On the Development of Military Organization

By Chase Englund
 .
To tell the story of the way the military is organized, manned and supplied is to tell the story of society itself. Each different stage is a reflection of that state of society. In the earliest hunter gatherer groups, everyone was of essentially a single class. The chief led the ‘army’, but everyone participated. War was a means of socialization for men, but it did not exist as we know it today. The first real mass slaughters using organized formations came with the first civilizations with farms, animals, and riches to protect or steal.
 .
This essay will attempt to divide military organization up into several distinct stages. As with all simplifications and generalizations, there are exceptions, but this essay will attempt to uncover some basic general truths about how a society’s military is organized, and how this changes as said society advances. It is necessary here to define what is meant by ‘organization’. In the context it will be used here, it means who can participate in the military and in what role. It does not mean the actual tactical makeup of said militaries, as this is the topic for another essay.
 .
 .
Feudal
 .
In the most primitive societies, where power lies in the hands of a local warlord, armies are generally small. The military in a society like this will be led by a local warlord or baron, and mainly composed of the wealthy landowners beneath him. To understand why they are organized like this, one must have a rudimentary understanding of how a society in this stage of development functions.
 .
This type of unadvanced agrarian society is based on subsistence farming. Almost everyone is a poor farmer (maybe fisherman near the coast) and he provides the food for the few leaders, clergymen, or government officials at the top. Another fact of life in this type of society is war. Raiding is a means of gathering more slaves and resources. Once you have enough, you can take more land, which allows more farming, which supports more people, etc. So thus small wars are common to society like this, because they are the quickest way to gain wealth and power.
 .
Now, to the lowly farmer in this type of society, the military is viewed very differently from how people in our society view it. First of all, it means traveling away from the farm, and includes the chance of getting rich from loot. It also means a steady meal, and aside from the fighting, the work certainly is not any worse than subsistence farming. Military service is becomes extremely attractive. This effect is observed even today in Africa, in the feudalistic ‘failed states’ seen there. It is often necessary to bribe recruiters substantially to even be considered for service. It was the same in feudal Europe. War was for the rich. Equipment was self-provided and costly.
 .
To give a man weapons is to empower him, which is the second reason that war was only for the rich. With the purpose of keeping the serfs obedient in mind, it would be terribly unwise to issue them weapons and training and use them in a serious way. They would just as soon turn these weapons on their leaders and relieve their position in society. Now this isn’t to say that the farmers were never used. When necessary, they are given inferior weapons and used as infantry. In medieval Europe, this resulted in armies of rich mounted knights, and body of poorly trained, loosely formed infantry, maybe supplemented by a few skirmishers with slings and bows, also peasants. It is now well known that highly organized infantry can defeat head on cavalry charges, but in terms of medieval organizational capabilities, this was not possible. This meant if the poorer infantrymen tried any sort of rebellion, they would easily be obliterated by the colossal warhorses of their masters.
.
Now, in theory, we should observe a very similar military style in the feudal regions of the world today, but of course, these societies do not exist in a vacuum, and things like global trade, western intervention, soviet arms dealers, and modern drugs have significantly altered the natural state of the unadvanced regions of the world. Underdeveloped nations today have the option of simply buying modern weapons from the west. Nevertheless, a strange form of feudal military organization still exists in regions like Africa. Modern weapons does not entail a modern societal structure, and that is something that we cannot sell them.
 .
Also important to note here is the use of mercenaries in these societies. This was especially popular in Europe circa the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as monarchs tried to advance from feudalistic societies to more centralized states. European monarchs needed to quickly augment their militaries with professional troops, but this would have meant incorporating the nobles into military leadership. It was during this period that the nobles (essentially regional warlords) were especially resistant to the trend of centralization in European states, and so giving them the Officer Corps too soon would have had mutinous implications. Landowners during this period still commanded enough wealth to challenge the state sovereign. And this is not to mention the burden of shouldering the heavy cost of new gunpowder weapons. Thus, the cheaper and politically safe option was to hire mercenaries. Interestingly, almost the exact same phenomena of sovereigns using mercenaries to unite their states can be observed today in many third world areas. A similar situation can be observed in the recent Libyan Civil War (see footnote).^
Theocratic
 .

The next stage in the development of a society is what we will call a theocracy. This is when an entire nationality has been united under a single military leader, and he now rules it as a sort of ‘god king’. Historical and contemporary examples of this are plentiful. The great Egyptian pharaohs, Alexander the Great and Hellenistic Greece, the Early Roman kings, the Aztecs Emperors, and the late medieval European kings, or even modern day North Korea are all examples of this.

