A militia is a group of citizens organized to provide paramilitary service. The word can have four slightly different meanings:
- an official reserve army, composed of non-professional soldiers;
- the police in Russia or East European countries under communist rule;
- the entire able-bodied population of a state, which can be called to arms against an invading enemy, or;
- a private, non-government force, not necessarily directly supported or sanctioned by the government.
In any of these cases, a militia is distinct from a national regular army. It can serve to supplement the regular military, or it can oppose it, for example to resist a military coup. In some circumstances, the "enemies" against which a militia is mobilised are domestic political opponents of the government, such as strikers. In many cases the role, or even the existence of a militia, is controversial. For these reasons legal restrictions may be placed on the mobilisation or use of militia.
One of the most famous and ancient militia are the Swiss militia. It is not widely recognized, but Switzerland maintains, proportionally, the largest military force in the world, with more than twice as many active-duty soldiers per capita as the next-proportionally-largest force, in Israel, having a trained, mobilizable reserve militia of 36% of the total population. However, it should be noted that Switzerland has a long tradition of political and military neutrality.
For much of the history of England, the military was controlled by Parliament, which had access to the resources to maintain a standing army. At various times, The Crown and Parliament were in strong disagreement, but Parliament's economic ability to use the army was counterbalanced by the Crown's traditional ability to call out the militia. As long as the army's weapons were not radically more powerful than the militia's, this balance of power was effective.
The English Bill of Rights (1689) declared, amongst other rights:
- "That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law;"
- "That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law;"
Following the creation of large standing army, the word militia fell into disuse in the UK, although the concept remains in the form of the British Army's reserve force, the Territorial Army.
The early Puritan colonists of America considered the militia an important social structure, necessary to defend their colonies from Native American attacks. All able-bodied white males were expected to be members of the town militia.
In the American Revolutionary War, colonial militiamen or armed citizens agreed to turn out for service at a minute's notice. The term minutemen is used especially for the men who were enrolled (1774) for such service by the Massachusetts provincial congress. These were also known as the "valiant farmers" who fought against the British at Lexington and Concord.
The framers of the United States Constitution, in keeping with this tradition, gave Congress the power to "provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia," as well as, and in distinction to, the power to raise an army and a navy. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution may have been intended to formalize this balance between the "well-regulated" militia and organized military forces. Considerable controversy exists in the US over this amendment, however, and the ability of even a well-regulated militia to resist a modern army is not widely agreed upon. (See section regarding the efficacy of militias below.)
The current United States Code, Title 10 (Armed forces), section 311 (Militia: Composition and Classes), paragraph (a) states "The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard."
The National Guard is the largest of the organized state militia forces in the United States. The guard is under both federal and state control, and both the President of the United States and state governors can call upon it. Since the 2003 Invasion of Iraq many National Guard units have served overseas. This can lead to problems for states that also face internal emergencies while the Guard is deployed overseas. To address such issues, many of the states, such as New York and Maryland also have organized state militia forces or State Guards which are under the control of the governor of a state and used to augment the National Guard.
During some wars, both the suitability and effectiveness of the National Guard have been questioned, because of perceptions that personnel are often hastily, or not fully, trained for the roles they are asked to perform. For many decades, there were persistent allegations of nepotism and/or favoritism in the commissioning and assignment of officers. (See, for example, George W. Bush military service controversy.)
In Canada the word militia refers to the part-time army reserve component of the Canadian Armed Forces. Officers and soldiers in the militia train for one or two weekends a month and for two weeks a year. They can also volunteer for service with the regular forces including peacekeeping missions overseas.
Most Canadian cities have one or more militia units. Often these 'regiments' perpetuate famous Canadian regiments that are no longer required as part of the regular forces.
Militia was an alternate name for the Australian Citizens Military Forces (CMF), the reserve units of the Australian Army between 1901 and 1980. After Australian federation, the six former colonial militias were merged to form the CMF. Initially the CMF infantry forces formed the vast bulk of the Australian Army, along with standing artllery and engineer units.
The Defence Act of (1903) granted the Australian federal government the powers to conscript men of military age for home defence. However, these powers were unpopular and were used only for short periods at a time. The government was also forbidden by law from deploying the CMF outside Australian territories, or using it in strikes and other industrial disputes.
As a result of the ban on foreign service, and traditional ties to Britain, during World War I and World War II, all-volunteer Australian Imperial Forces were formed for overseas deployment. CMF units were sometimes scorned by AIF soldiers as "chocolate soldiers" or "chockos", because "they would melt under the pressure" of "real" military operations.
Nevertheless, Militia units distinguished themselves and suffered extremely high casualties in the South West Pacific Theatre of World War II, in New Guinea, which was then an Australian territory. In mid-1942 they fought in two significant battles: the exploits of the 39th (Militia) Battalion , many of them very young and poorly trained, in the rearguard action on the Kokoda Track are celebrated military achievements, as is the contribution of the 7th Militia Brigade at the Battle of Milne Bay.
Later in the war, the law was changed to allow the transfer of Militia units to the 2nd AIF, if 65% of the personnel had volunteered for overseas service. Another change allowed Militia units to serve anywhere south of the Equator in South East Asia. Consequently they also saw action against Japanese forces in the Dutch East Indies.
