Professional armies have traditionally been far more disciplined, especially under the stress of longer-run warfare.
BUT that does not mean they have no turning points or breaking points. In Rome the professional, imperial guard, The Praetorian Guard, was highly disciplined and bore casualties well in the early years. But over the decades of imperial struggles and military in-breeding common to such armies largely cut off from the civil population, they became bored with routine, self-centered, arrogant, puffed up with their own importance, and started deposing and imposing emperors, forcing them to put more and more of the national wealth into the military and so on. The professional military became a tyrannical force no civilians could control, so it controlled them through their imposed emperors.
That was one of the crucial reasons the American Constitutionalists were so desperate to prevent the rise of a professional army in the U.S. The professional army and navy elites of West Point and Annapolis and their minor league schools for officers grew slowly with the growth of America’s imperial wars, but America relied on conscripts for mass armies, thus maintaining the civilian dilution of the professionals, until Nixon et al. moved to the professional army in the midst of rebellion by the conscripts and the conscripts to be.
There are always turning points and breaking points in military forces under the stresses of protracted warfare. Pros are better at hiding that, until it becomes so pervasive and most men feel so desperate that they quickly turn against wars and their elite officers who have failed them. When that happens, they feel far fewer restraints about rebelling than conscripts, especially when so many of them are from other nations and can escape to those if the rebellion fails.
I suspect from all the bits and pieces we can see that the U.S. imperial, professional army has turned against the war in Iraq very strongly and that is a crucial reason why the U.S. has retreated from the cities to the lonely 340 bases outside of them where they cannot be attacked easily and the men will have more time to booze and snooze and dream of girls back home. These are lonely bases and depression sets in. They will insist quietly on leaving those bases soon. The situation in Afpak is getting worse and worse and will likely follow the same pattern. The depressed professionals will insist on getting out, quietly unless their more insistent demands are not met. The growing financial crisis will also force the U.S. to curtail these trillion dollar a year military losses.
The Romans finally built a defensive wall across Britain and drew a line along the German rivers and other natural defense positions and declared an end to the long advance into Europe. They went over to the defensive and slowly but relentlessly retreated back toward Rome itself, then fled pall mall as the ever stronger “barbarians” broke through their defenses and finally sacked Rome itself.
The professionalization of an army is a clear signal that the civilian population has turned away from the imperial wars and is no longer willing to suffer to advance the imperial cause. The U.S. did it as an act of desperation as the army fell apart in Vietnam and the conscripts-to-be rioted in the streets and universities and fled to other nations not at war.
Today only a tiny fraction of America’s elite young people would be willing to go into the military to fight imperial wars around the world. Almost all of them who do insist on being highly rewarded officers who move up the line fast and retire in twenty years with mucho loot. The ranks are filled with people who have few prospects in civilian society. They look ferocious in their armor with vastly superior fire power, but they are crumbling from inside because, aside from the sociopathic killers who love the gore and narcissistic sense of glory and power it gives them, most of them have weaker and weaker motivation to really “serve.” They want to be paid more and more for less and less, like America’s professional doctors, politicians, teachers, police, firemen, bankers, and all the other bureaucratic slackers whose hearts are not in the bureaucratic life. The same people who risk death and total exhaustion on the weekend to do impossible things with joy and no pay become depressed androids when Monday morning comes around.
The American Empire is crumbling inside the professionalized, android armies living in lonely and hellish quagmires in the deserts of the world. The American professionals are also crumbling from the inside in America. The whole Imperial System is crumbling from the inside out, as everyone insists on doing less and less for the society — the SYSTEM — for more and more money and power. The Empire is crumbling away from the inside out. The whole society will do the same unless this deadening Bureaucratic System is scrapped and the androids are allowed to become human beings once again.
The American plutocrats and top bureaucrats built the Empire. The American people have always loathed empires and, once they become aware they are spear carriers for this ghastly Empire that is losing its soul in every way, they quit, first inside and then more and more in open flight or rebellion.
The Psych problems of the American professional armies in these imperial wars is horrific. They will not put up with much more of this terrible stress.
Jack D. Douglas [send him mail] is a retired professor of sociology from the University of California at San Diego. He has published widely on all major aspects of human beings, most notably The Myth of the Welfare State.