure (McChrystal, Sinclair) or a change in policy (Fallon, McKiernan). For example, the first military commander of American occupation forces in Iraq, LTG Ricardo Sanchez demonstrated incompetence, poor leadership, and an inability to work with his civilian counterpart, Paul Bremer. Despite presiding over a clearly evolving quagmire in Iraq, Sanchez not only remained his position, but retained his command in Germany after leaving Iraq in chaos.[38] Had even a modicum of the attention paid to Iraq in 2003-2004 focused on scrutinizing military competence, Sanchez would have been fired. However, the modern American Military is above reproach during public discourse in a way that is fundamentally antithetical to both the military profession and American Republicanism.[39]

The result of the AVF-created disconnect of the public from its military and the military’s own reform-proof bureaucracy is an American military that excels tactically but struggles strategically. This is due to internal military processes, but more importantly, errors in understanding the limits of military power by political leaders and the American people. While much fault lies with political leadership that fails to set clear, reasonable, achievable goals linked to valid national security concerns, but fault also lies with what LTC Paul Yingling called “A Failure of Generalship.” In the midst of crisis in Iraq, Yingling postulated that, “America’s generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy.”[40] Daylight between the military and society helps explain, at least partially, how the military, despite obvious trend toward insurgency/low intensity conflict since the 1950s, found itself dumbfounded by the growing Iraqi insurgency.

Though long-standing trends in American demographics and social change are certainly factors, a larger contributor is the fundamental disconnect between the American public and its military. Consequently, the military has taken on the role of valorous American saints, albeit distant, and unfamiliar. The military remains exempt for long-term drops in public confidence in other institutions and more respected than doctors, teachers, and religious figures.[41]

Some say this reverence is deserved; this is true to a point. However, though the military deserves respect, it should not escape the same scrutiny given to other public institutions. “As a result, what happens to all institutions that escape serious external scrutiny and engagement has happened to our military. Outsiders treat it both too reverently and too cavalierly, as if regarding its members as heroes makes up for committing them to unending, unwinnable missions and denying them anything like the political mindshare we give to other major public undertakings, from medical care to public education to environmental rules.”[42]

Civic Duty in a Republic

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist…Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

                                  -President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, January 1961

During the Roman Republic, civic duty was understood to have a military service component. The path toward the Roman Consulship, the Cursus Honorum was explicitly designed coerce individual ambition into achievement for the state.

Scene from Trajan’s Column -National Geographic

In Rome, Trajan’s Column depicts the Roman conquest of Dacia, a region occupying much of modern Hungary and Romania. The scenes, wrapped around the tower in a 600-feet frieze, show a powerful army on the march led by a militarized leader. The phenomenal scenes on Trajan’s Column show the decisive power of an Imperial Roman army on the march and the ultimate victory they achieved in a far-off land. The frieze is also a propaganda piece, meant to advertise the competence of the emperor’s government. But there is an another element at play, one familiar to modern-day America; the monument is meant to relate the citizenry to their army; to show them what their Soldiers are doing in their emperor’s name.

By the time of Trajan, the average Roman was as far removed from their army as Americans are today. And while the political systems of Rome and America was strikingly different, both states settled for the easy convenience of a professional force to the detriment of republican principles. We are also, for good as well as ill, the heirs of the Roman Republic. The Roman people, in the end, grew tired of antique virtues, preferring the comforts of easy slavery and peace…. their freedom had contained the seeds of its own ruin.” As illustrated by the opening quote: The people will always love victories, even when they don’t understand them.

Tragically, Americans, enabled by political leaders who can’t stomach imposing a cost on the public, have likewise settled for symbolism over sacrifice.[43] Like the Roman Republic in the 2nd century BCE, America finds itself strung out across the world, with seemingly endless drains on its resources and military capacity. And yet however much Americans “support” and “respect” their troops, they are not involved with them, and that disengagement inevitably leads to dangerous decisions the public barely notices.[44] While the American Military may have gained substantial capability through the AVF, it lost something substantially more important to the long-term health of the republic: civic responsibility.


