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The Citizen Soldier
Military History
Name: ______________________
In the 5th century B.C.E, the city-state of Athens faced siege from the mighty Persian Empire.
The Persians had the largest army of the day. The Persians seemed to have every advantage on
a battlefield as they had abundant arms and outnumbered the Greeks 5:1. The Greeks had one
advantage over the Persians…citizenship. The people of the Greek city states (polis) had
citizenship in their communities. The Greeks had political participation and they willingly chose
to fight for their state. The Greeks could discuss military ventures with their fellow Greeks
(Athenians, etc…). The Persians were conscripted; they could not communicate with other
Persians about military or political choices.
Perhaps no event summarizes the passion of Greek citizenship than the famed run of
Pheidippides. Pheidippides was an Athenian citizen who ran over 140 miles over two days from
Marathon to Athens to alert the Athenians of the victory over the Persians at the battle of
Marathon. This heroic act has since become the stuff of legend, a synonym for the importance
of citizenship.
This type of passion and energy that stemmed from being a citizen seemed to infiltrate the
early period of US History. The concept of the citizen soldier has always been an important one
in American history. As we began our military journey as a nation, most of those who fought in
militias did so as volunteers. Most of those who took up arms in the American Revolution were
volunteers protecting their dream of citizenship. In times of crisis we have resorted to drafting
soldiers to combat crisis—but more often than not our soldiers have done so of their own
accord and passion. Honoring their sacrifice and passion is a crucial component of this course.
Historian Victor Davis Hanson once wrote that “Democracy seems to raise the most passionate
armies”. Do you agree with this statement? Do you feel that the concept of the “citizen
soldier” is a crucial concept? Are there times when the concept of the citizen soldier principle
has faltered in American History?