CIVILIAN MILITIAS AROUND THE WORLD
Many countries have fallen back on part-time volunteer forces in times of crisis, with some truly shaping their nation’s destiny
Organisations similar to the Local Defence Volunteers have existed in many nations throughout the course of history. Often arising, as in the case of the UK’S Home Guard, through a fear of invasion, they have also stemmed from a distaste for large standing armies.
In the fledgling United States, Patriot militia could be called upon whenever British or Loyalist forces appeared in a colony. Training and organisation was rudimentary at best, and George Washington, the commander-in-chief of American forces during the War of Independence, was scathing in his criticism of the system.
The militia, however, was the deciding factor in Britain’s defeat at Saratoga in 1777, which drew the French into the war as an ally of the Americans. It also plagued British forces in the southern colonies when the focus of the war switched in the later stages of the conflict.
A distrust of standing armies was also a motivating factor in 19th century Germany, where fear of invasion from France or Russia during the March Revolution of 1848–49 was another spur for the creation of citizen-based organisations. Requesting and receiving armament from the state, these men, numbering in the tens of thousands were variously referred to as ‘Communal Watch’, ‘Security Guard’ and ‘Citizen’s Militia’. Much like the Home Guard, these units never fulfilled their primary purpose, because there were no invasions for them to face up to, and the militias were disbanded in the summer of 1849.
In Australia, the Volunteer Defence Corps directly mimicked the Home
Guard, right down to the use of World
War I veterans and the limited duties of static defence, observation and guerrilla warfare training.
The need to mobilise the population in the face of an invasion was also the motivating factor behind the planning for a Volunteer Fighting Corps in Japan towards the end of World War II.
Initially envisaged as an unarmed civil defence system, the decision was later made to arm and form a militia. Japan’s large population might have seen millions of such fighters confront American invaders had the war not been ended by the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In Switzerland, civilian soldiers are the backbone of the military, with only a limited corps of full-time soldiers. The nation is traditionally neutral in wartime, but around 20,000 eligible males undergo an 18-week training course each year, before taking their place in the ranks of the Swiss Armed Forces. Each soldier is responsible for maintaining his own uniform, equipment and weapon, and much of this is kept at home. The number of men in the Swiss forces has steadily reduced in recent years and currently stands at around 100,000.