Recently Senator John McCain and GEN (ret.) Stanley McChrystal penned an op-ed calling for increased opportunities for national service. He is joined in this call by Congressman Seth Moulton, a former Marine. These leaders rightfully realize the importance of national service, even non-military service. These proposals are righteous and necessary. However, they do not directly address the failures of policy and decrease in citizenship affected by the AVF. As a result, they address the symptoms rather than the cause.

The AVF, by disconnecting the military from society, enabled a generation of American militarism, highlighted by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Since the AVF, American foreign policy has become overly militarized and simultaneously devoid of public consideration. These two factors are cancerous to the functioning of the American Republic. The AVF created a military unimaginable by the Founders and unfamiliar to its people.

Those who feel a professional military—well-funded, equipped for power projection, and continuously deployed—is a necessity for American foreign policy would be wise to consider the words of GEN George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff during WWII. Marshall, perhaps the most well-regarded statesman of his age, gave a prescient warning in his final report to Congress:

[Germany] viewed war as a device to enforce his will whether he was right or wrong…. There has long been an effort to outlaw war for exactly the same reason that man has outlawed murder. But [outlawing] murder does not of itself prevent murder. It must be enforced. The enforcing power, however, must be maintained on a strictly democratic basis. There must not be a large standing army subject to the behest of a group of schemers. The citizen-soldier is the guarantee against such a misuse of power.[45]


There is now another disadvantage to a large professional standing army. … Modern war requires the skills and knowledge of the individuals of a nation. Obviously we cannot all put on uniforms and stand ready to repel invasion. The greatest energy in peacetime of any successful nation must be devoted to productive and gainful labor. But all Americans can, in the next generations, prepare themselves to serve their country in maintaining the peace or against the tragic hour when peace is broken, if such a misfortune again overtakes us. This is what is meant by Universal Military Training…. Once trained, young men would be freed from further connection with the Army unless they chose… When the Nation is in jeopardy they could be called…

[During the War] we allocated manpower to exploit American technology…. However, technology does not eliminate the need for men in war…. This war has made it clear that the security of the Nation, when challenged by an armed enemy, requires the services of virtually all able-bodied male citizens within the effective military age group. In wartime, the Nation cannot depend on the numbers of men willing to volunteer for active service; nor can our security in peace.

Marshall firmly believed in civilian control of the military, but he also “held the bond between the people and their army” supremely important.[46] Marshall believed that the two should be one, with the citizen-soldier tradition the key to ensuring this essential unity. Although devoted to the military’s professional ethic… Marshall insisted that the citizen-soldier—not the regular—should form the basis of the American military system.[47] Any debate regarding divide between the public and military in modern America, so begin with this understanding; that in a Republic civic duty entails more than ephemeral and symbolic support for the military. It entails participating in process and holding both political and military leadership accountable while demanding more than platitudes regarding military and foreign policy. In this regard, the AVF and the public at large have failed.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Defense, the United States Army, or any other entity.

End Notes

[1] Andrew Bacevich, Breach of Trust (New York: Picador, 2013), 4.

[2] Tom Holland, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, (New York: Anchor Books, 2003), xvi

[3] Mary Beard, “Why Ancient Rome Matters,” The Guardian, October 2, 2015, accessed November 23, 2015,

[4] Jeffrey A. Bradford, MAJ, USA, “Proconsuls and CINCs from the Roman Republic to the Republic of the United States of America: Lessons for the Pax American” (Monograph, School of Advanced Military Studies, 2001), 43.

[5] Adrian Goldsworthy, The Complete Roman Army (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003), 25-27.

[6] Ibid., 43.

[7] Ibid., 43

[8] Beard.

[9] Christian Meier, Caesar: A Biography (New York: Perseus Books, 1969), 28.

[10] Holland, 150

[11] Ibid., 161-162.

