A militia // generally is an army or other fighting unit that is composed of non-professional fighters, citizens of a nation or subjects of a state or government who can be called upon to enter a combat situation, as opposed to a professional force of regular, full-time military personnel, or historically, members of the warrior nobility class (e.g., knights or samurai). Unable to hold their own against properly trained and equipped professional forces, it is common for militias to engage in guerrilla warfare or defense instead of being used in open attacks and offensive actions.
With the emergence of professional forces in the Renaissance, Western European militias wilted; later however, they would be revived as part of Florentine civic humanism, which held that professional militaries were a result of corruption, and admired the Roman model. The civic humanist ideal of the militia was spread through Europe by the writings of Niccolò Machiavelli (According to Hörnqvist, The Prince, ch. 12 and 13, Discourses on Livy, and The Art of War.)
Beginning in the late 20th century, some militias (in particular officially recognized and sanctioned militias of a government) act as professional forces, while still being "part-time" or "on-call" organizations. For instance, the members of some U.S. Army National Guard units are considered professional soldiers, as they are trained to maintain the same standards as their "full-time" (active duty) counterparts.
- Forces engaged in defense activity or service, to protect a community, its territory, property, and laws.
- The entire able-bodied population of a community, town, county, or state, available to be called to arms.
- A subset of these who may be legally penalized for failing to respond to a call-up.
- A subset of these who actually respond to a call-up, regardless of legal obligation.
- A private, non-government force, not necessarily directly supported or sanctioned by its government.
- An irregular armed force enabling its leader to exercise military, economic, and political control over a subnational territory within a sovereign state (See: Warlord).
- An official reserve army, composed of citizen soldiers. Called by various names in different countries, such as the Army Reserve, National Guard, or state defense forces.
- The national police forces in several former communist states such as the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries, but also in the non-aligned SFR Yugoslavia. The term was inherited in Russia and other former CIS countries, where they are known as militsiya.
- In France the equivalent term "Milice" has become tainted due to its use by notorious collaborators with Nazi Germany.
- A select militia is composed of a small, non-representative portion of the population, often politicized.
Militia derives from Latin roots:
- miles /miːles/ : soldier
- -itia /iːtia/ : a state, activity, quality or condition of being
- militia /mil:iːtia/: Military service
The word militia dates back to at least 1590 when it was recorded in a book by Sir John Smythe, Certain Discourses Military with the meanings: a military force; a body of soldiers and military affairs; a body of military discipline
Buenos Aires, which was by then the capital of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, was attacked during the British invasions of the Río de la Plata. As regular military forces were insufficient to counter the British attackers, Santiago de Liniers drafted all males in the city capable of bearing arms into the military. These recruits included the criollo peoples, who ranked low down in the social hierarchy, as well as some slaves. With these reinforcements, the British armies were twice defeated. The militias became a strong factor in the politics of the city afterwards, as a springboard from which the criollos could manifest their political ambitions. They were a key element in the success of the May Revolution, which deposed the Spanish viceroy and began the Argentine War of Independence. A decree by Mariano Moreno derogated the system of promotions involving criollos, allowing instead their promotion on military merit.
The Argentine Civil War was waged by militias again, as both federalists and unitarians drafted common people into their ranks as part of ongoing conflicts. These irregular armies were organized at a provincial level, and assembled as leagues depending on political pacts. This system had declined by the 1870s, mainly due to the establishment of the modern Argentine Army, drafted for the Paraguayan War by President Bartolome Mitre. Provincial militias were outlawed and decimated by the new army throughout the presidential terms of Mitre, Sarmiento, Avellaneda and Roca.
Armenian militia, or fedayi played a major role in the independence of various Armenian states, including Western Armenia, the First Republic of Armenia, and the currently de facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Armenian militia also played a role in the Georgia-Abkhazia War of 1992–1993.
In the Colony of New South Wales Governor Lachlan Macquarie proposed a colonial militia but the idea was rejected. Governor Ralph Darling felt a mounted police force was more efficient than a militia. A military volunteer movement attracted wide interest during the Crimean War. Following Federation, the various military reserve forces of the Commonwealth of Australia became the Citizen Military Force (CMF).
A citizens' militia modeled on the British Home Guard called the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) was founded by the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) in 1940 in response to the possibility of a Japanese invasion of Australia. In the beginning members didn't have uniforms and often paraded in business attire. They were given instruction on guerrilla warfare, and later the private organization was taken over by the Australian Government and became part of the Australian Military Forces (AMF). The government supported the organization and equipped them with anti-aircraft artillery; however, they were disbanded by the end of World War II due to the fact that there was no longer a significant threat to national security.
After World War I, multiple militias formed as soldiers returned home to their villages, only to find many of them occupied by Slovene and Yugoslav forces. Especially in the southern province of Carinthia the Volkswehr (Peoples Defense Force) was formed, to fight the occupant forces.
During the First Republic, similar to the development in Germany, increasing radicalization of politics led to certain paramilitary militias associating with certain political parties. The Heimwehr (German: Home Defense) became affiliated with the Christian Social Party and the Republikanischer Schutzbund (German: Republican Defense League) became affiliated with the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Austria. Violence increasingly escalated, breaking out during the July Revolt of 1927 and finally the Austrian Civil War, when the Schutzbund was defeated by the Heimwehr, police, Gendarmerie and Austrian Armed Forces.
