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In general, a militia is the entire able-bodied population of a nation that can be called upon to defend itself against an enemy. It is distinguished from the organized military forces of that nation. It can serve to supplement the regular military as an irregular reserve, or it can oppose it, for example to resist a military coup.

U.S. and English

For much of the history of England, the military was controlled by Parliament, which had access to the resources to maintain a standing army. At various times, the Crown and Parliament were in strong disagreement, but Parliament's economic ability to use the army was counterbalanced by the Crown's traditional ability to call out the militia. As long as the army's weapons were not radically more powerful than the militia's, this balance of power was effective.

The Framers of the United States were certainly aware of this tradition, and gave Congress the power to "provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia," as well as, and in distinction to, the power to raise an army and a navy. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States may have been intended to formalize this balance between the "well-regulated" militia and organized military forces. Considerable controversy exists in the US over this amendment, however, and the ability of even a well-regulated militia to resist a modern army is debatable.

The United States Consolidated Statutes Title 10 (Armed forces), section 311 (Militia: Composition and Classes), paragraph (a) states "The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard."


One of the most famous, and ancient militia are the Swiss milita. It is not widely recognized, but Switzerland is the most militaristic society on Earth, maintaining more than twice as many active-duty soldiers per capita as the next-most-militaristic country, Israel, and a trained, mobilizable reserve militia of 36% of the total population. However, it should be noted that Switzerland has a long tradition of political and military neutrality.

Switzerland's militia is recruited by the Swiss national military and sports bureau. All able-bodied males are conscripted, trained and serve between the ages of 20 and 42 (52 for officers) for about a year and a half. Swiss physical education prepares young people for this training. Thereafter, men remain in the milita until the age of 50, performing a week of training each year.

To reduce training and logistics, Swiss military systems standardize on relatively few types of weapons, which are carefully selected. For example, Switzerland has one rifle, and only three types of ground-based anti-aircraft systems.

To assure professional military leadership, the Bureau also maintains professional schools for noncommisioned and commissioned officers. These require more than minimum service times.

As you can tell from the peculiar name of the training organization, military training is not a temporary horror, but a continuing set of enjoyable patriotic activities.

For military combat specialties that cannot be effectively trained in the brief national service period, such as combat pilots, commandos and military divers, the bureau pre-trains teenagers using state-supported sporting centers for glider and flying clubs, scuba-diving and parachuting. Computer based training is a growing part of formal Swiss military training and certification, which is lifelong.

All of Swiss society celebrates shooting, and skill with the rifle. For example, each year Zurich shuts down a whole day for its "Boys' Shooting Festival." Children, male and female, as young as eight and as old as seventeen compete in riflery. It is a traditional holiday.

It is absolutely commonplace to see handsome young men and pretty young women from shooting clubs. In patriotic and sports parades they march in civilian clothes with standard-issue (black) military sharp-shooting rifles. Older men shoot together with the same attitude as those that play golf in other countries.

Weapons and equipment are inexpensively available at the army surplus stores, which sell everything the army uses, especially in obsolete forms. Swiss students habitually camp in surplus army gear.

Famously, militia members keep their rifles and uniforms in their house for immediate mobilization. Swiss military doctrines are arranged in peculiar ways to make this organization effective.

For example, most armies use assault rifles, which are designed for mass fire at close range, with a willingness to accept the relatively high casualties of this approach. The explicit justification is to substitute higher casualty rates and mechanized resupply of ammunition to compensate for recruits' poor skills with weapons.

To some extent, the Swiss substitute life-long weapons training for the logistics equipment required for mass unaimed fire. Swiss rifles are designed for long-range aimed fire, and shoot heavy, high-velocity bullets. Each militiaman is issued only 50 rounds of ammunition in a can. The can, rifle and militia member are inspected and trained each year during a week of national service training. The result is a safer soldier with more skills.

Swiss building codes require radiation and blast shelters, to protect against bombing. Further, tunnels and bridges are built with tank traps, mines and explosives. Permanent fortifications are established in the Italian alps, as a base to retake the fertile valleys after an invasion.

Swiss doctrine is "Total Resistance." The Swiss plan to destroy their country totally rather than give it to an invader. Surrender is legally impossible.

Switzerland is currently reorganizing its military into a smaller, less expensive elite professional military. The country is reluctant to give up the power and romance of a large militia, but recognizes that modern weapons may well make a large group of riflemen much less effective than it once was.

However, Swiss mothers still teach their children that freedom grows from the guns of free men.

Citizens are concerned about terrorism, and passed new federal gun control legislation in 1997. Restrictive licensing is required for pistols and machine-guns, but the law has numerous exceptions for semiautomatic rifles of the types used by the militia and shooting clubs.

One famous story shows the pride and citizenship that makes the militia such a powerful part of Swiss life. It is said that Kaiser Wilhelm was touring a Swiss training depot. He stopped, and asked a Swiss recruit, "The Empire can field 500,000 men, the Swiss only 250,000. Does that worry you?"

The recruit said, "No sir. We'll just shoot twice."

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