Does a nation need a standing army?

Below is an excellent post from the Russian newspaper Pravda:

Does Russia need its own army?: If we have a conflict like the one with Georgia, it requires a professional army. But if we have a conflict like the one in Syria, which is somewhat forced upon us, then we need every man in the country to be able to use a gun, prevent an invasion of the terrorist enemy forces on the territory of the Russian Federation

Ignoring Pravda’s place in history as the voice of the communist party, this article is worthy of discussion. It seriously debates the matter of having a standing army vs. a ready militia. I can’t think of a  mainstream news outlet in the US that would even consider running such an article.

Such a discussion needs to take place within the United States. “Militia” has become codeword for “domestic terrorist” here in the U.S.A., but this should not be so. We were founded on the premise that all males of a certain age should be prepared to defend their home and homeland. Colonial militia service was compulsory and “everyone” was expected to maintain certain equipment and be ready to take up arms should the need arise.

Most people assume that the National Guard is the militia, but it ceased to be, in my opinion, when the National Guard was federalized under the Militia Act of 1903. During WWII many states saw a need for a non-federal militia and established Home Guard units that formed the basis for modern state defense forces(SDFs)[1]. Many of these SDFs have limited support from their states and are a hint of a memory of a notion of a militia. They are un(der)funded and most are unarmed. They take backseat to FEMA and local EMAs in emergencies. For a period of time I “served” in the Alabama State Defense Force, and I commend those who serve in their states’ SDF. They hearken back to the colonial era where every able-bodied male was a member of the militia (SDFs have males and females amongst their ranks today). I support the objectives of the SDFs, but I question their effectiveness due to the neutered capacity that they exist in. This is unfortunate.

Amendment II of the United States Constitution states:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

 Most people just focus on the right to keep and bear Arms. While this is important, it overlooks the fact that the Founding Fathers believed it necessary to maintain a well regulated militia. This is foundational.  Compulsory service in the militia placed a vested interest in the survival of the State into the hands of the citizens. They had “ownership” and a share in the corporate body that is the United States. We were and are a republic, res publica, literally in Latin the “public thing”. We are not subjects of the Federal Government. We are the sovereign, and we elect those who are sent to represent our will at a national assembly. I think we have lost track of that concept, and thus relegated our common defense solely to the professional Armed Forces, and less consciously to local law enforcement.

As we progressed from a primarily agrarian society toward an urban lifestyle, we determined it better to pay others for our defense, both domestic and abroad. There are many merits to this, but we surrendered quite a bit of freedom in the process.

Today, the act of enforcing the laws and ordinances of a local have been delegated to professional police forces, a concept that would have been quite foreign to our Founding Fathers[2]. This is a supercession of  the common law concept of posse comitatus. As we have accepted less and less responsibility for the welfare of ourselves and our communities, the police forces have had to step up to fill that gap. This assumption of power relegated to them by an inability of communities to police themselves internally has led to many of the egregious oversteps by that we have read about in recent years. The problem with a select few enforcing the law is that rogue elements amongst them fall victim to the notion that they are above the law. I am confident that they are the minority of law enforcement officers. I would be remiss, however, if I did not stop and thank those who have stepped up and put themselves in harm’s way to “protect and serve” their communities against those who would willfully and violently disobey the law and harm their fellow man. It is a thankless job, and I am thankful for those who are willing to do it.

We also have relegated our National defense to a professional force, which in modern society is also necessary. Due to downsizing in active components, many of those serving in combat are National Guardsmen and Reservists. These citizen soldiers are put on Active Duty for extended and repeat deployments. They attend the same training that everyone else in the military attends and are indistinguishable in combat. They are a far cry from the rag-tag militia that General George Washington lamented over in the early years of the American Revolution. Militarism has advanced to a precise science, as is attested by our service academies. We have a strong, well-educated, and dedicated professional military. We should ever be proud of those who serve. As excellent as our military is, however, it is comprised of only a fraction of our overall population.

The majority of the populace reap the benefits without ever making any of the sacrifices. Maybe this is a benefit of professional domestic and national defense forces, but it offloads one’s civic responsibilities and makes the society stagnant. Without a vested interest, people begin voting for those who offer them “bread and circuses” and public interest gives way to self interest. We forget to “ask not what our Country can do for you” and we never ask “what you can do for your Country”. We are more than willing to send the sons and daughters of someone else to die to protect our liberties. I think this is one of the reasons Roman citizenship was tied so strongly to military service. I’m not saying that America should limit its citizenship in such a manner; that is foreign to our Nation and should be. We should be shareholders in the nation, we each have an obligation to ensure its continued success.

So back to the question of does a nation need a standing army? That’s a question each nation must answer for itself. Does it plan to engage in foreign conflict perpetually? If so, then yes, it needs a standing army. Is the population at large capable of defending its own borders? If not, then it needs a standing army. Is it at peace with its neighbors and those capable of doing it immediate harm? Can its militia defend its own borders? If that is the case, then maybe it doesn’t need a large standing army. What say you?


[1] I can’t speak for other states, but the Alabama Code still allows for a state militia. You can read more about it in my post on Honorary Colonelcy in the State of Alabama.

[2] The notion of modern police forces was invented by Sir Robert Peale in 1829, when he established the Metropolitan Police Force in London.

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