After World War II the Austrian Armed Forces (Bundesheer) were reestablished as a conscript military force. A basic part of it is the milita, which is a regular reservists force of the Bundesheer, comparable to the national guard units of the United States. The conscript soldiers of the milita have to store their military equipment at home, to be mobilized quite fast within a few days in case of emergency. The system was established during the Cold War and still exists, but the members of the militia now are volunteers only.
In Canada the title "Militia" historically referred to the land component of the armed forces, both regular (full-time) and reserve. The earliest Canadian militias date from the beginning of the French colonial period. From 1760s to the 1860s, local militia units were used to support British Army units stationed in Canada. From 1867 to 1880s, the departure of British forces in Canada meant militia units were the only army available on Canadian soil. In 1940 the Permanent Active Militia and Non-Permanent Active Militia were renamed to become the Canadian Army. The term Militia continued from then to the present day to refer to the part-time army reserve component of the Canadian Forces. Currently, Militia troops usually train one night a week and every other weekend of the month, except in the summer. Summertime training may consist of courses, individual call-outs, or concentrations (unit and formation training of one to two weeks' duration). In addition, Primary Reserve members are increasingly used for voluntary service as augmentation to the regular force overseas—usually NATO or United Nations missions. Most Canadian cities have one or more militia units. Since the mid-1990s, the term Militia has all but vanished in favour of the term Primary Reserve.
China's current militia falls under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and forms part of the Chinese armed forces. Under the command of the military organs, it undertakes such jobs as war preparation services, security and defense operational tasks and assistance in maintaining social order and public security.
Historically, militias of varying levels of ability have existed in China, organized on a village and clan level, especially during periods of instability and in areas subject to pirate and bandit attack. When the British attempted to take control of the New Territories in 1898, they were resisted by the local militias which had been formed for mutual defence against pirate raids. Although ultimately defeated, the militias' dogged resistance convinced the British to make concessions to the indigenous inhabitants allowing them to preserve inheritance, property and marriage rights and customs throughout most of the period of the British rule.
Cuba has three militia organizations: The Territorial Troops Militia (Milicias de Tropas Territoriales) of about one million people (half women), the Youth Labor Army (Ejército Juvenil del Trabajo) devoted to agricultural production, and a naval militia. Formerly, there existed the National Revolutionary Militias (Milicias Nacionales Revolucionarias), which was formed after the Cuban Revolution and initially consisted of 200,000 men who helped the 25,000 strong standing army defeat counter-revolutionary guerillas.
The Danish Home Guard (Danish: Hjemmeværnet) (HJV) is the fourth service of the Danish military. It was formerly concerned only with the defence of Danish territory but, since 2008, it has also supported Danish international military efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. There are five branches: Army Home Guard, Naval Home Guard, Air Force Home Guard, Police Home Guard, and Infrastructure Home Guard.
The Danish Militia played a major role in repelling the Swedish attackers during The assault on Copenhagen in 1659.
The Omakaitse (Home Guard) was an organisation formed by the local population of Estonia on the basis of the Estonian Defence League and the forest brothers resistance movement active on the Eastern Front between 3 July 1941 and 17 September 1944. This arrangement was unique in the context of the war as in Latvia, which otherwise shared a common fate with Estonia, there was no organisation of this kind.
The first notable militia in French history was the resistance of the Gauls to invasion by the Romans until they were defeated by Julius Caesar. Centuries later, Joan of Arc organized and led a militia until her capture and execution in 1431. This settled the succession to the French crown and laid the basis for the formation of the modern nation of France. During the French Revolution the term levée en masse came into use. At the time of the Franco-Prussian War, the Parisian National Guard, which had been founded during the time of the French Revolution, engaged the Prussian Army and later rebelled against the Versailles Army under Marshal McMahon.
Under German occupation during World War II, a militia usually called the French Resistance emerged to conduct a guerrilla war of attrition against German forces and prepare the way for the D-Day Allied Invasion of France. The Resistance militia were opposed by the collaborationist French Militia—the paramilitary police force of the German puppet state of Vichy.
Freikorps (German for "Free Corps") was originally applied to voluntary armies. The first freikorps were recruited by Frederick II of Prussia during the Seven Years' War. These troops were regarded as unreliable by regular armies, so they were mainly used as sentries and for minor duties. During the Napoleonic occupation, organizations such as the Lutzow Freikorps fought against the occupiers and later joined the allied forces as regular soldiers.
However, after 1918, the term was used for nationalist paramilitary organizations that sprang up around Germany as soldiers returned in defeat from World War I. They were one of the many Weimar paramilitary groups active during that time. They received considerable support from Gustav Noske, the German Defence Minister who used them to crush the Spartakist League with enormous violence, including the murders of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on January 15, 1919. Militia were also used to put down the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919. They were officially "disbanded" in 1920, resulting in the ill-fated Kapp Putsch in March 1920. The Einwohnerwehr, active in Germany from 1919 to 1921 was a paramilitary citizens' militia consisting of hundreds of thousands of mostly former servicemen. Formed by the Prussian Ministry of the Interior on April 15, 1919, to allow citizens to protect themselves from looters, armed gangs, and revolutionaries, the Einwohnerwehr was under the command of the local Reichswehr regiments, which supplied its guns. In 1921, the Berlin government dissolved the Einwohnerwehr. Many of its members went on to join the Nazi Party.
