Are volunteers better fighters?

It seems so:

A voluntary army’s quality exceeds or falls below a drafted army’s average quality depending on whether selection is advantageous or adverse. Using a collection of data sets that cover the majority of the US Army soldiers during World War II, we test for adverse selection into the army. Rather, we find advantageous selection: volunteers and drafted men showed no significant difference in fatalities, but volunteers earned distinguished awards at a higher rate than drafted men, particularly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Analyses at the level of units concur with our findings based on enlistment records.

That is from a newly published article by Javier A. Birchenall and Thomas G. Koch, via Robin Hanson.


Also, the draft is slavery.

No, it is not. Military service is provision of a public good, not a private good.

Nothing exhibits throwing the baby out with the bath water better than a libertarian eschewing duty and responsibility.

What differences does a public vs. private good make? The pyramids and the Great Wall of China were public goods, but they were still built with slave labor.

The Great Wall was built by conscript labor. The Pyramids. To the best of our knowledge, were not.

"The Pyramids. To the best of our knowledge, were not."

They were to the knowledge of people who've read the Bible or are familiar with the history of the Jewish people

Tell us more about your favorite fantasy fiction!

About as credible as Herman Cain claiming they're grain silos.

Babies are a public good too, but there's a difference between offering families and mothers support through the tax system and directly conscripting women to give birth.

If self-selection into the volunteer army can be advantageous or adverse, I don't see why we assume that government selection into the conscripted army needs to be perfectly random. Conscription for Vietnam wasn't random in the slightest, and the soldiers in Vietnam were not representative of the US population. You can conscript high-quality soldiers if that's what you set out to do.

Data sets!

Did the researchers look at anything else?

Re: WWII draftees. My uncle John (RIP) was drafted before the war and was still in the lines at the end. He was assigned to the First Infantry Div. He saw action in North Africa, Sicily, and France from D-Day to VE Day. See the first 20 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" and see what that was. He never spoke of it much. My uncle Tom was similar. He was drafted and became a tank driver/gunner. He survived North Africa, Sicily, and Italy all the way to VE Day. He didn't talk about it much. They didn't get a MoH like Audie Murphy. They won the war.

Other factors affect combat arms (airborne, armor, artillery, infantry) performance. Equipment, leadership, tactics, doctrine, esprit d'corps, logistics, strategy, etc. One point of Atkinson's ETO WWII trilogy is how the leadership from battalion CO and up had to learn their business the hard way. The brass hats were still making mistakes (e.g., Huertgen Forest) at the end. Another factor, by the last years, the supply of men had declined and the Army (the Marines did not need to draft) and intellectual and physical standards were loosened.

I'll make no comment about the wonderful men I served with.

" . . . soldiers in Vietnam were not representative of the US population."

What were we representative of?

People who did not have bone spurs, for one.

Not people who stopped protesting as soon as the draft stopped.

People who didn't have the money or connections either to avoid service, or get assigned to Coast Guard or National Guard units that weren't sent to the war zone.

Higher quality men during WWII tended to go into the Navy (especially its aircraft carriers and submarines) and the Army Air Corps.

Irving Kristol had an amusing commentary on his fellow soldiers in WWII:

"In any case, my tepid loyalty to "democratic socialism" did not survive my experiences as an infantryman in the army. I entered military service with a prefabricated set of attitudes: The army was an authoritarian, hierarchical, mean-spirited, mindless machine--as later described by Norman Mailer in The Naked and the Dead--while the common soldiers, for all their human imperfections, represented the potential for a better future. Well, it turned out that, as a provincial from New York, I knew nothing about the American common man and even less about the army as an institution. Again and again, and to my surprise, I found reasons to think better of the army and less well of my fellow enlisted men. It is true that, since I was inducted in Chicago, my regiment was heavily populated by thugs or near-thugs from places like Cicero (Al Capone's old base), so my impressions may have been extreme. Nevertheless, my army experience permitted me to make an important political discovery: The idea of building socialism with the common man who actually existed--as distinct from his idealized version--was sheer fantasy, and therefore the prospects for "democratic socialism" were nil. The army may have radicalized Norman Mailer; it successfully de-radicalized me. It caused me to cease being a socialist."