This type of society functions in a manner quite more advanced than it did during its feudal past. A society in this stage is sometimes referred to as a city-state, as it will often develop one major trade city in which the leader lives and from which the nation is controlled. These societies are rigidly hierarchal and centrally controlled, typically by means of some sort of religion or central theology, of which the ruler exists as the head priest. This can even be observed today in some of the smaller communist nations, in governments exhibiting what is referred to today as a ‘cult of personality’. The ruler of such a nation exists as a living God, immediately deified following his death. The great pyramids, the Colossus of Rhodes, the great Cathedrals and fortresses of Europe, the great Greek temples are all testaments to the new types of organizational capabilities inherent to these societies. Centrally organized mass farming and better storage techniques create surpluses of food, which can support hordes of slave laborers.
 .
Needless to say, these societal changes create new military capabilities as well. Armies can march father thanks to some primitive logistics abilities. Equipment begins to be standardized and provided by the government, thanks to new wealth and organized labor. Tactics and organization reach a new maturity and discipline. Members of armies in this state are typically much more conditioned and willing to remain in a cohesive formation during battle. Better organization is only half the reason for this. In less advanced societies, the infantry is composed of commoners, who will understandably be less politically committed and more poorly trained. In a theocracy, in addition to the cavalry, the infantry is also composed of the wealthy. The reason for this is that a military in this stage will inevitability be fighting other, non feudal opponents, and it needs strong, cohesive infantry to do this. It is a basic fact of warfare that well organized infantry, prepared to receive the charge, will nearly always defeat a head on cavalry attack. This is especially true when the cavalry is using horses, which simply will not charge into a hedge of spikes, regardless of their masters’ feelings on the matter. In a feudal society when everyone you’re fighting has poorly organized infantry units, you can afford to have an army whose core is the cavalry, because you will never face a determined body of infantry. But this is not true of a unified nation, which will be facing other, more advanced armies. Simply put, it’s a matter of competition. Once an army starts facing effective heavy infantry, they must produce their own to face them, unless they want to be soundly defeated in every engagement. And teaching peasants to soldier really effectively is impossible, due to the same reasons described in the last section. The result is that the landowners themselves must make up the infantry, and that is precisely what happens.
 .
There will also be a decently developed officer corps, although its members will be only the wealthiest landowners. In a less developed military, this would have been politically dangerous, but war increasingly becomes a rich man’s game, a game that requires the centralized organization and trade wealth that only states can muster, not regional landowners. The army will also still be led by the nation’s political ruler. This is a crucial fact. If control of the army is given away to professional generals too soon, said generals will simply use the army they have been given to install themselves into power. This has happened many times, especially in modern countries trying (admirably) to embrace democracy before their society is structured for it. The reason this does not happen in today’s most modern societies will be explained in following sections. Armies serving a society in this stage will also sometimes augment their forces with large slave units, which would of course be more poorly equipped and used as skirmishers or light infantry.
.
Early Nation State
 .
As a nation continues to advance, it eventually accumulates enough trade and a sufficiently stable food supply to free its peasants and begin to operate a free market economy. This shouldn’t be confused with an industrial economy, these societies are still largely agrarian, but the farmers are free. Trade and mercantilism are sufficiently lucrative and stable enough to support a larger chunk of the population. As the central government becomes larger and more influential, there develops an increasing desire among the wealthy merchants and traders (the beginnings of the middle class) to be heard in the decision-making. In the past, policy was simple, farm as much as possible, raid as much as possible. Now with the increasing complexity of trade, things get more complicated, and those in minor positions of power demand more recognition. And increasingly, they will have accumulated the wealth and influence to get it. While raiding may provide a short burst of income, trade is now far more important, and the new thing to fight over. A nation in this state will almost certainly begin to accumulate colonies, as it has discovered that the trade and resources are well worth the cost of installing a government there. Needless to say, politics becomes greatly more complicated and opinionated. This instability leads to the beginnings of a limited republic; usually in the form of a business aristocracy or senate. Beyond these political reasons for more democratic government, other practical military concerns emerge.
 .
With conquest and trade protection becoming more and more important, the military also inherently grows in importance. In earlier stages of war, tactics were simple. The nation’s leader would command the simple formations himself. Now, although the military is still led by the head of state, he will have a full staff of advisors and officers to lead the increasingly complex formations. At this point military service is offered to anyone, but the poorer classes are still slightly more poorly equipped, and used in less important roles such as archers.