In 1921 the Nazi Party created the Sturmabteilung (SA; Storm Detachment; Brownshirts), which was the first paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party and served as a Nazi militia whose initial assignment was to protect Nazi leaders at rallies and assemblies. The SA also took part in street battles against the forces of rival political parties and violent actions against Jews. From the SA sprung the Schutzstaffel (SS; Protective Squadron) which grew to become one of the largest and most powerful groups in Nazi Germany, which Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler (the leader of the SS from 1929) envisioned as an elite group of guards. The Waffen-SS, the military branch of the SS, became a de facto fourth branch of the Wehrmacht.
In 1944–1945, as World War II came to a close in Europe, the German high command deployed increasing numbers of Volkssturm units to combat duties. These regiments were composed of men, women and children too old, young or otherwise unfit for service in the Wehrmacht (German Regular Army). Their primary role was assisting the army with fortification duties and digging anti-tank ditches. As the shortage of manpower became severe, they were used as front line infantry, most often in urban settings. Due to the physical state of members, almost non-existent training and shortage of weapons, there was not much the Volkssturm could do except act like shields for regular army units. However, armed with Panzerfausts and deeply entrenched, a unit of Volkssturm could cause serious trouble for Soviet armor.
The Basij militia founded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in November 1980 is composed of 10,000 regular soldiers. It ultimately draws from about 11 million members, and is subordinate to the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Several armed militia groups are presently active in Iraq. The Mehdi Army is a sectarian armed force created by the Iraqi Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in June 2003. The Badr Organization is based in and around Karbala. The Anbar Salvation Council is a Sunni armed group in Iraq formed by members of baathist and nationalist elements to fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, is estimated to number upwards of 500,000.
The Awakening Councils or "concerned citizens" are emerging to defend their neighborhoods against insurgents of every kind, functioning as a form of vigilante "militia" similar to the model of militia in the US.
The earliest historical record of militia is found in the Old Testament and particularly the Book of Judges. In modern times, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is often described as a heavily armed militia, not a full-fledged army, since it is legally and publicly viewed as a defensive force only, and since it relies heavily on the reserve duty of Israeli citizens who are annually called to service for set periods of time, rather than on professional, full-time soldiers. Israeli settlements in frontier ares such as the Galilee, Negev, Judea and Samaria rely on armed militia teams for their security . National service conscripts can also serve in the Israel Border Police (commonly known by its Hebrew abbreviation Magav which means border guard in Hebrew), which is a paramilitary branch of the Israel Police rather than the IDF.
Since the fall of Gaddafi's rule of Libya in the aftermath of the Libyan Civil War, rebel groups that have contributed to the revolution splintered into self-organized militia movements and have been involved in a feud for control of each city. Since the revolution, reports of clashes and violence by militia groups have been increasing.
The Free-Colored Militia, interracial militias of New Spain, Colonial Mexico.
From the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 until 1844 small detachments of British Imperial troops based in New Zealand were the only military. This changed as a result of the Flagstaff War, with the colonial government passing a Militia Act on 25 March 1845. Militia units were formed in Auckland, Wellington, New Plymouth, and Nelson. Service in the militia was compulsory.
Many localized militia saw service, together with British Imperial troops, during the New Zealand land wars. The militia were disbanded and reformed as the Territorial Army in 1911.
The Worker-Peasant Red Guards is a North Korean paramilitary organization organized on a provincial/town/city/ village level.
Militias have played an important role supporting Pakistan's Military since the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 when Pakistan, with the support of militias, was able to gain control of the region which is now known as Azad Kashmir. Pakistan found the militias volunteering to participate in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965 and the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 quite useful as well.
Article XVI, Section 4 of the Philippines Constitution states: "The Armed Forces of the Philippines shall be composed of a citizen armed force which shall undergo military training and serve as may be provided by law."
Portugal had a long tradition in the use of militias for national defense. Between the 12th century and the 16th century, the municipal militias – composed of pikemen, horsemen, crossbowmen and latter arquebusiers – constituted the main component of the Portuguese Royal Army, together with smaller military forces from the King, the military orders and the feudal lords.
After some failed previous attempts, in 1570, King Sebastian of Portugal created the Ordenanças, a military territorial organization centrally managed that would replace the municipal militias and became the basis of a national army. After 80 years of foreign domination (1580–1640), the Ordenanças were reorganized for the Portuguese Restoration War. The Portuguese Army was then organized in three lines, with the 2nd and 3rd being militia forces. The Ordenanças became the 3rd line and acted both as a territorial draft organization for the 1st and 2nd line troops and as a kind of home guard for local defense. The 2nd line was made of the auxiliary troops, also militia units with the role of regional defense. In the end of the 18th century, the auxiliary troops were renamed "Militias".
In the Peninsular War, the Militia regiments and the Ordenanças units had an important role in the defense of the country against the Napoleonic invader army. Still in the 19th century, the Militia units also had an important role in the Liberal Wars, with the majority of those troops fighting on the side of King Michael. Besides the regular militias, a number of volunteer militia units were formed to fight on both sides of the war.
