Are soldiers from dictatorships better than ones from democracies?

While reading the NFL players in ancient combat thread, I noted this line:

I noticed similar sentiments in the North Korean army thread, that soldiers in dictatorships are inherantly more effective than soldiers from democracies. Is this correct? Everything I’ve heard about American and British soldiers in WW2 is that they fought as well as their German/Russian equivalents; the heavier losses of the Germans and Russians was more due to their commanders’ indifference to loss of life than a willingness to fight better. And the Italians, under Mussolini, had by far the worst effort of any major power. What do the experts say?

It’s my understanding that as a rule soldiers from dictatorships are inferior soldiers. Poorly trained, often undisciplined. Thug armies. Typically they are trained and experienced mainly in keeping the populace in line, and get ripped apart when facing a more professional army. There are exceptions of course, but armies from dictatorships certainly have no inherent advantage.

Bullshit. We see huge disparities between units and formations in the same army, never mind between countries and their political system.

Soldiers from “tyrannical” regimes have been very effective and soldiers from the so democratic ones have been so-so. And vice versa.

The Dutch are a democracy. They have a fine professional army. One unit of thir Army meekly let the Serbs butcher Bosnians in 1995. THAT unit probably had many issues (perhaps command failings). No doubt other Dutch units and formations did not.

In short, there are many things which create a first class military machine. The naturs of the political setup in the country is one of them, but just one and it cuts both ways.

Within armies too. I doubt that anyone would dispute the superiority of units like your Seals and our SBS over the ordinary soldier. One important difference, apart from the training, is that every soldier, even the most junior, has a voice and can put forward his own ideas. Specialists do not need rank to have authority.

In countries like North Korea, no one is allowed to disagree with their commander. While discipline and obeying orders is necessary, soldiers also need to believe that they are part of a team and that their opinion is as valuable as the next man’s.

Hmmm, who was on the losing side in WW2?

Three right wing dictatorships: Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Winning side?
Europe: The USSR, with significant help from western democracies.
Asia: The USA, with significant help from the Commonwealth.

Clearly right-wing dictatorships don’t make the best soldiers, since no post-war right wing dictatorship has won anything particularly noteworthy, either.

Except the quality of soldiers is not necessarily the deciding factor in the outcome of a war. During the Winter War in '39 Finland arguably had the superior soldiers(5 dead Soviets for every dead Finn), yet the Finns still lost.

Stalin purportedly said that “quantity has a quality all its own.” And remember that the reason that Red Army’s front line soldiers may have been so un-timid was the fact that they were closely followed by other soldiers placed there for the specific purpose of shooting anyone who retreated.

In any event, given how Stalin purged the ranks of capable officers before WWII and how Hitler thoroughly overrode and cowed his own officer corps, I’d think there should be little doubt that military leadership is of far inferior quality, right? If the only source of a legitimacy is the barrel of a gun, then you as dictator would have any interest in doing away with anyone in your employ who appears a bit too capable with that gun.

One difference between the US and Germany at the start of WWII was that Germany had been remilitarizing since the rise of Hitler while the US let the army go to seed after WWI and especially after the Depression. I found out that I had a great uncle who deserted around this time and nobody cared. Following WWII, a large standing army became the norm.

Indeed, as Norvell De Atkine said in his essay Why Arabs Lose Wars:

Remember how I said


The Finnish leadership at the time were right wingers. They were allied with the Nazis, mostly due to the enemy-of-my-enemy concept, and only against the USSR, not the western allies, but allies they were, right up to the point where it became obvious to everyone that the Nazis would lose. (See also: Italy and the various Nazi satellite states.)

Left wing totalitarian states, the USSR in particular, tended to win at war but (eventually) lose at peace. Heck, even the North Vietnamese managed to defeat the USA.

My point was that right wing totalitarian states can win short-term victories, but that they lose in the medium term. Left wing totalitarian states are better at keeping what they gained but, in the very long term, they either collapse from within or become de facto right-wing totalitarian states like modern China.

You’re right that the quality of the soldiers is not always a deciding factor. I was talking more about the military as a whole, including political leadership, rather than the quality of individual soldiers in the field. No-one ever said that the armed forces of Nazi Germany were rubbish soldiers. The stupidity of Nazi leadership is what led to their downfall, within a few short years of their remarkable victories.

And in the end they all become true Scotsmen?

IOW given the small data set and the fast and loose definitions involved, I think you’re really telling a “just so” story here.

What is it you think I’m being “fast and loose” about? Certainly I’m generalising, that’s obvious.

Your use of “totalitarian” certainly is fast and loose. Why do you use that term instead of “dictatorship?” How do you figure modern day China is a “totalitarian” state? And why is it “right wing” now versus “left wing?”

Irrelevant since the original question was about soldiers, not military organizations and national production capabilities as a whole, my point is that winning or losing wars does not necessarily reflect on quality of the soldiers, I used the Winter War as an example of where the side with the best soldiers lost.

[nitpick]They were not allied with the Nazis in 1939, even the western allies were on Finland’s side at that point, and Soviet fear of going to war with the western allies is one of the things that allowed the Finns to negotiate a truce. Finland’s cooperation with Germany didn’t start until after the Winter War.[/nitpick]

Here’s some interesting words on the leadership structure of the German military. I’ve snipped portions of the much longer Wikipedia entry (underlining is mine).

So, as **AK84 **says, it’s more than a yes/no question.