[12] Ibid., 162

[13] Goldsworthy 44-49

[14] Ibid., 49

[15] Meier, 29

[16] James Fallows, “The Tragedy of the American Military,” The Atlantic (January/February 2015):18-21, retrieved May 26, 2015,

[17] Bernard Rostker, I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force (Santa Monica, CA: RAND CORP, 2006), 15.

[18] Ibid, 2.

[19] James Fallows, “Public Perception, Political Action, And Public Policy,” in The Defense Reform Debate, ed. Asa Clark (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1984), 336.

[20] G. Murphy Donovan, “Too Much from Too Few, Small Wars Journal, September 9, 2015, accessed November 28, 2015,

[21] Graphics obtained from Drew Desilver, “Most Members of Congress Have Little Direct Military Experience,” Pew Research Center, September, 2013, accessed November 23, 2015,

[22] Weinberger outlined six conditions for the employment of military force, the most important being that a deployment was in the vital interest of American national security. Casper Weinberger, “The Uses of Military Power,” (National Press Club, Washington DC, November 28, 1984), accessed November 27, 2015,

[23] Walter Isaacson, “Madeleine’s War,” Time (May 17, 1999), accessed November 25, 2015,,8599,2054293,00.html.

[24] The Diplomat, Streaming Video. Directed by David Holbrooke. (New York: HBO, 2015).

[25] David Rothkopf, “Our Reaction to Terrorism Is More Dangerous Than the Terrorists,” Foreign Policy Blog (November 25, 2015), accessed November 25, 2015,

[26] Fallows, “Public Perception, Political Action, And Public Policy,” 335.

[27] Fallows, “The Tragedy of the American Military.”

[28] Pierre Sprey, “The Case for Better and Cheaper Weapons,” in The Defense Reform Debate, 194-96.

[29] P.W. Singer and August Cole, “The weapons the U.S. needs for a war it doesn’t want,” Reuters, July 20, 2015, accessed November 20, 2015,

[30] Fallows, “Public Perception, Political Action, And Public Policy,” 335.

[31] Alicia Burrows, conversation with the author, email, December 6, 2015.

[32] Nicolaus Mills, “Richard Blumenthal, Liberal Guilt, and Vietnam,” The Chronicle Review (May 2010),

[33] R.D. Heinl Jr, LTC, USMC “Special Trust and Confidence,” US Naval Institute Proceedings 82, no. 5 (May, 1956): 639, accessed November 23, 2015,

[34] Thomas Ricks, The Generals (New York: Penguin Press, 2012), 351.

[35] David Barno, LTG (Ret.), US Army and Nora Bensahel, “Can the U.S. Miltiary Halt It’s Brain Drain?” The Atlantic, November 5, 2015, accessed December 6, 2015,

[36] Richard A. Gabriel, Military Incompetence: Why the American Military Doesn’t Win, New York: Hill and Wang, 1985), 12-13.

[37] Barno and Bensahel.

[38] Ricks, 410-416,

[39] Andrew Bacevich, quoted in Ricks, The Generals, 417.

[40] Paul Yingling, LTC, US Army, “A Failure of Generalship,” Armed Forces Journal (May 2007), accessed November 23, 2015,

[41] Trend data from Tom W. Smith and Jaesok Son, Trends in Public Attitudes and Confidence in Institutions, Chicago: NORC/University of Chicago, May 2013, Accessed November 30, 2015,; 2013 data from Pew Research Center, “Public Esteem for Military Still High,” July 11, 2013, accessed December 2, 2015,

[42] Fallows, “The Tragedy of the American Military.”

[43] Bacevich, 4.

[44] Fallows, “The Tragedy of the American Military.”

[45] United States Army, CMH Publication 70-57, Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff of the Units States Army 1 July 1939-30 June 1945 (Washington DC: Center for Military History, 1996), 209-213.

[46] Bachevich, 194.

[47] Ibid., 194.


About the Author(s)

John Bolton is the Deputy G3 for Train Advise Assist Command-East (4/25 IBCT (A)). He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College’s Art of War Scholars Program and holds degrees from West Point and American Military University. His assignments include 1st Engineer Battalion and 1-1 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The views presented here are his alone and not representative of the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, or the U.S. government.