Per you're comment above, my grandfather went into the Navy. C.S. Lewis once called many of the people working in the RAF during WWII "the intelligencia of the proletariat".

I think the upper end of the working class, those unburdened with white collar norms but intelligent enough not to act brutish, tend to be the most pleasant people to deal with. This class has shrunk as the SAT combed it and promoted its men of ability to white collar work, and indeed I became a professional instead of a union leader/pillar of the working community like my grandfather and father.

Amusing - according to Kristol, talking about his politics 5 decades ago, his definition of a 'democratic socialist' is to the right of an anti-communist Social Democrat (a philosophy which he actually is informed about, equating right wing Social Democrats to mainstream American 'liberals' of the time) - 'I then defined myself as a "democratic socialist," though this was a movement so intellectually placid and politically inert that I am convinced I always understood it to be a convenient transitional phase.'

Of course, in the decade since his death, this self-definition has nothing to do with whatever incoherent political philosophy that is the American idea of 'democratic socialism.' But then, back in the era Kristol was describing, the Democrats were the party of racial segregation and Jim Crow.

Almost as if quoting passages without context is intended for a different purpose than highlighting that Kristol's use of 'democratic socialist' has no meaning in a contemporary political discussion, at least if one takes Kristol's self-definition seriously.

Truth. Contemporary political discussion (Free Everything; Open Borders; Reparations; Transgender Rights; Gay Marriage; Climate Fraud; Racial Quotas; Orange Man Bad! Orange Man Made Me Cry!) has no meaning.

I would eagerly take Prior’s contemporary German social democracy over the smorgasbord of insanity on offer from the cohort of Democratic aspirants to the presidency. Except no the the million Middle Easterners (unless it’s on a temporary basis until they can go home).

the phrase "democratic socialism" is doing almost no work in Steve's quote. Perhaps you should get a job at the New York Times clockwork.

Well, true, the whole text, starting with 'In any case, my tepid loyalty to "democratic socialism"' is doing almost no work at all.

Which means that it seems entirely suitable for the NYT - which is a newspaper I waste no time reading at all. Though being put in charge of shutting it down could be an interesting job - imagine trying to find someone like David Brooks gainful employment outside of the NYT universe.

What a wonderful quote.

But I'd say from my military experience that things had changed substantially from Kristol's. While there were a fair amount of knuckleheads in the Army, most were goodly spirited oafs. And of course there were those of exceptional character among both enlisted and officer ranks. The All Volunteer Force removed miscreants and malcontents from service. It replaced them mainly with people who, at worst, were aimless and chasing benefits - minor mercenaries who needed a job but who were not looking to get rich. Many people who saw the Army as a job though set it ahead of other jobs because of its quality of service and patriotism. Many sought and received an ineffable quality of belonging, discipline, order, family, pride, duty, professionalism.

The Army today has come a long way from the regional units of the past. These still exist in the National Guard and Army Reserve, and we get the bitter with the sweet. These units can be highly cohesive, but they are also prone to corruption and cliquishness. Traditional regular army units are more of a melting pot.

I have many reasons to doubt this study. I've been in some units that give almost no awards and others that hand them out like candy. The former tend to be the better units - excellent service is expected and thus not deserving of medals. Therefore decorations are not necessarily an indication of true valor and service. Neither are casualties. High casualties often come from soldiers and units who are doing their jobs the best, but this is highly dependent on the current situation. They might be up against either a weak or strong force, in the main battle or the periphery. The author controls for none of this.

A valiant attempt, but unconvincing.

Thank you for your service.

Greet them (volunteer and conscript) ever with grateful hearts.

Can you e-mail this quotation to some of your palaeo buddies? You know the characters who keep insisting that Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz engineered the takeover of the Republican Party by Trotskyists?

I don't read anywhere in that quote that Irving Kristol has any affinity for people not from his socio-economic milieu and has any interest in conserving their way of life.

And therefore Trotskyists have taken over the Republican Party?

