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No Trump Thursday, So Let's Talk Armies

In an effort to give Trump a rest, let's talk about another subject of mine - military history. Specifically, why countries build a military. I developed an interest in how a military came to be back when I was in grade school and read (and re-read) a book on how air combat evolved during the First World War. I was (and am) fascinated by the concept of in 4 years going from waving at opposing aircraft to one man shooting down 80 of them.

Then I started reading science fiction, and I noticed that most fictional planets had fairly robust military establishments, which tended to look a lot like either the US military (the good guys) or the Soviet military (the bad guys). At some point, I put the WWI book and these fiction books together, and started to wonder how all these militaries came to be.

The short answer, I discovered, was that a military was built to protect against a specific threat. So, for example, New Zealand, 900 miles from the nearest continent, that being closely-allied Australia, has a tiny military, which just over 11,000 people in it out of a population of 4.7 million. Simply put, they don't need a large military. There is no major threat.

Other nations make a similar decision. Take Mexico, for example. They are the 11th most-populous country in the world, and have the 11th largest economy. They are just ahead of #12, Italy. Yet Mexico spends .677% of its GDP on defense, while Italy spends 1.27 of GDP. Italy, with half Mexico's population, has 350,000 people in the military, vs. Mexico's 280,000. Mexico has three (3) (!!!) fighter aircraft, all ageing F-5s. Italy has 209 fighters.

Here history and strategy play a part. Historically, the Mexican Army has been used to put down internal dissent and support military dictators, from Santa Ana to Porfirio Diaz, so there's a bias against a large military. Second, the chief threat to Mexico is the United States, which since WWII has been the 800 pound guerrilla of militaries as well as an ally. Bottom line - no real reason for a large military.

What I find in most science fiction (John Scalzi and Jack Campbell being notable exceptions) is that the military is the size it is largely for authorial convenience. I also find that it is organized along the principles of whichever military the author is most immediately familiar with.

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This is the personal blog of Chris Gerrib, and all opinions expressed here are solely his own. Commenters are welcome; however please be polite to me and my other readers. I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, inappropriate or otherwise objectionable at my sole discretion. The opinions expressed in a comment are not necessarily mine, and if I do not delete a comment that should not be construed as my agreement with the commenter.

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