The Swiss alone stood successfully against the Wehrmacht. Hitler’s war machine, though victorious nearly everywhere else, feared to attack the tiny mountainous country in the center of Europe. Switzerland stood firm against the might of the Third Reich, though the richer, more populous, and bigger countries around it fell with scarcely a fight. What was the difference in Switzerland? The Swiss alone had what the writers of the Bill of Rights called a “well regulated militia.” Every man in Switzerland was a soldier, well trained, capable, and independent.
A militia of the Swiss mold is the best military. It satisfies all of the criteria for a good military better than does our present system. However, what type of militia is this? First, it is government-run rather than a separatist movement as most “militias” in the United States are. It is the army of Switzerland; there is no standing army. It does not consist of untrained citizens, but rather the whole of Swiss males are well trained in military exercises. Finally, it is well organized and has a distinct command structure.
How do militias differ from a standing army? A militia is made up of private citizens, armed, trained, and ready to respond to a call to arms. A standing army is a body of soldiers whose career is the military, at least for a while. Militias and standing armies differ in several ways: standing armies are paid, while militias usually are not; militias can only be on active duty for a few months at a time, while standing armies may remain indefinitely; and militias are trained to act independently in partisan warfare, while standing armies are taught to obey all orders implicitly, and to fight in the open. These differences are critical to understanding the benefits of a militia.
A militia is the best type of military because it protects very well, it is cheap, it cannot be used for the wrong reasons, it cannot be manipulated by power-seekers, and it cannot infringe on freedoms. These criteria are the conditions that a good military must satisfy. A militia satisfies these better than the present standing army does.
What exactly are the criteria for a good military? First and foremost, a good military must protect a nation well. Next, it must not be too costly; that is, it must not be a burden to the economy of the nation. Furthermore, it ought not to be used for the wrong purposes: it should be checked in some way to prevent the abuse of its power. Next, it should not be used to overthrow the government; there should be no leader with power enough to totally control it to eliminate that possibility. Finally, it should not infringe on the freedoms of the people of the nation by being used as a “police” force, being quartered in houses, or any other infringement of liberty.
It is obvious that the objective of primary importance to an army is to protect the nation. Throughout history, nations have attacked other nations without good reason, so even a country that would not be the aggressor must still have an army for self-defense. The difficulty lies in providing adequate protection with a minimum of the possible side effects of a powerful army. Finding the balance is the key. All of the other criteria for a good military are limitations to the army’s side effects and costs. The first criterion is that a military protect the nation well.
The most important of these limitations is to the cost of the army. Modern militaries are incredibly expensive, taking up about 2% of the Gross National Product of countries worldwide. This totals to approximately 750 billion dollars spent on the military (World Factbook). This money provides no actual benefit to society as a whole, but rather is tied up protecting society from itself. As non-productive capital, this money should be minimized. Again, finding the balance between cost and the level of protection is essential. Some countries have spent huge sums on their military, but these armies are rarely for protection, but rather for the purpose of aggression and conquest. The second criterion is that the military cost as little as possible.
Furthermore, the military should have checks on its power. Throughout history, armies have very often been used without a good cause, and often with a bad cause. Therefore, there should be checks on its use; and preferably, it should not be able to be used offensively effectively. Sometimes offensive maneuvers are necessary, and thus provision should be made for them; but overall, an army should not be built on an offensive foundation. The only good reason for using an army is for defense on the nation. Aggression is morally wrong; international law and society in general has long recognized this. So then, other uses ought to be limited as much as possible, and if possible eradicated. The third criterion is that the military not be used for wrong purposes.
Another key criterion for a good military is that it should not overshadow or be able to overthrow the government. Throughout the third world are many examples of the army’s meddling in politics: coups, military juntas, and civil war. It would be good, then, if a military did not have the capability to meddle in politics. Generals usually cause these problems, so some way of restricting their power would be good. The fourth criterion is that the military not meddle in politics.
Finally, a military should not infringe on the freedoms of the people of a nation. Many militaries have ignored the basic rights of humanity throughout history. They have often robbed, mistreated, and killed innocent civilians, many times in their own countries. Obviously, this should be checked in order for a military to be a good military. Never is such abuse of power good. The final criterion is that the military not infringe on civilians’ rights.
The criteria for a good military, then, are that it protect a nation well, should not be too costly, should not be able to be used for the wrong purpose (conquest), should not threaten the government, and should not infringe on people’s freedoms. If these qualities are present in a military, then it could be termed a very good military.