There's nothing in the paragraph about how much he values his wife either, so I guess he didn't give a rip about her.

And therefore Irving Kristol isn't a neo-conservative? You're overworking that quote.

volunteers earned distinguished awards at a higher rate than drafted men

Seems more like a signal of "Are volunteers more likely to do ostentatious, goddamn heroic shit?" or even "Are volunteers more likely to get recognized for doing ostentatious, goddamn heroic shit?", rather than "Are volunteers actually more effective fighters?"

A while back I was walking through an airport and saw a small display of various Medal of Honor recipients along with short descriptions of the actions that got them the award. I read all of them, about a dozen, and came away thinking that a lot of these guys must have had serious death wishes going in -- many of their (yes, extremely brave) achievements seem to have been volunteered suicide missions where they just somehow did not die.

Compare with the guy who free climbed El Capitan. Either by physiology or experience, he had a suppressed fear reaction. This likely not only made him more likely to attempt dangerous tasks but to succeed in them. Of course he is also more likely than the average person to die and his life expectancy is short.

From what I know of heroes, though, it is 50% opportunity. They find themselves in heroic situations often by chance, and they dont shrink in the face of it. They are often ordinary men doing extraordinary things. They are seldom John Rambo. If course the more thrill seeking, danger seeking, Rambo, or duty bound you are, the more heroic scenarios you seem to find. EMTs probably perform CPR hundreds of times more than the average person who had first aid classes.

One hundred years ago today, (draftee) Sgt. York was awarded his MoH.

Many MoH are post-humous.

Uncle George (RIP) was in Italy drafted into the same Texas infantry division as Audie Murphy. Murphy got the MoH and a battlefield commission, almost everybody he was with was KIA or WIA - not uncommon in Italy.

Just looking at a 303 Lee Enfield that was gifted to me by a friend of a friend, whose father used it throughout the Italian campaign. There were years of fierce fighting on the peninsula.

On the flip side, the all-volunteer force has much greater trouble reintegrating into society, with higher unemployment rates and higher levels of mental health issues, homelessness, and suicide. "[The all-volunteer force] is a huge asset to the nation’s ability to fight and win wars. But it comes with a price tag that must be paid when those troops return home. America has created a small warrior caste that that comes from a subset of society and can become further isolated from larger society after military service."

On the flip side, the all-volunteer force has much greater trouble reintegrating into society, with higher unemployment rates and higher levels of mental health issues, homelessness, and suicide.

[citation needed]

when I was fired from Google it was the first day of work. I had been hired as part of a group of agency account managers meant to work internally with agency trading desks. When the agency trading desks got wind of Google's account management plan, they hired their own inside sales people, to work for Google. Having read the trades, I knew something was amiss. Besides, my ankle was sprained, it was raining, and cloudy and when I went it, I told the manager, Greg, that this was bullshit. How could he fire us on our first day?

"volunteers earned distinguished awards at a higher rate than drafted men, particularly after the attack on Pearl Harbor": it had never occurred to me that there would have been any drafted men before the US's war started.

Who was so far-sighted as to bring that about?

Conscription began in this country in September 1940. You had other measures instituted during that 27 month period, e.g. Lend-Lease aid.

The draft was passed (by a narrow margin IIRC) about a year before Pearl Harbor, but after the war in Europe started Sept 1, 1939. It was pretty clear war was coming.

It's still pretty far-sighted. In Britain the opposition Labour Party didn't agree to approve of conscription until four days after the German attack on Poland.

It seems like a good general rule of thumb that people who want to do a job will be better at it than people who are forced to.

I believe Adam Tooze has popularized the statistic that German soldiers in WWII accounted for approximately 1.5 the casualties that their British and American counterparts did throughout the war. Seems germane.

When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of the rover.
From the Murry's green basin to the dusty outback,
I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915 my country said, "Son,
It's time to stop rambling, 'cause there's work to be done."
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war.

How well I remember that terrible day
When the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called suvla bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He showered us with bullets, he rained us with
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia

But the band played waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
And we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then it started all over again

• (Competence vs. Performance Chomsky, Methodical Preliminaries) (Substance ((kennen) as opposed to Essence ((wissen)). For example, in advertising, the customer’s intent is more important than their history.