This seems a somewhat strange example, as DUTCHBAT were there under the command of a UN mandate (UNPROFOR). The reason they failed to protect the Bosnians was the nature of UNPROFOR: they were peacekeepers in a warzone, strictly forbidden from using force and only very lightly armed. They were requesting air strikes as back up, but (in true UNSC style) received too little, too late.

So it isn’t really related to how good soldiers are in democratic states, it’s how effective soldiers are in international organisations. The soldiers were under UN orders not to fight, no matter how brave/cowardly/effective/useless they or their national leadership might’ve been. Granted, Col. Karremans made mistakes, but it’s still the peacekeeping nature of UNPROFOR that led to DUTCHBAT failing to protect the Bosnian citizens, as opposed to the “nature” of the soldiers or the orders of a democratic country’s leadership.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a highjack, sorry. I just don’t really think of it as a very good example of soldiers of a democratic state failing.

Yours truly was responsible for the quoted text in the OP, so allow me to elaborate in a cursory fashion on the comparison between the fighting man of Britain and America and the fighting man of Russia and Germany…or rather the societies that raised them and the authorities that controlled them and the results thereof, and the generalised extrapolations that one can make in regards to the soldiers of democracies vs dictatorships.

In World War 2, British and American soldiers were born and raised in liberal democracies where leaders where beholden to their people, not the other way round as in Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany. Yes, we won - but our boys were largely civilians in soldier’s uniforms (“Citizen soldiers” as Ambrose calls them), Professor Sir Michael Howard, (historian and a combat veteran) called the Wehrmacht “the best professionals in the business.” In response; “We blasted our way into Europe with a minimum of finesse and a maximum of high explosive.”

It’s been asked many times why Germany fought to the bitter end when it was obvious to all that the war was lost and that continued resistance was simply delaying the inevitable. Part of the answer is that Hitler was a fuckhead (as many important historians have said). Another answer is the nature of dictatorships - total control over the flow of information. German soldiers fought to the death as their propaganda told them that there was no future for Germany if it was defeated, so they fought on because there was no alternative. “Fanaticism” was the Nazi watchword, a pejorative term in our minds. The same goes for the reverse situation in 1941 when Germans were on the verge of triumph - is it really plausible that Londoners or New Yorkers would prefer to eat each other rather than surrender, as Leningraders did in the siege?

In addition, there were the punishments for those who shirked their duties, whose combat effectiveness was not up to scratch. Eisenhower executed one man for desertion in the war; the Soviet instruments of state in the forms of the NKVD and SMERSH executed about 157…thousand. It was with justification that Stalin said “In the Soviet Army, it takes more courage to retreat than advance.” Could you imagine blocking units being tolerated by the armies of democracies and the voters at home? The leaders would be voted out at the earliest opportunities. But in the fearful horror of a Stalinist/Nazi dictatorship this was hardly an option. This disregard for basic human rights extended to all walks; American and British flyers in the RAF and 8th Air Force would have a set number of tours to complete. Soviet and German flyers flew until they died or the war was won (Erich Rudorffer had a staggering 1000+ combat missions on record. An RAF bomber crew tour was 30).

America and Britain both had capital punishment on the books but both societies would have recoiled in civilised repulsion at the idea of using criminals in penal battalions like the Nazis and Reds did, using them for suicidal tasks like minefield clearing and assaulting fortified positions. Neither would we have been willing to disown our PoWs to discourage surrender or punish families for individual failures to the state.

On the whole, given these factors, one can generally say that the democratic soldier in the war was not as an effective fighter as his German or Soviet counterpart. He isn’t brutalised from birth with a respect for authority or brainwashed with the propaganda that make him fight harder. Don’t mistake my point as saying “dictatorship soldier = always elite, democratic soldier = always shite”. For instance, who’d win between a company of US Rangers and a company of German Volkssturm? There are other factors that overcome the ones pointed out above - the big ones being logistics and training.

On that last point - the qualities of the individual soldier mean jack squat if they can’t be fed or armed. The qualities of dictatorships that lead men with no other source of info (and a bullet waiting for them if they fled) to fight with fanaticism unsurprisingly do not produce the best economies. Contrary to popular belief Germany’s war economy was constantly on the verge of collapse. Albert Speer worked constant miracles of production largely on the back of slave labour and even he despaired. The Soviet state-controlled economy had caused mass starvation, not exactly conductive to waging war. Stalin’s paranoia also led him to murder most of the USSR’s officer corps just before the greatest conflict in history - well done there, Joe. Fortunately Zhukov survived to become the war’s most successful general. America on the other hand was the “Arsenal of Democracy”. We didn’t produce fanatical soldiers or the greatest generals, but we produced a shitton of bombs, bullets, rations, tanks, bombers. Fanatic that, Adolf.

How could Wehrmacht soldiers be “born and raised” in Nazi Germany? Born and raised in the Weimar Republic, sure, but Hitler came to power in 1933; anyone born in that year would have been only 12 by the time the war was over.

Missed the window trying to find this link, but it’s very enlightening; a German view of American forces.

(From first link).

(From the second).

Well, born and raised in a manner of speaking; not literally born, you’re quite right. But take the example of a man born in the 1920s. A man born in 1926 is 7 years old when Hitler comes to power, by 1944 he is 18 years old. He has spent all of his formative years in the Reich’s educational system and Hitler Youth. Towards the end it was the young 'uns that fought the hardest for this reason (as in that famous picture of Hitler decorating a Hitler Youth member for destroying Russian tanks), whereas the older ones pressed into service were the most likely to desert.