Best Defense

Is the existence of a capable infantry a sign of a strong government bureaucracy?

That thought had never occurred to me until I read Andrade’s "Gunpowder Age."

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That thought had never occurred to me until I read Andrade’s Gunpowder Age. He quotes an observation by Stephen Morillo that “strong infantry depends on strong government.” (And so, Andrade continues, Europe had poor infantry in the 1400s because by the standards of China, it had underdeveloped governments.)

In those six simple words, Morillo makes a series of implicit points:

1. To have an infantry, you have to get people together
2. To get them together and keep them together, you need a central authority
3. You also need to feed and house them, and that requires money, likely raised by taxes, which again requires central authority
4. To raise the taxes and collect them, you need assessors and collectors — that is, a bureaucracy
5. And that is why a soldier is different from a warrior. A tribe can field a warrior, and a good one. But it takes a state to develop and sustain an infantry soldier.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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