What are the possible weaknesses of these criteria? I will investigate each criterion in turn.
The first criterion is that the primary objective of a military is to defend a nation. What else could be a military’s primary purpose? Militaries have been used for several other purposes throughout history. First, they have been used for conquest, to gain territory, plunder, or people. Is this a legitimate use? Of course not. This has long been recognized as wrong, as stealing in essence. Only a few aggressive dictators and militaristic societies still think of this as a just use of military. Another use has been to “right past wrongs,” to try to regain territory lost in the past. This is a ticklish problem. If this were considered a legitimate use of armies, the wars would be incessant. Most countries have had larger borders at one time in the past. There is no way for all nations to regain all of their “lost” territory. Yet there is some element of justification involved in this type of use. A nation should be allowed to regain territory took by conquest recently, it could be reasoned. This is a subjective measure, though, and very dangerous. I would say that this use should be considered on a case-by-case basis by the United Nations or a similar international body. At some time past wrongs have to be forgiven! Nevertheless, this reasoning has been China’s justification for taking Tibet, and it was Hitler’s reason for many of his early conquests. Palestinians say that Israel is on their land, and should be expelled. Yet going even farther back, the area used to be ancient Israel. How should this be balanced? Indeed, this dangerous subject warrants further study. The final use other than defense is for international policing purposes. This is the United States present primary purpose. Note, however, that only the U. S. considers this a good use for a nation’s military; most other nations resent the United States’ interference in complex disputes. I believe that the United States should not try to police the world; no other nation in history has ever tried it. This is however, another complex issue. The only obvious reason for a military is for national defense, while the other uses are questionable and open to dispute. The first criterion, then, is correct: that a military’s primary objective is protection of a nation.
The second criterion is that the cost of the military be minimized. This is a rather obvious idea. However, the difficulty lies in determining what to consider the minimum. This in turn depends on what the purpose of the military is. If conquest, then no expense can be spared. If retaking of territory or international policing, the upper limits of the price are much higher than if the military is merely a simple national defense method. If the purpose is solely national defense, as I believe it should be, not as much equipment, supplies and thus cost are necessary. The minimum cost of a militia is far lower than the minimum cost of an offensive standing army. This does not even take into account the arms races that offensive standing armies get into; they must have the advantage over their chosen enemy to maintain the benefits of intimidation and potential conquest offered by such an offensive-style army. Thus, we see that though the premise of the minimization of costs is widely accepted, what the minimum actually is depends on what type of objective the army has. The cost of military should definitely be minimized.
The next criterion is that the army not be used without a good reason. This is a complex standard, and is open to several questions. First, how does one determine what a good or bad use of the military is? Next, how should this be implemented? Should this be trusted to the morals of the government or should some safeguard be built in to the system? These are legitimate worries. I addressed the first in the paragraph regarding the purpose of the military: conquest is a wrong use, and regaining territory and policing the world are questionable uses. The only certainly good use of a military is to protect a nation. Should the other uses then be limited by the style of army to prevent any temptation to the nation’s leaders to use the military for bad reasons? This is a good question. The answer would depend on the type of government, but it would not hurt anything to preclude the possibility of the army being used for conquest. The criterion should be, then, that the army not be able to be used for the wrong purpose, namely conquest.
The fourth criterion is that the army not be able to overthrow the government, or meddle in politics. It may be noted that some militaries have helped situations by overthrowing despots or corrupt governments. However, in a free country, with a democratic government, meddling with the government is a terrible danger to the nation. It would warp the democratic process, and potentially could overthrow the government itself. Therefore, in a free country such as ours, a meddling military should be prevented. In other countries, with poor governments, a military that meddles in politics still would not be good. Why? Because in that case, it would just be another factor in the power struggles, and there is no guarantee that the military would be on the best side. Thus, the criterion is correct: the army should not be able to overthrow the government or meddle in politics.
The final criterion is that the military not infringe on civilians’ rights. This is a rather obvious stance. When could infringing on rights possibly be good? Well, during wartime it is often done, though it is not justified even then. Abraham Lincoln used the army instead of the courts to jail any newspapermen who criticized moves he made, even if the newspapermen were not supporting the confederacy. In the Thirty Years War, both sides, the “Protestants” and “Catholics,” stole all of their supplies from the German peasants, over which they were fighting. By the end of that war, the German population had dropped by a half! Are any of these infringements justified? No. Stealing from civilians is wrong in war as well as in peace, as is cutting off the right to free press. What infringements should be allowed under mitigating circumstances? Very few. Any error should be made on the side of liberty. In fact, to keep things clear, it would be good to prevent the military from infringing at all, and to let whatever infringements may be necessary be decided upon by the elected officials, instead of by an army that does not have to account for its actions directly to the people. So then, the military itself should not infringe on civilians’ rights.