Almost an entire century after the Nineteenth Amendment's adoption: where then are all of those missing volunteer "Women's Battalions of Death"?

TC's set-up here would have permitted (theoretically) the idea that women could volunteer (and in overwhelming numbers) for active military service: odd how that possibility continues to remain NO default position when the topic "volunteer military service" is raised, even as late as 2019.

In his book « The good war » , historian Paul Fussel, who served in Italy , wrote that when in front of officers and journalists, they extolled German bravery and blamed Italians cowardice. But between themselves, they admitted that Germans were idiots and that Italians understood that war was a cretinous idea that could get you killed and that dying for Mussolini ‘s glory was the worst business proposition ever devised.

Does this disparity in award frequency really show that volunteers fight better, or only that award-givers are more likely to give volunteers the benefit of the doubt in unclear situations? I would like to see what a comparison of casualty rates (of both the volunteers or draftees and their opponents) would tell us.

The experience of Major General William Techumseh Sherman over a range of methods used to provide soldiers for a bloody conflict was a bit different from the perspective of a commanding officer.

"But the real difficulty was, and will be again, to obtain an adequate number of good soldiers. We tried almost every system known to modem nations, all with more or less success —voluntary enlistments, the draft, and bought substitutes — and I think that all officers of experience will confirm my assertion that the men who voluntarily enlisted at the outbreak of the war were the best, better than the conscript, and far better than the bought substitute. When a regiment is once organized in a State, and mustered into the service of the United States, the officers and men become subject to the same laws of discipline and government as the regular troops. They are in no sense " militia," but compose a part of the Army of the United States, only retain their State title for convenience, and yet may be principally recruited from the neighborhood of their original organization. Once organized, the regiment should be kept full by recruits, and when it becomes difficult to obtain more recruits the pay should be raised by Congress, instead of tempting new men by exaggerated bounties. I believe it would have been more economical to have raised the pay of the soldier to thirty or even fifty dollars a month than to have held out the promise of three hundred and even six hundred dollars in the form of bounty. Toward the close of the war, I have often heard the soldiers complain that the " stay-at-home " men got better pay, bounties, and food, than they who were exposed to all the dangers and vicissitudes of the battles and marches at the front. The feeling of the soldier should be that, in every event, the sympathy and preference of his government is for him who fights, rather than for him who is on provost or guard duty to the rear, and, like most men, he measures this by the amount of pay. Of course, the soldier must be trained to obedience, and should be " content with his wages ; " but whoever has commanded an army in the field knows the difference between a willing, contented mass of men, and one that feels a cause of grievance. There is a soul to an army as well as to the individual man, and no general can accomplish the full work of his army unless he commands the soul of his men, as well as their bodies and legs. "

Memoir of General William T. Sherman, Vol II, pg 387.

I'm ex-enlisted mech infantry (1988-1992) and saw (very limited) combat during the Gulf War.
Interesting take from Sherman - significantly raise the pay of experienced troops over new recruits. Today's military should take that advice – especially for hard to fill jobs.

I saw numerous troops bail after their first enlistment - the pay just wasn't competitive for the long days and (possible) long deployments. This was especially true of the combat arms. You may as well drive a delivery truck.

Today, I’ve heard translators for certain languages are in short supply. Of course, pays scales are still dominated by rank – bonuses max out at maybe $7K per year for certain jobs. I can only conclude that the current military (and civilian leadership) are economically illiterate since jeopardizing readiness is so routinely accepted. Or they find solace in the current disfunctional personnel system due to their own shortcomings. Simple changes (like market rate bonuses) and allowing part time enlistments (for certain fields) would do wonders for readiness.

Tim Kane at Hoover has written about this – see his book “Bleeding Talent”. But he’s been panned by the establishment.

Turns out guys who want to be there do better than those who don't. Weird.

Yes i agree with that, A volunteer is someone who does work without being paid for it, because they want to do and it required honesty, dedication, hard work wtc.

Comments for this post are closed