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Reviewed by:
  • Service to Country: Personnel Policy and the Transformation of Western Militaries
  • Robert L. Goldich
Service to Country: Personnel Policy and the Transformation of Western Militaries. Edited by Curtis Gilroy and Cindy Williams . Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-262-57235-4. Tables. Figures. Notes. Index. Pp. xiii, 497. $27.00.

This book will be extraordinarily useful to historians even though it is edited by an economist and mathematician, and has contributions from other economists, political scientists, military officers with specialized personnel policy experience—and few if any historians. It includes both topical and country-study chapters describing how military personnel policies and force structures have changed in NATO Europe and the United States since the end of the Cold War, with a proper central focus on the wholesale decline of conscription and the rise of voluntarily recruited forces. The changing demographics of affluent Western societies; the near 180-degree reversal in mission focus of Western militaries after the end of the Cold War; the particular difficulties of former Communist countries trying to shed one model of military manpower recruiting, management, and structuring for another—all are treated at length and with sophistication by both academics and practitioners. Throughout the book, these nonhistorians display considerable sensitivity for the central significance of historical background in how a country's military manpower system evolves, something that has been all too lacking in most previous economic, quantitative, and social-science analyses of military manpower issues.

The book further stimulates the reader by inviting thoughts about what it does not include, or what it provides minimal treatment of. The indelicate three-letter word "war" is not encountered often. There is an assumption that modern Western militaries will be doing peacekeeping, peace enforcement, peacemaking—dare one say peace-this or peace-that?—but rarely war. This has in fact turned out to be true (with the exception of, in most cases, the English-speaking Western democracies), but surely militaries which do not, or do not want to, wage war deserve deeper examination. This leads to perhaps the biggest omission of the book. There is virtually no mention, except for vague phrases such as "social change," about what has been characterized as the "decline of the warrior spirit" in the West. The "warrior spirit" is not just a desire to serve and the courage to risk one's own life. It involves the willingness to accept the moral responsibility of taking other people's lives; take satisfaction in one's ability to fight successfully; and to exult in one's triumph over one's enemies on the battlefield. A strong case can be made that this spirit has virtually evaporated in Western and Central Europe, and is also absent from various segments of the American population. Absent these qualities—the will to fight and kill, and inflict pain and suffering and death on one's enemies—programmatic, structural, and analytical changes in military manpower structures risk being irrelevant to the maintenance of effective armed forces. Here some historians, and perhaps others from the humanities, might have been helpful, to deal with the primordial, genetically hard-wired, and crude, yet vital and dynamic, aspects of why men fight—or why they don't.



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Print ISSN
pp. 1319-1320
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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