The criteria, ultimately, are that a military’s primary objective be to protect the nation, that the cost of this be minimized, that the army not be able to be used for the wrong reason (conquest), that the army not be able to meddle in politics, and that the military not infringe on the liberties of civilians. These criteria are the standard by which it can be determined whether any given army is a good or bad military.
How does a militia then compare to this standard? Very favorably indeed. It compares better even than our present system, which I shall consider as well. A militia is a very good type of military because it satisfies the criteria. A militia protects a nation excellently, it is quite inexpensive, it cannot be used for conquest, it cannot take over the government, and it does not infringe on civilians’ freedoms. Our present system protects the nation well, costs a fortune, is offensively structured (can conquer), has perhaps too much political influence, and does not infringe on civilians’ freedoms much.
First, how well does a militia system protect its nation? Very well, as Switzerland shows. It has only been invaded successfully once in 700 years. No other nation, other than England, has a similar record. England’s success is primarily based on its island location and the fact that it has been one of the richest nations for most of that time. But Switzerland owes its success to its incredible military. The militia in Switzerland consists of all able-bodied men with no criminal record. In World War II, they were able to muster 850,000 men, more men than the United States military had on September 11, 2001. Through consistent training, every Swiss soldier is a marksman, a qualified sniper. Because the Swiss fight guerilla style, hit-and-run, and because they aim for the generals first, the Nazis feared to attack them. One order by the Swiss Federal Council and General Guisan (commander-in-chief of the Swiss military) stated, “Where no officers and noncommissioned officers are present, each soldier acts under exertion of all powers of his own initiative” (Halbrook, 95). In the other European countries, the soldiers were taught not to think on their own, but to obey orders implicitly. In addition, in the other countries the government surrendered and with it the army, but in Switzerland that would not have happened. That same order by the Federal Council went on to say, “If…any information is transmitted doubting the will of the Federal Council or of the Army High Command to resist the attacker, this information must be regarded as lies of enemy propaganda” (Halbrook, 95). The Swiss would not have surrendered. The rule of thumb of military experts is that to combat guerillas, one must commit six times as many troops as there are guerillas (Maybury “World War I,” 98). If the United States used a militia system, it would muster some 70 million (World Factbook). No other country has half that many troops in their army, let alone six times that! What are the advantages of guerilla warfare? Maybury says:
“[G]uerillas have a tremendous advantage over regular troops. They know the terrain, can choose their time and place to strike, and rarely do strike unless they are sure they can escape…. Fighting covertly as individuals or is small groups, they must be found and destroyed one by one, for they have no central authority on which to concentrate forces to compel a surrender.” (“Thousand Year War,” 106)
The only way to defeat a guerilla army defending its homeland is to kill everyone. There is no other way to defeat it. Few countries can or will even admit that that is a possibility. One possible problem with a militia is that many of the modern weapons, like tanks and aircraft, require highly technical training. How would a militia be able to use them? Well, there could be a small standing army, or a more highly trained body of militiamen. Switzerland had some more highly trained men to operate their air force. Furthermore, technical weapons are primarily offensive: for example, an Apache is an offensive weapon, while the simple bazooka that can shoot it down is defensive. A militia protects a nation quite well. Note that the huge French army was quickly defeated by an army its own size, but that the French resistance caused major problems to the Nazis. The guerilla groups hurt the Wehrmacht, not the well-equipped, modern French army. The militia system protects a nation better than does a standing army.
What of the price? A militia is far less costly than an offensive standing army like our own. This is based on several things, but an important one is the relative cost of offensive and defensive weapons. In The Thousand Year War in the Mideast, Richard Maybury states, “[T]o be on equal footing today, the offense must spend six hundred times as much as the defense” (150). In addition, “The missile that kills a jet fighter costs $50,000; the fighter costs $100 million” (149). This difference contributes to the far lower price of a militia than of a standing, offensive-minded army like ours. Switzerland spends $349 per capita each year to pay for its 1.5 million strong militia, while the United States spends $986 per capita to pay for its 1.4 million strong standing army. The total cost of the U. S. Army is $277 billion, while the cost of the Swiss militia is only $2.5 billion (World Factbook). The price factor is squarely on the side of the militia.
