The Army needed legions, but society didn’t want them

Saturday, January 16th, 2021

Korea was the kind of war, T. R. Fehrenbach says (in This Kind of War), that since the dawn of history was fought by professionals — by legions:

It was fought by men who soon knew they had small support or sympathy at home, who could read in the papers statements by prominent men that they should be withdrawn. It was fought by men whom the Army — at its own peril — had given neither training nor indoctrination, nor the hardness and bitter pride men must have to fight a war in which they do not in their hearts believe.

The Army needed legions, but society didn’t want them. It wanted citizen-soldiers.


No one has suggested that perhaps there should be two sets of rules, one for the professional Army, which may have to fight in far places, without the declaration of war, and without intrinsic belief in the value of its dying, for reasons of policy, chessmen on the checkerboard of diplomacy; and one for the high-minded, enthusiastic, and idealistic young men who come aboard only when the ship is sinking.

The other answer is to give up Korea-type wars, and to surrender great-power status, and a resultant hope of order — our own decent order — in the world. But America is rich and fat and very, very noticeable in this world.

It is a forlorn hope that we should be left alone.


  1. The American Muse says:

    With all the references to Legionnaires and the need for them, why not have an American Foreign Legion?

    I’m not fully read on the history and the way the French did it, but it seems like they did a fairly good job of marrying a professional legion to modern, liberal, nationalist ideals.

    Such a legion could potentially thumb its nose at the soft-hearts and social tinkerers who want to mold the army to their own idiotic ends rather than preserving a sharp tool.

  2. bob sykes says:

    We have legions now. That’s all we have. All pros (mercenaries?). We’ve had them since the end of the Viet Nam war. And they do no better than the conscripts: Somalia 28 years, stalemate; Afghanistan 19 years, stalemate;Iraq, Syria, Libya … stalemate.

    Look again at that first one. Twenty eight years of abject failure. We’re fighting the grandchildren of Aidid, and we’re losing to them, too. The 600 plus SOCOM in Somalia might, maybe, sorta, kinda, never mind, be coming home. But the drones out of Djibouti will fly forever.

  3. Altitude Zero says:

    Agree up to a point, for all the criticism leveled at the old draftee army by our “professionals” today, they did manage to actually win a war once in a while. Yeah, I know, it’s mostly the politicians fault, for defining victory as “turning a deranged sh*thole country into Vermont”, but still, it’s really hard to see how the army of 1940-1973 would have done any worse.

    Fehrenbach wrote one of the best histories of the Korean War, according to guys who were there, but I’m not sure that a lot of his larger points hold up.

  4. Harry Jones says:

    All we have to do is control somewhere between one quarter to one half of the world, including our own country and its neighbors, while closely monitoring events everywhere else. Defense in depth.

    There is no city on a hill. We are not the solution to the world’s problems. But if we get our priorities straight we can be the solution to our own problems.

    Home court advantage. The idea of beating them before they get anywhere near our soil was very attractive to me in my neocon days, but it’s proven impractical. No more fighting wars clear on the other side of the planet. Let them be the ones with overextended lines of communication.

    I won’t go so far as to say let them invade the lower 48. But let’s at least fight them in our hemisphere.

  5. Swanic says:

    Setting aside the technological advances, the US military is vastly more professional and capable than it was at the start of the Korean War. Take the men and women in the service today and put them in Korea under MacArthur or Ridgway, and I think the Chinese are in for a much more difficult fight. That the modern US military hasn’t been able to “win” in Iraq or Afghanistan doesn’t say all that much, in my opinion. There hasn’t been a great power that has been able to “win” in Afghanistan for centuries. And the past 60 years have demonstrated that the US just doesn’t have the stomach required for counterinsurgency and nation building over the long haul. Still, in a stand up, conventional fight, the US military is well trained, disciplined, and tough in ways that the post-WWII US military obviously was not.

  6. Kirk says:

    “Somalia 28 years, stalemate; Afghanistan 19 years, stalemate;Iraq, Syria, Libya … stalemate.”