 .
However, eventually these advancements also allow, or rather force, the government to open up military service to anyone. The army is no longer composed of the upper classmen, who simply become unwilling. In democratic and business oriented system, there are safer and surer ways of gaining wealth and power, such as politics, than conquering more land. When they did serve, it was primarily as officers, a sure track to political success and battlefield glory. Enlistment in the military became the occupation of the desperate and poor. However, manning your military with the lower classes, and leaving it in command of business class officers has implications of its own. The government loses much of its ability to simply control the public through military force. Suffrage inevitably expands to those with economic clout, now including the wealthier business class members of society, along with landowners. This is also not to mention the fact that any modern military will be funded through taxes paid by the business class. Disenfranchising them means cutting off this funding. King Charles faced this problem during the English Civil War.
 .
It is during this stage that there will often be a period in which only nobles or, more recently, members of the president’s party will be allowed officer rank. This is an attempt to preserve the status quo and maintain a balance of power between the traditional power holders and the rising business classes. In times of war, a primitive form of conscription may emerge. These conscripts will be paid, however they will be ‘militias’ and still more poorly equipped than the volunteer force.
 .
With an army consisting of more ‘uncivilized’ men, more draconian forms of discipline emerge. Discipline is strictly regimented, and disobedience is harshly punished. A more familiar army discipline begins to take shape, with drill sergeants, separate military courts, deserters being shot, and so on.
 .
Capitalized Nation State
 .
Around this time, if the proper catalysts are in place, a banking system and finally stock market will be developed. This fully modernizes the economy, apart from industrialization of course. At this stage, if he isn’t already, the head of state will begin to be elected popularly, usually by members of the senate. This is usually done in an advanced society to ensure the competency of the leader and favorability with the senate’s agenda.
 .
This change allows most of the control of the military to be given to professional officers. Previously this would have dangerous implications politically, but in a democracy, with a popularly elected head of state, the danger diminishes. A majority of aristocrats support the head of state, which is why he was able to secure election to begin with. Furthermore, his image as a popularly elected leader gives him much more loyalty among the populous. The combination of these factors makes a lasting coup very unlikely and politically nearly impossible. The leaders of the military will themselves be members of the upper class, and generally support the new democratic system. Generals and Field Marshals now head the army in the place of kings. It is important to note, however, that even today the nation’s leader is still officially in charge.
 .
These changes in the economic system also allow other interesting developments to take place. A treasury of static wealth is now replaced by a central bank, which invests and propagates its money. This is the final nail in the coffin of warfare for the sake of raiding. Another important development which occurs at this time is the possibility of a draft. Although it is unnecessary and unpopular in anything other than a serious war against other great powers, the state’s new economic abilities allow it to conscript, and then equip and pay vast amounts of men, previously impossible. Nationalism also becomes more effective and prevalent. The size of conventional armies increases twofold, if not more. Large scale, or mass voting, previously impractical, is also now made possible by better organization. Commoners, or workers as they are now called, not only man the armies, but also live in dense cities, where they can communicate and organize strikes, a serious threat to economic output. Voting rights are offered to every free man, instead of only the wealthy or landowners.
 .
It is interesting to note here how this change came about in Europe. The French monarchy had tried to keep an outdated system of government in place despite changes in the economy, and despite recruiting soldiers from the public. This created instability and finally a revolution. The force of commercialization and the emergence of a middle class were finally enough to undo governments that refused to enfranchise them. Once their state was modernized, they could use the draft, which Napoleon did to great effect. Furthermore, Napoleon was not a nobleman, and cared little for the unspoken understanding among the royalty of Europe that total war was ungentlemanly. He modernized his state politically, which allowed him to unleash the military potential of a modern state (i.e. mass conscription, professional officer corps). All of this scared the God out the European nobility, who sought to replace Napoleon with a proper monarch and go back to the status quo, where they held a firm grip on power. This, of course, was a pipe dream, and failed. The monarchies of Europe were thus forced to modernize their own countries in order to defeat Napoleon and others like him in the future. Thus ended their age of limited war.
Industrialized State
 .