With the establishment of the constitutional regime, the old Militias and Ordenanças were replaced by a single national militia force, the National Guard. However, the National Guard revealed itself an ineffective and undisciplined force. Their units became highly politicized, being involved in a number of conspiracies and coups. The National Guard having less and less confidence on the part of the authorities, ended to be extinct in 1847, terminating a long tradition of national militias in Portugal.
During the 20th century, some experiments with militia type forces were made. From 1911 to 1926, the Portuguese Army was organized as a militia army. Also, in 1936, the Estado Novo regime created the Portuguese Legion as a political volunteer militia, dedicated to the fight against the enemies of country and of the social order. From the World War II, the Portuguese Legion assumed the responsibility for the civil defense, this becoming its main role during the Cold War, until its extinction in 1974.
Russia and the Soviet Union
Neither the Russian Empire, nor the Soviet Union ever had an organised force that could be equated to a militia. Instead a form of organisation that predated the Russian state was used during national emergencies called Narodnoe Opolcheniye (People's Regimentation). More comparable to the English Fyrd, it was a popular voluntary joining of the local полк polk, or a regiment, though it had no regular established strength or officers, these usually elected from prominent local citizens. Although these spontaneously created popular forces had participated in several major wars of the Russian Empire, including in combat, they were not obligated to serve for more than one year, and notably departed for home during the 1813 campaign in Germany. On only one occasion, during the military history of the Soviet Union, the Narodnoe Opolcheniye was incorporated into the regular forces of the Red Army, notably in Leningrad and Moscow.
The term Militsiya in Russia and former Communist Bloc nations was specifically used to refer to the civilian police force, and should not be confused with the conventional western definition of militia. The term, as used in this context, dated from post-revolutionary Russia in late 1917 and was intended to draw a distinction between the new Soviet law enforcement agencies and the disbanded Tsarist police. In some of these states militia was renamed back to police (Bulgaria, Poland, Georgia, Ukraine) while in the other states it remains (Belarus). In Russia it was renamed to Police (in Russian: Полиция, Politsiya) in March 2011.
The first militias formed in Sri Lanka were by Lankan Kings, who raised militia armies for their military campaigns both within and outside the island. This was due to the reason that the Kings never maintained a standing army instead had a Royal Guard during peace time and formed a militia in wartime.
When the Portuguese who were the first colonial power to dominate the island raised local militias under the command of local leaders known as Mudaliyars. These militias took part in the many Portuguese campaigns against the Lankan Kings. The Dutch continued to employ these militias but due to their unreliability tended to favor employing Swiss and Malay mercenaries in their campaigns in the island.
The British Empire then ousted the Dutch from the coastal areas of the country, and sought to conquer the independent Kandyan Kingdom. In 1802, the British became the first foreign power to raise a regular unit of Sinhalese with British officers, which was named the 2nd Ceylon Regiment, also known as the Sepoy Corps. It fought alongside British troops in the Kandyan wars. After the Matale Rebellion led by Puran Appu in 1848, in which a number of Sinhalese recruits defected to the side of the rebels, the recruitment of Sinhalese to the British forces was temporarily halted and the Ceylon Regiments disbanded.
In 1861, the Ceylon Light Infantry Volunteers were raised as a militia, but soon became a military reserve force. This became the Ceylon Defence Force in 1910 and consisted of militia units. These were the Colombo Town Guard and the Town Guard Artillery formed during the two world wars.
With the escalation of the Sri Lankan Civil War, local villagers under threat of attack were formed into localized militia to protect their families and homes. According to the Sri Lankan Military these militias were formed after "massacres done by the LTTE" and in the early 1990s they were reformed as the Sri Lankan Home Guard. In 2007 the Home Guard became the Sri Lanka Civil Security Force. In 2008, the government called for the formation of nearly 15,000 civil defence committees at the village level for additional protection.
In 2004, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam claimed have establish a voluntary "Tamil Eelam auxiliary force". According to the LTTE's then head of police, the force was to be assigned to tasks such as rehabilitation, construction, forest conservation and agriculture, but would also be used to battle the Sri Lankan military if the need arose. In early 2009 it ceased to exist with the military defeat of the LTTE at the hands of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces.
The Janjaweed militia consists of armed Arab Muslims fighting for the government in Khartoum against non-Arab Muslim "rebels". They are active in the Darfur region of western Sudan and also in eastern Chad. According to Human Rights Watch these partisans are responsible for abuses including war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
As of 2012, the Swedish Home Guard consists of 22,000 organized into 40 light infantry battalions of 300–700 Guardsmen. These battalions are then organised into companies, usually one for every municipality. The main task of the battalions is to guard vital military and civilian installations throughout the country.
In 2001, the Rapid Response units numbered around 5,000 soldiers of the total of 42,000. As of 2014, the majority of the force, 17,000 out of 22,000 soldiers will be in Rapid Response units. The decrease in number of troops comes with an equal increase in quality and modern equipment. These units are motorized and are ready to be mobilized more often, than other Home Guard units. Rapid response units have more combat tasks compared to the rest of the Home Guard, including escort duties. Some battalions located near the coast also have marine companies equipped with Combat Boat 90. A few battalions have recently set up 'specialized' companies to evaluate the possibility to add new abilities to the Home Guard. These are at the time of writing eight reconnaissance/intelligence companies, four CBRN-platoons, a movcon platoon, an engineer platoon, and a military police unit.
