The military doesn’t cost nearly as much for a country that minds its own business as it does for one that wants to run a global empire. From Doug Bandow at antiwar.com:
The Napoleonic Wars consumed the lives of between 2.5 million and 3.5 million soldiers, most unwilling draftees. Although defeated, discredited, and exiled after years of brutal conflict, the self-anointed emperor responsible for those deaths today is honored – lionized, actually – in Paris. His tomb is located in the Hotel Les Invalides surrounded by commemorations of his many great but costly victories.
Aggressive war and mass slaughter obviously look better through the mists of time. And conscription, which Napoleon used to terrorize a continent, is still routinely employed by nations today.
Today millions of people can be dispatched by a few bombs launched from half the world away. A couple people sitting in a missile silo can unleash hell and more by turning a couple keys. However, the tragic propensity of mankind to engage in war obviously goes back to humanity’s beginning. The horror and cruelty of ancient conflict is almost unimaginable. It was mass killing at its most personal. Massacres required many hands and took much time and effort.
As political control fractured European warfare eventually turned into the far more restricted game of kings. Unless you were unlucky enough to live near a battlefield, you probably wouldn’t be bothered. Indeed, you might not even notice that a war was going on. And reliance on mercenaries helped keep casualties down. They wasted neither their time nor effort, and certainly not their lives, on silly notions like patriotism and loyalty. Protracted conflicts could still be costly, but the numbers of combatants involved look shockingly small compared to modern wars.