Agree 100%, technology doesn't solve our problems. However, the fundamental disconnect between the republic and its army often serves to exacerbate problems and distort understanding.


Mon, 01/04/2016 - 5:05pm

J Harlan touches on a point about the skill sets or preparedness of our Troops once deployed when referencing language and historical knowledge of the AO to be entered. A big win would be for the professional force to be better trained, better informed, and better equipped as individuals, meaning invest in the person and less in the complex, overly expensive new technologies favored by congressional districts in which they are built. Support our Troops should mean invest in them - not enormous technologies that bankrupt our Defense budget yet have little long-term effects on our enemies. Language, medical, C4, nutrition, fitness, driver and marksmanship are a few of the areas where we could invest more in our personnel up front in order to better prepare them for what they may encounter AND for eventual separation and re-integration into the civilian sector. This may have the added benefit of getting more people, and better applicants, to serve based on skills gained. However, due to the lack of huge windfalls involved with selling langauge training or developing new, lighter technology for individuals (too many X rifles, Y NVGs, Z body armor models left in stock whose continuous sales fill up all the right coffers), we will likely continue to under-invest in people and over-invest in huge, money making, jobs producing, congressional district winning programs.


Mon, 01/11/2016 - 4:15pm

In reply to by jqb101

<blockquote>In every long-term conflict in the past that required such a scale, our nation mobilized.</blockquote>
Up through Korea, yes. In spite of still having conscription, we didn't mobilize for Vietnam -- we didn't even do partial mobilization of reserves, and we didn't put the economy on a war footing.

I agree we should have mobilized this time. The decision not to do so was a deliberate one by our political leadership. The President could have asked Congress for general mobilization, and probably gotten it, but it would have been expensive for the predicted short war. Instead, we called up reservists in penny-packets and filled the gaps with contractors, which probably cost more in the long run.

Likewise, the decision not to mobilize the economy was deliberate. Congress did increase domestic security powers and resources, but the general population was told the best thing they could do was resume their normal do otherwise was letting the terrorists win. To a large extent, this didn't really hurt anything -- we weren't facing a constant threat of large-scale attack, we had plenty of industrial capacity, and we weren't short of critical need for rationing or to convert consumer production over to war production. What we did run out of was cash -- there was no request for a war tax, no war bonds, and no other effort to ask the nation to pay the bill. Our leaders tried to go to war on the cheap...war is never cheap.

<blockquote>As for the civ-mil disconnect being alleviated by satellites and 24hr news, you know as well as I do that visualization is a far substitute for understanding. The gap is real and growing.</blockquote>
Lottery conscription (which is all it's ever been -- we'd choke on universal service) won't solve understanding. As far as the gap, I've been hearing about it for the last 35 years, and still haven't heard it defined any better than a difference in shared attitudes and values. Part of that is based on the sort of person attracted to military service, part on shared experience. I maintain the military is far more diverse than given credit for. I also maintain that sucking more people in for short term service will change the military more than it'll change the rest of society. That's one way of closing "the gap", but it's not what I think everyone means.


Thu, 01/07/2016 - 11:13pm

In reply to by Warlock

I'm not suggesting a draft is the solution to the nation's ills. However, if we are going to embark on global, seemingly endless war, it should be consideration. In every long-term conflict in the past that required such a scale, our nation mobilized. As for the civ-mil disconnect being alleviated by satellites and 24hr news, you know as well as I do that visualization is a far substitute for understanding. The gap is real and growing.


Tue, 01/05/2016 - 10:24am

Part of the problem we run into in this discussion is that the arguments -- even from noted scholars -- don't look far enough into history. Conscription is an aberration in U.S. military history, not the norm. Federal conscription was nearly unknown until the Civil War, and a permanent draft didn't exist until after WWII.