One of the best known and ancient militias is the Swiss Armed Forces. Switzerland has long maintained, proportionally, the second largest military force in the world, with about half the proportional amount of reserve forces of the Israeli Defense Forces, a militia of some 33% of the total population. Article 58.1 of the April 18, 1999, Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation (official, French version) provides that "Switzerland has an army. It is primarily organised according to the principle of a militia." However, under the country's militia system, professional soldiers constitute about 5 percent of military personnel. In 1995, the number of soldiers was reduced to 400,000 (including reservists, amounting to some 5.6% of the population) and again in 2004, to 200,000 (including 80,000 reservists, or 2.5% of the population). However, the Swiss Militia continues to consist of most of the adult male population (with voluntary participation by women) who are required to keep an assault rifle at home and to periodically engage in combat and marksmanship training. The militia clauses of the Swiss Federal Constitution are contained in Art. 59, where it is referred to as "military service" (German: Militärdienst; French: service militaire; Italian: servizio militare; Romansh: servetsch militar).
The Syrian National Defense Force was formed out of pro-government militias. They receive their salaries and their military equipment from the government and as of 2013 numbers around 100,000. The force acts in an infantry role, directly fighting against rebels on the ground and running counter-insurgency operations in coordination with the army which provides them with logistical and artillery support. Unlike the Syrian Army, NDF soldiers are allowed to take loot from battlefields, which can then be sold on for extra money.
The obligation to serve in the militia in England derives from a common law tradition, and dates back to Anglo-Saxon times. The tradition was that all able-bodied males were liable to be called out to serve in one of two organisations. These were the posse comitatus, an ad hoc assembly called together by a law officer to apprehend lawbreakers, and the fyrd, a military body intended to preserve internal order or defend the locality against an invader. The latter developed into the militia, and was usually embodied by a royal warrant. Service in each organisation involved different levels of preparedness.
16th and 17th centuries
With the decay of the feudal system and the military revolution of the sixteenth century, the militia began to become an important institution in English life. It was organized on the basis of the shire county, and was one of the responsibilities of the Lord Lieutenant, a royal official (usually a trusted nobleman). Each of the county hundreds was likewise the responsibility of a Deputy Lieutenant, who relayed orders to the justices of the peace or magistrates. Every parish furnished a quota of eligible men, whose names were recorded on muster rolls. Likewise, each household was assessed for the purpose of finding weapons, armour, horses, or their financial equivalent, according to their status. The militia was supposed to be mustered for training purposes from time to time, but this was rarely done. The militia regiments were consequently ill-prepared for an emergency, and could not be relied upon to serve outside their own counties. This state of affairs concerned many people. Consequently, an elite force was created, composed of members of the militia who were prepared to meet regularly for military training and exercise. These were formed into trained band regiments, particularly in the City of London, where the Artillery Ground was used for training. The trained bands performed an important role in the English Civil War on the side of parliament, in marching to raise the siege of Gloucester (5 September 1643). Except for the London trained bands, both sides in the Civil War made little use of the militia, preferring to recruit their armies by other means.
Militia in the British Empire
As successful English settlement of North America began to take place in 1607 in the face of the hostile intentions of the powerful Spanish, and of the native populations, it became immediately necessary to raise militia amongst the settlers. The militia in Jamestown saw constant action against the Powhatan Federation and other native polities. In the Virginia Company's other outpost, Bermuda, fortification began immediately in 1612. A Spanish attack in 1614 was repulsed by two shots fired from the incomplete Castle Islands Fortifications manned by Bermudian Militiamen. In the Nineteenth century, Fortress Bermuda would become Britain's Gibraltar of the West, heavily fortified by a Regular Army garrison to protect the Royal Navy's headquarters and dockyard in the Western Atlantic.
In the 17th Century, however, Bermuda's defence was left entirely in the hands of the Militia. In addition to requiring all male civilians to train and serve in the militia of their Parish, the Bermudian Militia included a standing body of trained artillerymen to garrison the numerous fortifications which ringed New London (St. George's). This standing body was created by recruiting volunteers, and by sentencing criminals to serve as punishment. The Bermudian militiamen were called out on numerous occasions of war, and, on one notable occasion, to quell rioting privateers. The 1707 Acts of Union made Bermudian and other English militiamen British.
In British India, a special class of militia was established in 1907. This took the form of the Frontier Corps, which consisted of locally recruited full-time auxiliaries under British officers. Their role combined the functions of tribal police and border guards deployed along the North-West Frontier. Regional units included the Zhob Militia, the Kurram Militia, and the Chagai Militia. After 1946 the Frontier Corps became part of the modern Pakistan Army.