After the war, CMF units continued to form the bulk of the peacetime army, although with the creation of standing infantry units — such as the Royal Australian Regiment — from 1947, the regular army grew in importance. By 1980, when the name of the CMF was changed to the Army Reserve, the Regular Army was the more significant force.
US right wing militia
There are United States right wing political movements that calls themselves "citizens' militia", and are supposedly based on the common law concept of an armed citizenry. These are not formally linked to a state or Federal government, and often oppose the Federal government because of what they consider oppressive policies. In the western U.S. many Militants are opposed to illegal immigration, and several espouse white supremacy. This movement peaked in the early 1990s, and declined in popularity after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on April 19, 1995. The FBI has published its report on the militia movement and has determined that the movement is not a threat to the national security of the United States.
US survivalist movement
Independent survivalist paramilitary organizations maintaining weapons stockpiles and training grounds have become a subculture in the United States.
Many anti-US government "militias" developed within the United States during the 1970s and 1980s, and experienced wave of growth in the 1990s.
There is not a simple definition of how a group qualifies as a militia. However, the following general criteria can be used as a guideline: (1) a militia is a domestic organization with two or more members; (2) the organization must possess and use firearms; and (3) the organization must conduct or encourage paramilitary training. Other terms used to describe militias are Patriots and Minutemen.
Most militias engage in a variety of anti-government rhetoric, but are not anti-government, they are anti-repression. Because of their beliefs that the U.S. government is to varying degrees unlawful, or engaged in unlawful practices, their activities range from the protesting of government policies to the advocating violent and/or nonviolent revolution or the overthrow of the federal government.
However, the majority of militia groups are non-violent and only a small segment of the militias actually commit acts of violence to advance their political goals and beliefs. A number of militia leaders, such as Lynn Van Huizen of the Michigan Militia Corps-Wolverines, have gone to some effort to actively rid their ranks of radical members who are inclined to carry out acts of violence and/or terrorism. Officials at the FBI Academy classify militia groups within four categories, ranging from moderate groups who do not engage in criminal activity to radical cells which commit violent acts of terrorism.
Militia anxiety, paranoia and millenarianism relating to the year 2000 were based mainly on a political ideology, as opposed to religious beliefs. Many militia members believed that the year 2000 would lead to political and personal repression enforced by the United Nations and countenanced by a compliant U.S. government. This belief is commonly known as the New World Order (NWO) conspiracy theory. Other issues which have served as motivating factors for the militia movement include gun control, the incidents at Ruby Ridge (1992) and Waco (1993), the Montana Freemen Standoff (1996) and the restriction of land use by federal agencies. One can find numerous references in militia literature to military bases to be used as concentration camps in the NWO and visiting foreign military personnel conspiring to attack Americans.
Odinism is a popular alternative to Christianity among white separatist and racialist militias.
Left wing militia
The left wing militias generally consider themselves to be freedom fighters and run the gamut of left causes, from the national liberation movements under foreign occupation, to the various terrorist groups (e.g. the Red Brigades). As their funding and armament in the 20th century came almost entirely from the Soviet Union, Maoist China (1949-1976) and other Marxist-Leninist states, many of these organizations declined in their activities during the 1990s, as these governments fell or changed their nature.
Efficacy of militias against modern armies
As noted above, there is much disagreement about the ability of even the best organized militia to resist a modern regular army. However irregular forces do have several points in their favor, including familiarity with local terrain, dedication (assuming one's home is being threatened), entrenchment, and no obligation to fight "by the rules". The famed successes of Boer and American snipers against British volley fire during their respective wars for independence immediately come to mind.
In more modern times, during the Warsaw Uprising a handful of untrained and poorly armed Polish Jews held off an entire Wehrmacht division for roughly six weeks during the liquidation of that city's Ghetto. Although the uprising was eventually ended by artillery fire, the German 9th Army was able to accomplish very little throughout most of 1943 as a direct result of this action. Many modern observers have pointed out that the invasion of Poland took only three weeks, and speculate that such resistance early in the war could have stopped the Blitzkrieg in its mechanized tracks.
In the United States there were widespread fears of a Japanese invasion of the largely undefended West Coast. Some military experts at the time suggested entrenchment at the Mississippi River in case of such an invasion, on the assumption anything west of that point would be impossible to defend. Such an invasion never materialized, and there are rumors of uncertain authenticity suggesting that the Japanese feared "a rifle behind every clump of grass" -- a reference to the ubiquity of skill-at-arms in the American West at that time.
Furthermore, when an Allied invasion of Japan appeared to be imminent later in the war, the Japanese government began arming its populace with bamboo spears. Even to the well-armed and mechanized Allied forces, the prospect of facing such a foe was daunting, and played a major factor in the decision to use nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Switzerland's continued neutrality during World War II is often seen to be due to the well-armed and well-trained citizenry.
Even when militarily insignificant, irregular action can be highly effective as a demoralizing factor, as famously seen in Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, Algeria, etc....
List of militias
Some famous militia organisations:
Official army units
Last updated: 02-06-2005 23:54:11
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55