    It’s almost like “victory” isn’t one of the goals, isn’t it?

    Here’s the thing–All of us have been cozened by the con men. All of us. The point of the exercise isn’t to solve the world’s problems and help people. It is, instead, to enable and provide cover for the looting of the treasury in exactly the manner we now know it was done in Ukraine. Foreign “aid” kickbacks and do-nothing jobs for the family members of the politically connected. Our politicians are behaving like low-rent Mafiosi moving in on legitimate businesses and demanding “protection” money. What else was the BKK doing in Ukraine, other than shaking down the locals the way a mob goon would shake down a local businessman?

    Consider, for example, Somalia. What’s the root problem there? Utterly failed state. What can you do about it? Jack and Shit. About the only thing that would work would be to move in, turn the place into a colony, and utterly destroy the local culture such that the tribes and all the anarchistic tendencies of the population were wiped clean. And, it’d be a fool’s errand, because the same dysfunction would reappear the minute you left, just like it did when the Italians and Brits pulled out. Somalis aren’t a country, they’re a collection of tribes and gangs occupying a space on the map. Can’t fix that until they want to do something different, and that process won’t be anything other than ugly, no matter who does it. We do it, it’s genocide. They do it, it’s gonna be genocide, too–But, a self-inflicted one. Which do you want?

    Only people making money are the NGOs, which is something that ought to give anyone looking into it all a good deal of food for thought.

    With things like Afghanistan, you have to step back and ask yourself “Why is this still going on…?”. Me? I say “Follow the money…”.

    First principle of counter-insurgency is to deny the insurgents a safe refuge to operate from, and separate them from their foreign support. The Taliban, which is actually a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Pakistani ISI, has Pakistan as a funding source and refuge. While we pay Pakistan for the right to transit their territory to go fight the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    Think about that, for a minute. Everyone knows that Pakistan created and supports the Taliban. Everyone knows that Pakistan is their refuge, and that Pakistan is providing them with the money and materials to do the fighting, killing our troops in Afghanistan.

    This is the elephant in the room. Everyone knows this, yet nobody does anything about it. There hasn’t been a single flag-ranked corruptocrat in the entire Pentagon who has gone on record in Congress or the press pointing this fact out to the public or the press (who would never, ever publish such a thing, anyway…). Why is that? Why have none of these creepy political f**ks done the right thing, the thing demanded by their moral obligation to the troops they lead and the Republic they serve?


    Someone is making money off of it all, and probably the same damn way that they were from the Ukraine situation. That’s the only answer–Afghanistan exists as an issue and a place for American soldiers to be committed simply because it is a way for the nomenklatura to launder foreign aid money.

    Ask yourself why the Pakistani IT guys that were found to be working for Debby Wasserman-Schultz were never really investigated, prosecuted, or dealt with in any effective way. Why the f**k were they working for Congress in the first damn place? Why did the Democratic Party head hire them to do IT work at all?

    Connect the dots, people. It’s not that these wars are “unwinnable” or that the military is incapable of winning them, it’s that the politicians have figured out how to make money in the background by not winning these things. The more intractable, the less logical, and the less sensible, the better. They’ll be milking Afghanistan for the next half-century, and your kids will still be getting killed there for no rational reason–Other than enriching men like the BKK, and making the careers of creatures like Mattis.

    Oh, and BKK=Bidumb Krime Krewe, a nomenclature meant to avoid the attention of the web-scraping spiders that are likely to be looking for examples of wrongthink here in very short order. I suspect a lot of us are due for an instructional visit from the new American Stasi here in short order, so I’m doing my best to obfuscate and delay that.

  7. Richard Morchoe says:

    Jean-Jules Jusserand, the long-serving French Ambassador to the US in the first quarter of the 20th Century, observed about our country, “On the north, she has a weak neighbor; on the south, another weak neighbor, on the east, fish, and on the west, more fish.”

    Please, someone, a cogent reason we have to be bugging Russia in Ukraine or China in Taiwan?

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