<blockquote>In the AVF-era, the military cannot mobilize in the same way that it did in 1939-1945...Gaps in military force structure were initially filled by National Guard and Reserve units but without the manpower to fully occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, the military turned to contractors.</blockquote>
In fact, it can, given Congressional authorization and funding. The Government hasn't chosen to do so since the Korean War. The President declared partial mobilization after 11 Sep 2001, which he could do by executive order. That allowed him to call up to 1 million personnel for up to 24 months (each) at a time. In fact, the entire Ready Reserve was less than that, and just under half were called up between 2001 and 2003. A report issued by the Defense Science Board in 2007 shows only about 15% of the reserve force was mobilized more than once through the middle of that year, with never more than a quarter of the force mobilized at once (in 2003, for the invasion of Iraq). By 2006, mobilization levels stabilized at about 15% of the force. Those proportions stayed pretty constant across the Army, Marines, and Air Force; Navy Reserve mobilizations were a bit lower. So reliance on contractors was not a matter of lacking Reserve Component capacity, and full mobilization (requiring Congressional authorization) was never attempted.

Comparing the Roman "citizen-soldier" army with that of the U.S. during periods of conscription is comparing apples and oranges. Over 50% of the Roman population didn't qualify for the title "citizen", so only a minority of that population had experience with military service. What was certainly true (and pointed out by the author) was that military service was an expected prerequisite for political office. People are fond of throwing up the graph showing the proportion of veterans in Congress, which shows a steady decline in veteran representation after the '80s. But the graph usually starts in the '50s or '60s, reflecting a high proportion of representatives and senators who served during WWI, WWII, and the Korean War...a period not only when the U.S. conducted not just conscription, but large-scale mobilization, pulling in a large number of volunteers as well. Extending the graph further back into U.S. history would probably show this as a (broad) spike, rather than the norm. There's probably a similar spike between 1870 and 1900 or so, after the Civil War.

Moreover, history doesn't indicate that veterans in politics are particularly thoughtful about military adventurism.

<blockquote>Marshall believed that the two should be one, with the citizen-soldier tradition the key to ensuring this essential unity. Although devoted to the military’s professional ethic… Marshall insisted that the citizen-soldier—not the regular—should form the basis of the American military system.</blockquote>

Better to read Forrest Pouge's excellent biography of Marshall (and his interviews) rather than Bacevich, who's promoting a particular agenda. Marshall never advocated permanent conscription. His vision was universal military *training*, to enable the nation to raise an army more quickly in time of crisis...not the creation of a large, standing, short-term force.

<blockquote>In Rome, Trajan’s Column depicts the Roman conquest of Dacia...the monument is meant to relate the citizenry to their army; to show them what their Soldiers are doing in their emperor’s name.</blockquote>
In an era of satellite communications and 24-hour news, the U.S. citizenry doesn't lack information on what their soldiers are doing for the nation.

<blockquote>Any debate regarding divide between the public and military in modern America, so begin with this understanding; that in a Republic civic duty entails more than ephemeral and symbolic support for the military. It entails participating in process and holding both political and military leadership accountable while demanding more than platitudes regarding military and foreign policy.</blockquote>
Fair statement, but that has more to do with participating in the *political* process -- voting and running for office. For all the rhetoric, though, the tenure of many Congressional members indicates the voters are happy enough with the job they're doing. Given that Congressional turnover wasn't much different 20-30 years ago, the idea that a larger pool of veteran voters would change that doesn't hold much water.

<blockquote>The gulf between the public and the military is real; manifested not only in the public ceremonies, social media, and military blogs, but also in recruitment data.</blockquote>
A last point: often, bleating about the "gap" between the military and the rest of the population seems to be more of demographics than anything else -- "If more people served, the population at large would be more like Us!" Maybe. But it's just as likely if more of the population served, the military would be more like Them....

I largely agree with Entropy's comments...

I want to add that the necessity of conscription or maintenance of large standing armies depends upon the warfighting era in question. Due to different periods of technological innovation and socio-economic makeup, wars have at times been fought by relatively small groups of professionals; at others, wars have involved mass mobilization up to and including the total wars of the 20th Century.