As the state advances even farther down the road of civilization, we reach a period called industrialization. As most people know, this means that the organization and technology has been developed to create assembly line factories which can produce mass quantities of cheap goods. However, beyond that, government organization also begins to reach previously unimaginable levels. The government can now organize and fund research into better technologies, with devastating results. In a first-or-early-second-tier industrial economy warfare takes on the shape of a gigantic industrial operation, both sides pumping as many men and machines onto the front as possible in order to the wear the other down. The levee, usually called the draft in the United States, is mandatory and all encompassing. Of course, the rich may be able to delay their service with further education, and possibly enter as officers, but in wars like this, this is a small percentage. Industrial wars are an existential struggle for the economic systems that wage them. The losing side, and oftentimes many of its people, is utterly obliterated.
     .
As economies advance farther, more towards the late second tier or third tier level, nations develop the means to effectively mass produce thermonuclear missiles. This changes warfare considerably. Warfare is now not only an extremely costly, devastating struggle to be undertaken only for the most important reasons, but it is now literally suicidal. The only way to win an industrial war is to strike at the heart of the industry which sustains it. In the more primitive industrial wars, this was done with strategic bombers. Today it is done with nuclear weapons. Strategic bombing is done with such speed and lethal efficiency that conventional armies have almost ceased to become significant. The industry that supported them would be destroyed before they could even deploy. With this in mind, it is not surprising that the size of most modern armies has shrunk considerably.  Now there are other reasons for this, and reasons for them to grow again as well, however these will be discussed in the following section.
 .
Once again, as the economic structure of the western world changed, the military began to change as well. As the industrial economies reached their most recent stage, consumerism, the social fabric of society began to shift as well. In an agrarian economy, marriage is a prerequisite to financial success. A man needs his wife to have as many children as possible, because children are free labor to make his farm more productive. He also needs his wife to stick around and help raise said children. Likewise, the woman needs a husband to provide for her financially, as labor is typically intensely physical in nature. Gender roles in society are well defined. It takes serious physical strength to farm and fight, so men did this. Women stayed in the home and managed affairs there. However, in an industrial economy, especially in a consumer based third tier economy, these distinctions are blurred.
 .
For several reasons, traditional family structure begins to break down. Here we will focus only on those changes which are of military significance. Firstly, women can operate as financially independent units, and are significant contributors to the economy, especially in wartime when men are away fighting. This essentially means that they will gain suffrage, just as common men did when they became economically and militarily important. In the US, women gained their voting rights promptly after the First World War, when their importance was exhibited. Years later, when the US economy was firmly based in the third tier, they gained the right to actually serve in the armed forces. The differences in gender roles are quickly eroding. It also follows that since marriage is no longer an economic or social necessity, its main underpinnings become love and sex. Among various other things, this has led to an increase in homosexual behavior, and thus an increase in the acceptance of it. Unsurprisingly, this has led to the admission of homosexuals into the military. Needless to say, social norms have changed slower than the economy, so these changes have been gradual.
 .
One of the most important facts about industrialization in regards to the way the military is organized is that industrial war, especially nuclear weapons, has made long term total war very unlikely. This has in turn made a future draft very unlikely.
Postindustrial Trends
 .
It would be erroneous not to mention that allowing women and gays to join is not entirely due to social change, but also has the important practical purpose of increasing recruitment. The shrinking of the modern army is not entirely due to nuclear warfare. A consumer society is a relatively self centered one, and recruitment has become more of a challenge. Contrarily, our methods of dealing with insurgencies have become more manpower intensive. Historically, a draft has never really been necessary in the small colonial wars customarily fought today. Previously, these problems were dealt with by simply rounding up all suspects, oftentimes with their families, and shooting them. One simply becomes more threatening than the insurgents. This is still practiced in parts of the world. However, in the western world, this clearly is not a politically viable option. So to persuade the populous, instead of becoming more violent than the guerillas, western armies now protect the population from the guerillas altogether. This has proven effective, but takes a lot more men to constantly protect every settlement in an entire country. The result has been a lot more strain on and constant deployment of the armed forces. These operations take much longer now, as the occupying force must now wait until the locals can get their own security up and running (and running in a politically acceptable way, not an easy task in less developed regions). The result has been constant deployment and the beginnings of what could almost be described as a military subculture. Ask any military official today, and they will relate concerns on problems they are having reintegrating military veterans back into a society of which they were removed for so long. Some organizations use this difficultly as an outright recruiting tool. The obvious solution would be a draft, but as was learned in Vietnam, using a draft outside of a serious conventional war is extremely unpopular, especially in a consumer society. Countries like Israel have only been able to maintain a draft so well due only to serious external threats to its existence. For now, in the western nations burdened by guerrilla wars, recruitment remains a constant problem. This is also a factor which has led to a more accepting military. Another effect has been the increasing prevalence of mercenaries (or private defense companies, as they are labeled today). In fact, private contractors now make up a huge portion the American military force in foreign occupations. Throughout history, when more men are needed to fight a colonial war, mercenaries are often used as a substitute for a draft, which may be either impossible or extremely unpopular. This is often indicative of overextension. Examples of this include the Romans in Germania, the British in America, or even the Americans in Iraq. Another solution is the increased use of unmanned aircraft and machines, although this is also part of the recent emphasis on technology, discussed below.
