"We're here to preserve democracy, not practice it."
- Crimson Tide

The Authoritarian Nature of Traditional Militaries

Traditional militaries have one person in charge of the whole thing, whether it's a commander in chief or a general that has decided to rebel (and take his troops with him against the government). The person at the top issues orders to his underlings, who then issue them to their underlings, and so on down the chain of command. In other words, it's a dictatorship.

The Network of Anarchists

How would an anarchist military work? (This is assuming they need a military in order to fight for some common cause, such as against capitalist / authoritarian invaders.) Instead of a general who decides on a strategy / tactic and then forcing everyone else to obey, the anarchist army works more like a network: there would be strategists everywhere in the network (basically anybody who feels she has something worthwhile to contribute) - each supplying their own tactics - some may be very similar, some not. There wouldn't be a chain of command - instead, each anarchist just thinks for himself, decides which tactic is the best to follow, and acts accordingly.

Action Within Free Societies

Human beings have evolved brains (or "were created with brains", if you prefer) so that each can think for himself - taken at the level of a society, it is similar to massive parallel processing. In a way, it is similar to how you decide to vote on various things - there's nobody in the chain of command ordering you to vote for this or that (and punishing you if you disobey). You judge for yourself the relative merits of something and then act based on your own thoughts. However, mere voting is a bit different from the "direct action" described above. For the voter, their actions end after the vote. For the anarchist deciding on the merits of a military tactic, her action would be based on the military tactic she believes to be most well thought out. Perhaps she will consult with her peers about the relative merits of any given tactic, perhaps she will believe she already has enough information to act and all she needs to do is contact the people who agree, so they can help each other carry out the strategy against their common foe.

Of course, like anything else, if she finds that she is alone in the tactic she chooses and can't accomplish it without the help of others, she has no right to force others to follow her - she will either have to do nothing, or select an alternate tactic that does have enough supporters to be effective.

Most militaries punish soldiers for being AWOL and for insubordination. If soldiers in a "traditional" military were free to voluntarily choose to disobey their commanders, then it would be much more like an anarchist or democratic one than an authoritarian one. The more punishments there are for disobedience within a military, the more the claim that it is a voluntary military is merely an illusion.

The Effectiveness of Decentralized Forces

There will always be anecdotal evidence of military defeats, successful or failed insurgencies, how one major military power lost one guerrilla war or another to a bunch of "ragtag jungle fighters". However, anecdotal evidence differs from scientific evidence because it can not take into account all the variables. For example, did all sides have the same number of fighters and equipment and only differed in organizational structure? Perhaps one side is still waiting to hear back from their higher ups about what to do (while unknown to them, the "head of the snake" has already been killed), while the other side has already made a decision by themselves. Perhaps the one side is demoralized by "stop loss" (perhaps to the point of fragging superiors) or being forced to join the military because they have no other job prospects, and thus is at a disadvantage - would that be considered a weakness of the military structure or an "external" weakness?

The Use of the Military on the Domestic Population

In a country, the people may vote for the head of state, who then appoints the military heads. However, you come down to a few single points of weakness - all you need to do is corrupt, blackmail, or otherwise compromise the head of state or general, and you endanger the entire country (as various military regimes around the world have illustrated). If all power didn't rest with a single authority, but were dispersed across the population, then you don't have single points of weakness - it is much less likely that anybody is going to choose to oppress himself.

Collective and Individual Morality

As a leftist, I'm often criticized for favoring the "good of the collective" over the "rights of the individual" when I call for employers to share more of their revenues with the employees who are actually doing the work, and who may often have their lives put at risk due to inadequate health care. If employees assume democratic control of a company, is the employer's life at risk? If the employer's life is at risk, should I draw a line between what is and what isn't acceptable behavior when balancing the "good of the collective" and the "rights of the individual"? If I don't draw a line at the point of the individual losing his life, then what line can you draw?

This is the question posed when the collective army orders individual soldiers to sacrifice their lives. If your collective has to force its people to lose their lives or otherwise face punishment, then is your society worth fighting for at all?

Related Nodes:
Anarchy is Order
decentralized democracy
Rear Echelon Mother Fucker

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