The Myth of the Voluntary Military
by Jeffrey A. Tucker
Excerpted from It’s a Jetsons World (2011). An MP3 audio file of this article, narrated by Steven Ng, is available for download.
Ludwig von Mises summed up the essence of government in words that are particularly vivid in wartime:
Government interference always means either violent action or the threat of such action…. Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen. The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.
What about those who are called upon to enforce state edicts, whether just or unjust? Every society includes people who are willing to act as the coercive arm of the state, those who are willing to use violence and freely risk their lives as they administer the law. The state has no great trouble recruiting policemen and prison guards. Are there enough such people to amass a huge army of hundreds of thousands of people who are willing to risk their lives carrying out destructive foreign wars of dubious merit?
When you see the pictures of American troops fighting their way through sand storms, in a strange land with strange people, seeking to overturn a government and transform a society that posed no credible threat to the United States, being shot at by average Iraqis who are clearly motivated only by the desire to expel the invader, it is not hard to imagine that US troops are wondering how it all came to this.
The British defense secretary, Geoff Hoon, claims that the coalition armed forces are made up of “men and women who made a free choice to serve their country,” whereas Iraqi forces “are motivated either by fear or by hatred.” It’s hard to say what motivates Iraqi forces (perhaps the desire to repel invasion?), but what he says about coalition troops is simply not true.