Currently, the US is relying upon technology for its Third Offset, as well as a growing number of highly-skilled and experienced Special Forces soldiers.

Conscription in this particular era is as useful as forcing all citizens to work as playground attendants and hospital orderlies for 2 years so as to unite the people with the teaching and medical professions. Will we have better educational or medical outcomes? I doubt it.

The more advanced a society becomes, the more specialized its people become.

This citizen-soldier notion relies upon brief historical periods to justify reintroducing national service. Personally, I believe in national service, along Israeli lines (religious exemption excluded). But in a time of danger, the government will still call upon its SOF operators first, not average citizens with 2 years of service.

I can't address everything in this monograph so I'll make a few broad points:

First, when looking at conscription vs. the AFV in a democracy, it's important to consider fundamental questions about military necessity and what drives societies to choose one over the other. Related to that is the fundamental purpose of conscription- it is a tool to fill a military need, it is not a tool to social engineer a better society or a better foreign policy. Like many before him, the author makes this error of analysis. Additionally, the causality is backward: The choice between conscription or an AVF an effect of other changes in society - it is not the cause for those changes. Forcibly changing one effect (such as reversing the AVF) will not reverse the litany of problems so many lay at the feet of the AVF - indeed, reversing the AVF is not possible in a democracy unless society changes to a point where most of those problems go away, or society is faced with an existential crisis that requires generating a large amount of manpower for public purposes.

- In a democracy, conscription is enacted when the people believe it is necessary for the well-being and protection of the community. By necessity, there must be a broad consensus that the policy is necessary for the people to agree to a what is an anti-democratic policy like conscription. A "democratic republic established on the principle of participatory citizenship" does not work if the participatory part requires "enlisting a recalcitrant public." Roman citizens served because they felt it was their duty - it was part of the fabric of their society. A policy of conscription didn't create that fabric, it was the fabric that created the policy. The frequent calls to institute mandatory national service as an instrument to create that fabric in society will not work.

- After Vietnam, the American people determined that the government could no longer be trusted to wield the power of conscription because political leaders abused it. That abuse is what tore the national service fabric out of our society, it wasn't the AVF. The AFV was the effect, not the cause.

- The conventional wisdom that the AVF makes wars easier is not supported by historical fact, the opposite is likely true. The draft and opposition to the Vietnam war did not end that war. All the wars begun since the creation of the AVF have yet to spill as much American blood as Vietnam, and Vietnam was not possible without conscription. Absent conscription, political leaders would have been forced make a choice between defending Europe and the important parts of Asia or fighting a large land war in Vietnam. There wasn't the manpower to do both without conscription. Where is the evidence that war is "easier" with an AVF? Where is the example of a war that would not have been waged had their been conscription instead of an AVF? This monograph, like so many before it, fails to provide any evidence and instead offers the declarations of political leaders as a substitute.

In summary I do think that many of the problems identified in the monograph are legitimate, but I don't agree with the proposed and implied causes and solutions. While a large, standing AVF military is problematic in some respects, I think it is definitely the lesser evil when compared to an enduring policy of conscription, particularly when advocates believe it is a tool for social engineering and not legitimate military necessity.

J Harlan

Fri, 12/25/2015 - 4:12pm

I'm not sure what can be done to fix a short service military that aims at putting most of it's NCOs and all of it's officers in the middle class with all the "family values" that come with it.

The most common tactical factor identified with the failures in the greater Middle East has been lack of knowledge of local society and languages which was due to lack of time in theatre. It may have been best(from the Victorian or Roman point of view) to simply leave people in theatre with instructions not to come home until victory had been achieved but at what stage would modern spouses riot? Could you get modern recruits (outside of convicts and serious dull normals)to sign on for 25 years? At what stage would recruiting standards have to be lowered to the point draftees would be expected to be more highly motivated and capable than "regulars"?

You could move a higher % of resources into the reserves with the intention of making foolish wars more difficult (this however has been done before and failed) but the problems associated with using short service AVF for long wars would be exacerbated.