 .
Another recent trend in the military is the heavy emphasis on technology. In part, this perception is due simply to the fact that as our economy advances, technology advances with it and becomes cheaper. But this is only part of the reason. In many western countries, but primarily the United States, there exists an extremely powerful defense industry, referred to by President Eisenhower as the ‘Military Industrial Complex’. Without getting too political or naming specifics companies, it is clear that some large defense companies intentionally lobby congress and the pentagon for contracts and new weapons programs, no matter how redundant or unnecessary. Billions of dollars are spent on new programs which are only marginally more effective than their predecessors. However, problems like these not only find their root in overly powerful industry, but in electoral politics as well. It is a well understood fact that to entirely obliterate a large nation like the Soviet Union would require about 2000 thermonuclear weapons. The fact that the United States developed far more than this is a testament to the political power of phrases such as ‘missile gap’. The arms race with the Soviets reached the point where it was much more about politics and taking a hard stance towards the Russians, than it was about warfighting capabilities.
 .
Another important fact to recognize is that for the foreseeable future, long term industrial wars are not going to happen. There may still be conventional wars, but in this nuclear age, they will be quickly decided and a treaty will be made before things get out of hand. This knowledge that future conventional wars will be short has led most western militaries to develop extremely potent, but not quickly replaceable, military forces. The idea is that future wars will not last long enough to require the kind of vast industrial output of military machines seen in the past. The draft is seen as unnecessary. Now that nations have gained the ability to destroy an opponent’s industry almost instantly, the concept of long industrial wars is gone. Now that nuclear weapons have provided insurance against invaders to any state that can develop them, it seems the great struggles of annihilation have ended. Today, like in 18th century Europe, we live in an age of limited war. Instead of a mutual understanding between related nobles, there is the mutual understanding of annihilation. Perhaps, in some distant future, nations will develop a ‘nuclear shield’, which would reverse these ends, make industrial war and the draft real possibilities again, but for now this is but a pipe dream. It seems for now the great powers will have to live with one another.
 .
One interesting result of such a heavy emphasis on technology has been the creation of a vast ‘shadow army’ of individuals who make the military machine run. Many of today’s service men and women could be more likened to computer technicians than to any traditional idea of a warrior.**
In conclusion, the way the military is organized is, in the end a result of the society that fields it. It has changed vastly since the beginnings of society, and will probably continue to change with future developments. But the one thing that will always remain is war. It has followed man since the first crops were planted and the first walls were erected, as if to spite our hopes of a utopia. Fighting to improve his position is the natural instinct of man. What remains to be seen is whether or not this desire can sustain itself as we travel ever farther down the winding road of civilization.
 .
^Muammar Gaddafi has notoriously used mercenaries, as well as paramilitary groups from his own tribe, in attempt to reinstate control over Libya. Libya has advanced economically, especially in the east, and there has been a refusal by Gaddafi to expand political enfranchisement, even so much as to create a senate. This has inevitably led to revolution. To suppress this revolution, Gaddafi cannot use a regular army, equipped by volunteers, funded and led by business class citizens. In the east, he cannot use members of the political elite, the ‘nobility’ so to speak, because economic advancement there has seen a decline in the influence of such a class in favor of the new business class. He must use members of his own western ‘nobility’, and these forces are not sufficient to win. Thus, he must hire mercenaries to augment his forces, very similarly to many sixteenth century European monarchs, albeit for different reasons.
 .
*Mercenaries are often used to avoid giving military capability, thus leverage, to undesirable groups. This could be nobles as a state advances, but it could also be commoners as a state declines, as was the case in Rome. The Romans had previously used volunteer forces, but as their state declined economically, serfdom was actually reinstated in many areas, and this practice became dangerous.
 .
**It could be argued here that this doesn’t really deal with the political makeup of the military, but more the tactical composition. However, this trend has proven unique in its effects on military culture and has had political implications (mainly in regards to recruiting) and was thus seemed significant enough to include in this essay.