What can a militia be used for? It is a defensive military. Maybury states, “[A] militia-guerilla force cannot be used to invade other people’s homelands. Militiamen are only part-time soldiers. Because they have civilian jobs and families to take care of, a militia is strictly defensive, not offensive” (“World War I,” 103). It has few of the weapons built for attack, and many of its advantages are neutralized. Furthermore, the citizen-troops would be independent and unwilling to fight unless convinced that their cause was right. In addition, the capability to maintain an occupation army is nonexistent. So, then, invasions are well nigh impossible with a militia, and a war of conquest totally impossible. The style of military maintained by the U. S., however, is capable of, and indeed patterned for, an invasion. The militia eliminates the possibility of the military being used for trivial or warmongering reasons. Is this good? Some may note that the United States attacked Afghanistan in self-defense, and that this offensive operation would have been difficult with a militia. This is a serious objection. Nevertheless, there are several answers. First, it would have been far more difficult for the hijackers to get through an armed populace that perhaps would be carrying handguns. Next, a militia would not have given so much cause for offense to the Middle Eastern Moslems. Finally, a small standing army could be maintained, as I mentioned before, to carry out missions such as the ousting of the Taliban. Notably, U. S. ground forces did little; it was the U. S. air force and the Northern Alliance that did most of the work. So then, the lack of a large standing army would not be a major deficiency, while the far stronger defense could counter those deficiencies. The only good use for an army is to defend the nation from aggression by other countries or from attacks by other organizations such as terrorists. The militia meets the criteria for limiting wrong uses by precluding the possibility of the military being used for conquest or invasion.
Furthermore, a militia cannot interfere in politics, while a standing army can. It is self-evident that a government by the people, a republic, is not threatened by an armed populace (though a despot would be threatened by a militia.) There is no leader in such a militia with the power to meddle; but generals of standing armies have often meddled in third-world politics. A standing army like that of the United States does have the potential to meddle in politics, though the U. S. army most likely will never do so (or at least not soon.) Nevertheless, the political power of a standing army should not be taken lightly. Coups do not take place in a republic with a militia system.
Finally, a militia does not infringe on the freedoms of civilians. The militia is made up of the people; it is not an outside organization. A standing army, however, always has the potential to steal from civilians (in despotic governments), to take up too much land, to become a “police” force without controls, to be quartered in houses, or to otherwise get out of control and infringe on rights. This has not happened in America, and will not soon, but again the possibility exists. A militia does not infringe on civilians’ rights.
So then, the militia protects a nation very well, costs little, is only defensive, cannot meddle in politics, and does not infringe on freedoms. The standing army protects not as well, costs a huge amount, is primarily offensive, can meddle in politics, and could infringe on liberties. The major differences are these: a militia is better defensively and costs less, while a standing army is better offensively and costs more. But what are the most important criteria for a good military? Good protection and low cost. The militia meets these criteria far better than does a standing army.
A militia in the Swiss tradition was what the founding fathers were referring to when they wrote the second amendment: “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.” They knew of the great advantages of the militia system. So why doesn’t the United States use this system? It takes away a good portion of the power of the government, and naturally, the government would not like that. Also, the populace believes that the U. S. is ordained, or some thing like that, to be the world’s police force, to enforce global law, to punish wrongdoers—I will let former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, explain. During her time in office, she said this regarding Iraq (but it is accurate regarding American sentiment in general): “ If we have to use force, it is because we are America . We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see farther into the future.” This arrogant idea is why we now maintain a costly offensive military.
Nevertheless, the militia pattern is the best type of military. It satisfies all of the criteria for a good army: it protects the nation well, it costs little, is cannot be used offensively, is cannot threaten the democratic government, and it cannot infringe on personal freedoms of civilians. A militia is the best military, and would be the best system for the United States .
Maybury, Richard. The Thousand Year War in the Mideast : How it Affects You Today. Placerville, CA: Bluestocking Press, 1999.
---------, World War I: The Rest of the Story and How it Affects You Today. Placerville, CA: Bluestocking Press, 2002
Halbrook, Stephen. Target Switzerland : Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II. Rockville Centre, NY: Sarpedon Publishers, 1998.
The World Factbook 2002. Washington, D. C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 2002. 13 December, 2002 < http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html>