Up until the Glorious Revolution in 1688, the Crown and Parliament were in strong disagreement. The English Civil War left a rather unusual military legacy. Both Whigs and Tories distrusted the creation of a large standing army not under civilian control. The former feared that it would be used as an instrument of royal tyranny. The latter had memories of the New Model Army and the anti-monarchical social and political revolution that it brought about. Consequently, both preferred a small standing army under civilian control for defensive deterrence and to prosecute foreign wars, a large navy as the first line of national defence, and a militia composed of their neighbours as additional defence and to preserve domestic order.
Consequently, the English Bill of Rights (1689) declared, amongst other things: "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..." and "that the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law." This implies that they are fitted to serve in the militia, which was intended to serve as a counterweight to the standing army and preserve civil liberties against the use of the army by a tyrannical monarch or government.
The Crown still (in the British constitution) controls the use of the army. This ensures that officers and enlisted men swear an oath to a politically neutral head of state, and not to a politician. While the funding of the standing army subsists on annual financial votes by parliament, the Mutiny Act is also renewed on an annual basis by parliament. If it lapses, the legal basis for enforcing discipline disappears, and soldiers lose their legal indemnity for acts committed under orders.
With the creation of the British Empire, militias were also raised in the colonies, where little support could be provided by regular forces. Overseas militias were first raised in Jamestown, Virginia, and in Bermuda, where the Bermuda Militia followed a similar trajectory over the next two centuries to that in Britain.
18th century and the Acts of Union
In 1707, the Acts of Union united the Kingdom of England with the Kingdom of Scotland. The Scottish navy was incorporated into the Royal Navy. The Scottish military (as opposed to naval) forces merged with the English, with pre-existing regular Scottish regiments maintaining their identities, though command of the new British Army was from England. How this affected militias either side of the border is unclear.
The Militia Act of 1757 created a more professional force. Better records were kept, and the men were selected by ballot to serve for longer periods. Proper uniforms and better weapons were provided, and the force was 'embodied' from time to time for training sessions.
The militia was widely embodied at various times during the French and Napoleonic Wars. It served at several vulnerable locations, and was particularly stationed on the South Coast and in Ireland. A number of camps were held at Brighton, where the militia regiments were reviewed by the Prince Regent. (This is the origin of the song "Brighton Camp".) The militia could not be compelled to serve overseas, but it was seen as a training reserve for the army, as bounties were offered to men who opted to 'exchange' from the militia to the regular army.
The Parliament of Ireland passed an act in 1715 raising regiments of militia in each county and county corporate. Membership was restricted to Protestants between the ages of 16 and 60. In 1793, during the Napoleonic Wars, the Irish militia were reorganized to form thirty-seven county and city regiments. While officers of the reorganized force were Protestant, membership of the other ranks was now made available to members of all denominations.
In the late 17th century came calls for the resurrection of militia in Scotland that had the understated aim of protecting the rights of Scots from English oppression. The 1757 Militia Act did not apply in Scotland. The old traditional system continued, so that militia regiments only existed in some places. This was resented by some and the Militia Club, soon to become the Poker Club, was formed to promote the raising of a Scottish militia. This and several other Edinburgh clubs became the crucible of the Scottish Enlightenment. The Militia Act of 1797 empowered Scottish Lord Lieutenants to raise and command militia regiments in each of the "Counties, Stewartries, Cities, and Places" under their jurisdiction.
Although muster rolls were prepared as late as 1820, the element of compulsion was abandoned, and the militia was transformed into a volunteer force. It was intended to be seen as an alternative to the army. Men would volunteer and undertake basic training for several months at an army depot. Thereafter, they would return to civilian life, but report for regular periods of military training (usually on the weapons ranges) and an annual two-week training camp. In return, they would receive military pay and a financial retainer, a useful addition to their civilian wage. Of course, many saw the annual camp as the equivalent of a paid holiday. The militia thus appealed to agricultural labourers, colliers and the like, men in casual occupations, who could leave their civilian job and pick it up again. Until 1861, the militia were an entirely infantry force, but in that year a number of county regiments were converted to artillery. In 1877, the militia of Anglesey and Monmouthshire were converted to engineers. Under the reforms introduced by Secretary of State for War Hugh Childers in 1881, the remaining militia infantry regiments were redesignated as numbered battalions of regiments of the line, ranking after the two regular battalions. Typically, an English, Welsh or Scottish regiment would have two militia battalions (the 3rd and 4th) and Irish regiments three (numbered 3rd–5th).
The militia must not be confused with the volunteer units created in a wave of enthusiasm in the second half of the nineteenth century. In contrast with the Volunteer Force, and the similar Yeomanry Cavalry, they were considered rather plebeian.
The Special Reserve
The militia was transformed into the Special Reserve by the military reforms of Haldane in the reforming post 1906 Liberal government. In 1908 the militia infantry battalions were redesignated as "reserve" and a number were amalgamated or disbanded. Numbered Territorial Force battalions, ranking after the Special Reserve, were formed from the volunteer units at the same time. Altogether, 101 infantry battalions, 33 artillery regiments and two engineer regiments of special reservists were formed. Upon mobilisation, the special reserve units would be formed at the depot and continue training while guarding vulnerable points in Britain. The special reserve units remained in Britain throughout the First World War, but their rank and file did not, since the object of the special reserve was to supply drafts of replacements for the overseas units of the regiment. The original militiamen soon disappeared, and the battalions simply became training units. The Special Reserve reverted to its militia designation in 1921, then to Supplementary Reserve in 1924, though the units were effectively placed in "suspended animation" until disbanded in 1953.
