Military vs. Militia

By Mark Nichol

What’s the difference between the military and a militia? The distinction is generally between formal and regular service members and auxiliary or irregular personnel, but the latter term is less precise.

More precisely and comprehensively, the military is the entirety of a country’s designated personnel, matériel (as opposed to materials), and infrastructure as organized for defense. A militia can be a subcategory of the military, consisting of personnel generally deployed only during emergencies — though in some nations, the term refers to all citizens eligible to be called to military service — but it may refer, alternatively, to reserve forces, law-enforcement entities, or privately financed and equipped groups.

Both words are derived from the Latin term miles, meaning “soldier”: military stems from militaris, meaning “of soldiers or war,” of “military service,” or “warlike,” and militia is a direct borrowing of a word meaning “military service, warfare.”

Paramilitary (the prefix means “related to” or “resembling”) refers to armed forces organized more or less according to military protocols but not necessarily official or authorized. The term, like militia, is ambiguous, as it could refer, depending on the context, to a body of armed personnel ranging in degrees of legitimacy from national police to guerrillas.

Other words descended from the Latin miles include militant, in noun form referring to a (usually unofficial) combatant or as an adjective meaning “fighting” or “aggressive” in both military and nonmilitary contexts, and militate. Both these words developed from the Latin word military “serve as a soldier,” but the latter acquired a connotation of “counteract” or “have a negative effect on.”

In the United States, the military consists of the following branches of the armed forces: the US Army, the US Navy, the US Marine Corps, and the US Air Force; in time of war, the US Coast Guard can be attached to the navy. Subsidiary elements, considered militia, include the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, plus the Army Reserve, the Navy Reserve, the Marine Corps Forces Reserve, the Air Force Reserve, and the Coast Guard Reserve, which collectively constitute the National Guard of the United States.

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6 Responses to “Military vs. Militia”

  • ApK

    Holy typos, Batman! No more posts before breakfast.

    ApK

  • Matthew

    The Army Reserve, the Navy Reserve, the Marine Corps Forces Reserve, the Air Force Reserve, and the Coast Guard Reserve are not parts of the National Guard. Only the Army and Air National Guard are. The other reserve components are just that, reserve components of their respective services.

    The primary difference is that the National Guard answers directly to the governors of the various states and territories during peacetime.

  • Sally

    “More precisely and comprehensively, the military is the entirety of a country’s designated personnel, matériel (as opposed to materials), and infrastructure as organized for *defense*.”

    Not touchin’ this one … no, no NO! 😀

  • Mark Nichol

    Matthew:

    Thanks for your corrective note. The error arose from a misunderstanding of a research source’s wording.

  • Glenda Bromberg

    A correction in your last sentence ‘Subsidiary elements, considered militia, include the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, plus the Army Reserve, the Navy Reserve, the Marine Corps Forces Reserve, the Air Force Reserve, and the Coast Guard Reserve, which collectively constitute the National Guard of the United States’.

    Should read ‘collectively constitute the reserve components of the Department of Defense’.

  • venqax

    Well, okay, let’s be picky. It’s not a bad thing when it comes to some subjects where fine distinctions matter, and this is one of them. The National Guard legally speaking is not the militia. OTOH, whether it is PART OF the militia, and if so what constitutes the rest of it, is anther very loaded and combustable question (at least in the US). It is clear that the states still do have the authority to form their own militias– solely under state command– separate from the NG.

    More tho, to “paramilitary” meaning “armed forces organized more or less according to military protocols but not necessarily official or authorized.” As you mention later, I think paramilitary, at least in defense circles, is usually used to refer to a force that IS official and authorized, but whose mission is only partially military. E.g, the law enforcement bodies referred to as gendarmeries or marshalcies that are common in many countries where the boundary between the military and law enforcement isn’t overly distinct, as opposed to civil-style police forces that are the Anglo-American tradition. Unofficial forces are usually called guerillas, or irregulars.

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