The name was briefly revived in 1939, in the aftermath of the Munich Crisis. Leslie Hore-Belisha, the then Minister of War, wished to introduce a limited form of conscription, an unheard of thing in peacetime. It was thought that calling the conscripts 'militiamen' would make this more acceptable, as it would render them distinct from the rest of the army. Only single men of a certain age group were conscripted (they were given a free suit of civilian clothes as well as a uniform), and after serving for about a year, would be discharged into the reserve. Although the first intake were called up, the war broke out soon after, and the militiamen lost their identity in the rapidly expanding army.
Three units still maintain their militia designation in the British Army, two in the Territorial Army and one in the Army Cadet Force. These are the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (formed in 1539), the Jersey Field Squadron (The Royal Militia Island of Jersey) (formed in 1337), and the Royal Alderney Militia (created in the 13th century and reformed in 1984). Additionally, the Atholl Highlanders are a ceremonial infantry militia maintained by the Duke of Atholl—they are the only legal private army in Europe.
Other British militias
Various other part-time, home defence organisations have been raised during times of crisis or perceived threat, although without the word "militia" in their title. These have included:
- Volunteer Corps, part of the British anti-invasion preparations of 1803–1805
- Fencibles, part of the British anti-invasion preparations of 1803–1805
- Sea Fencibles, a volunteer coastal defence force in the Napoleonic Wars
- Yeomanry, volunteer cavalry initially raised in the Napoleonic Wars
- Volunteer Force, from 1857 to 1908
- Volunteer Training Corps, 1914 to 1918
- National Defence Companies, 1936 to 1939
- Home Guard, initially Local Defence Volunteers, 1940 to 1944 and 1951 to 1957
- Ulster Defence Regiment, 1970 to 1992
- Home Service Force, 1982 to 1992
The Troubles and Irish War of Independence
The various non-state paramilitary groups involved in the 20th century conflicts in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, such as the various Irish Republican Army groups and loyalist paramilitaries, could also be described as militias and are occasionally referred to as such. The Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) was a locally raised professional militia instituted by an Act of Parliament in December 1969 which became operational on 1 April 1970. Created as a non-partisan force to defend Northern Ireland "against armed attack or sabotage" it eventually peaked at 11 battalions with 7,559 men and women. 197 soldiers of the UDR, including four women, were killed as active servicemen with a further 61 killed after leaving the regiment, mostly by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. As a result of defence cuts it was eventually reduced to 7 battalions before being amalgamated with the Royal Irish Rangers in 1992 to form the "Home Service Battalions" of the Royal Irish Regiment.
The history of militia in the United States dates from the colonial era, such as in the American Revolutionary War. Based on the British system, colonial militias were drawn from the body of adult male citizens of a community, town, or local region. Because there were usually few British regulars garrisoned in North America, colonial militia served a vital role in local conflicts, particularly in the French and Indian Wars. Before shooting began in the American War of Independence, American revolutionaries took control of the militia system, reinvigorating training and excluding men with Loyalist inclinations. Regulation of the militia was codified by the Second Continental Congress with the Articles of Confederation. The revolutionaries also created a full-time regular army—the Continental Army—but because of manpower shortages the militia provided short-term support to the regulars in the field throughout the war.
In colonial era Anglo-American usage, militia service was distinguished from military service in that the latter was normally a commitment for a fixed period of time of at least a year, for a salary, whereas militia was only to meet a threat, or prepare to meet a threat, for periods of time expected to be short. Militia persons were normally expected to provide their own weapons, equipment, or supplies, although they may later be compensated for losses or expenditures. A related concept is the jury, which can be regarded as a specialized form of militia convened to render a verdict in a court proceeding (known as a petit jury or trial jury) or to investigate a public matter and render a presentment or indictment (grand jury).
With the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution, control of the army and the power to direct the militia of the states was concurrently delegated to the federal Congress. The Militia Clauses gave Congress authority for "organizing, arming, and disciplining" the militia, and "governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States", with the States retaining authority to appoint officers and to impose the training specified by Congress. Proponents describe a key element in the concept of "militia" was that to be "genuine" it not be a "select militia", composed of an unrepresentative subset of the population. This was an argument presented in the ratification debates.
The first legislation on the subject was The Militia Act of 1792 which provided, in part:
That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, ... every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock.
During the nineteenth century, each of the states maintained its militia differently, some more than others. Prior to the Civil War, militia units were sometimes used by southern states for slave control. In free states, Republican militias—called "Wide Awakes"—sided with abolitionists in sometimes violent confrontations with Federal authorities. In California, the militia carried out campaigns against bandits and against the Indians at the direction of its Governor between 1850 and 1866. During Reconstruction after the Civil War, Republican state governments had militias composed almost entirely of freed slaves and populist whites. Their deployment to maintain order in the former Confederate states caused increased resentment among many Southern whites.
During the nineteenth century, American militia saw action in the various Indian Wars, the War of 1812, the American Civil War, and the Spanish–American War. Sometimes militia units were found to be unprepared, ill-supplied, and unwilling.
Paramilitary groups in the postbellum South
After the American Civil War, secret groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Knights of the White Camellia arose quickly across the South, reaching a peak in the late 1860s. Even more significant in terms of effect were private militias: paramilitary organizations that formed starting in 1874, including the White League in Louisiana, which quickly formed chapters in other states; the Red Shirts in Mississippi in 1875, and with South Carolina and North Carolina; and other "white line" militias and rifle clubs.
In contrast to the KKK, these paramilitary organizations were open; members were often well known in their communities. Nevertheless, they used force, intimidation, and violence, including murder, to push out Republican officeholders, break up organizing, and suppress freedmen's voting and civil rights. The paramilitary groups were described as "the military arm of the Democratic Party" and were instrumental in helping secure Democratic victories in the South in the elections of 1876.
The Militia Act of 1903 divided what had been the militia into what it termed the "organized" militia, created from portions of the former state guards to become state National Guard units, and the "unorganized" militia consisting of all males from ages 17 to 45, with the exception of certain officials and others, which is codified in 10 U.S.C. § 311. Some states, such as Texas and California, created separate state defense forces for assistance in local emergencies. Congress later established a system of "dual enlistment" for the National Guard, so that anyone who enlisted in the National Guard also enlisted in the US Army. Privately organized citizen militia-related groups blossomed in the mid-1990s, which collectively became known as the constitutional militia movement. The supporters have not been affiliated with any government organization, although many have been military and law enforcement veterans.
In its original sense, militia meant "the state, quality, condition, or activity of being a fighter or warrior." It can be thought of as "combatant activity", "the fighter frame of mind", "the militant mode", "the soldierly status", or "the warrior way". In this latter usage, a militia is a body of private persons who respond to an emergency threat to public safety, usually one that requires an armed response, but which can also include ordinary law enforcement or disaster responses. The act of bringing to bear arms contextually changes the status of the person, from peaceful citizen, to warrior citizen. The militia is the sum total of persons undergoing this change of state. Persons have been said to engage in militia in response to a "call up" by any person aware of the emergent threat requiring the response, and thence to be in "called up" status until the emergency is past. There is no minimum size to militia, and a solitary act of defense, including self-defense, can be thought of as one person calling up himself to defend the community, represented by himself or others, and to enforce the law. See citizen's arrest and hue and cry.
21st century Supreme Court decision
In the 2008 decision of the Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the de jure definition of "militia" as used in United States jurisprudence was discussed. The Court's opinion made explicit, in its obiter dicta, that the term "militia," as used in colonial times in this originalist decision, included both the federally organized militia and the citizen-organized militias of the several States: "... the 'militia' in colonial America consisted of a subset of 'the people'—those who were male, able-bodied, and within a certain age range" (7) ... Although the militia consists of all able-bodied men, the federally-organized militia may consist of a subset of them"(23).
The most important previous activity of the Texas Militia was the Texas Revolution in 1836. Texans declared independence from Mexico while they were defeated during the Battle of the Alamo, in March 1836. On April 21, 1836, led by Sam Houston, the Militia attacked the Mexican Army at their camp, in the Battle of San Jacinto near the present city of Houston. Following the war, some militia units reorganized into what was later to be known as the Texas Rangers, which was a private, volunteer effort for several years before becoming an official organization. After Texas joined the Union of the United States in 1845, Texas militia units participated in the Mexican–American War.
In 1861 Texas joined the other Confederate States in seceding from the Union, and Texas militias played a role in the American Civil War, until it ended in 1865. Texas militiamen joined Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, a volunteer militia, and fought with him during the Spanish–American War in 1898. Some of the training of the Rough Riders took place in San Pedro Park, in the north central part of San Antonio near the present site of San Antonio College. When a muster of the Militia proposed to train there on April 19, 1994, they were threatened with arrest, even though the charter of San Pedro Park forbids exclusion of activities of that kind. This threat led to a change of the meeting site.
Like many other American states, Texas maintains a recognized State Militia, the Texas State Guard.
Vietnam's Militia (Dân quân) is a part of Vietnam's armed forces. The Forces are organized in communes, wards and townships and are put under commune-level military commands. Vietnam Militia has two branches: Cored Militia (nòng cốt) and General Militia (rộng rãi). The term of service in the core militia is 4 years.
Beside the federal Yugoslav People's Army, each constituent republic of the former SFR Yugoslavia had its own Territorial Defense Forces. The Non-Aligned Yugoslavia was concerned about an eventual aggression from any of the superpowers, especially by the Warsaw Pact after the Prague Spring, so the Territorial Defense Forces were formed as an integral part of the total war military doctrine called Total National Defense. Those forces corresponded to military reserve forces, paramilitary or militia, the latter, in the military meaning of the term (like military formation). It should not be confused with the Yugoslav Militia- Milicija which was a term for a police.
The Militia Information Service (MIS), an Australian not-for-profit organization, asserts that membership in the militia is a civic duty that helps to deter crime, tyranny, and crimes against humanity like genocide. The MIS urges all competent, law-abiding adults to "obtain a military type rifle and pistol like those commonly used by soldiers in their nation's armed forces and use them regularly (target shooting, hunting, etc.) in order to become proficient with them."
Public militias in Europe
Public militias in the United States
Private militias in the United States
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