So I currently have something call the National Defense-Continuity Directive (AKA Directive 0), which is basically a national call to arms.

Directive 0 is only signed off on when there is a truly grave and pressing national defense and national security threat that is literally ready to end the United States as a country. If Directive 0 is signed off in such a scenario, citizens in the District of Columbia (who are, by law, all already members of the Citizen-Military Reserve, which is essentially the Selective Service but more “active”) must report to their nearest local armory. There will also be air raid sirens and a PSA will go out over the city-wide PA system along with radios, text messages, etc., which will say something like “Attention all citizens, the President of the United States has just signed off on the National Defense-Continuity Directive. Effective immediately, all citizens must report to their designated area of responsibility so that accountability can be taken. (not exactly saying all of that but the PSA will be something along those lines). If they don’t already have guns of their own, then once they report to their nearest armory, Troopers of the US Garrison (unified US military) will issue out M16A5s and 50 rounds of ammo/two 25-round magazines to each person. Once they receive their weapons and ammo, each person will report to their assigned Civil Defense Battalion where, depending on their trade, they’ll either do something related towards civil defense like fortifying buildings, tending to the wounded, etc. or they’ll be put into paramilitary militias who will be tasked with supporting the frontline Troopers and who will also act as the last line of defense if all else fails (and because I know that this is going to be brought up, yes, everyone is mandated by law to have firearms training).

Civil Defense Battalions will be based on both what your trade/day job is as well as where you live and will also be under military leadership. For example, if you live in the H Street Corridor and you’re a mason, you’d be dispatched to the H Street portion of the Federal Wall with a team of fellow masons and you guys will be responsible for tending to the Wall, building or fortifying fortifications, etc. If you’re a nurse in Foggy Bottom, then you’ll be reporting to George Washington University Hospital or a makeshift field hospital, depending on your expertise. If you’re a Federal Police Corps/FPC officer from Smithsonian, then you’ll be part of the local paramilitary defense force responsible for assisting in the defense of Southwestern Washington. Some CDBs will also be integrated with Garrison forces such as having civilian engineers, construction workers, etc. be imbedded with a combat engineering unit or Garrison medics being sent to a hospital to help the hospital staff provide help to both the sick and injured.

During this time, those who are unable to fight due to a physical or mental disability will be taken to secured shelters throughout the city. Those who are capable of fighting but are uncooperative with Directive 0 will be charged with treason and after the fighting is over, they will be tried under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice/UCMJ in front of a military tribunal (where they’ll either face a very long jail sentence or be executed via firing squad).

Would such a thing like above work or be of help, especially in a zombie-filled post-apocalyptic scenario? Would it be practical to implement it like this?

  • $\begingroup$ @KorvinStarmast I guess what I’m asking is more focused on Washington itself but this can apply to the entire District (the map that I linked). $\endgroup$
    – user69268
    May 4, 2020 at 19:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Correct me if I'm wrong, but this sounds like this would only be issued in the event of a catastrophe, and 'practical' seems like the wrong metric to measure something that's already gone, to use the military jargon, completely FUBAR. I think 'effective' or 'better than the alternative of people running around like headless chickens' would be better metrics. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    May 4, 2020 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ I think you could do it, but if things have gone that bad, I suspect the question is moot. People might not be able to report to armories, but could be summarily executed for being barricaded in their house to keep out the zombies? The practicality of passing such a law is tricky before the apocalypse, and after, who isn't just improvising survival? Easier to make assault rifle ownership mandatory in the district, kind of like the Swiss. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    May 4, 2020 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ If you like it enough to answer, you like it enough to upvote! Upvotes for user69268! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 4, 2020 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ Practical? No. Advice: Look at how Switzerland and Israel have organized their Active and Reserve forces for more practical ideas about a society living under constant varied threat. Then look at Russia for many of the same ideas implemented badly and damaging the society. It's pretty clear that you want huge infantry battles in the streets of D.C. so think about where all those weapons will be pre-staged and where all the ammunition for weeks of house-to-house fighting by hundreds of thousands will be stored and how you're going to move it around safely. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    May 5, 2020 at 2:09

6 Answers 6


Conscription is something that worked all around the world with a good measure of success.

Mobilization, on the other hand, needs to be actively managed.

It's a good thing when population is prepared to act in case of an emergency. It's even better when people already have some training to make this action effective. However, the question of who would be doing what strongly depends on the nature of the emergency and local situation.

If the entire population would stop whatever they are doing and rush to their "responsibility centers", the economy and infrastructure are likely to collapse, and centers overwhelmed. That's why in real life mobilization plans are always fine tuned and the process actively managed.

The population (even with 100% conscription) is usually split into "tiers", and a number of professions which are vital to the society are shielded from mobilization. The top tier of military reserve is doing exactly what you are suggesting - reporting immediately to their designated mobilization centers. The lower tiers (typically older citizens) are waiting for their orders. As mobilization continues, the government/command will decide how many people they are going to conscript.

Shielded employees may be conscripted too, or find themselves co-opted into military - for example, power station worker would report to work as usual and find that his station is under military command from now on.

There are public security situations (like an air raid) when all population indeed has to stop what they are doing and head to shelters - but this is separate from conscription/mobilization.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 re mobilisation difficulties - as has been seen recently, even an order NOT to gather together needs to be well-considered in order to be implemented with even an 80% chance of success. Also worth mentioning that in modern warfare there are no plausible scenarios in which lots of untrained / barely trained infantry are particularly useful, small numbers of scouts backed up by lots of artillery and air support are the order of the day for conventional threats, while cyber, biological and chemical attacks require completely different responses. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2020 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ In a zombie apocalypse, large firing lines of deliberately aimed shots may be far more effective than artillery or air support. The kill and incapacitating radii of indecenary or fragmentation weapons is much smaller against an enemy that is only particularly affected by headshots. World War Z (the book, not the movie) made a pretty good case for this. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 5, 2020 at 1:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki-ReinstateMonica I understand that this particular fictitious enemy is more vulnerable to aimed headshots, what I am suggesting is that a realistic government writing up a playbook of mobilisation scenarios that every citizen must understand will focus on no more than 3-5 likely scenarios. "Zombie apocalypse where only headshots work" would be nowhere near the top 5, it would be lucky to be in the top 100. $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica I didn't read "World War Z", but it looks like some handwaving is needed to make headshots do what fragmentation/shrapnel weapons can't $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    May 5, 2020 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica so if we have 2-3 zombies per defending rifleman, headshots make sense. But if there is over 20 per defender, moving in a fairly dense formation, artillery (or machine guns) can't be beat. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    May 5, 2020 at 20:28

In Classical civilizations, and during periods like the Renaissance when Italy was a collection of City States (similarly the "United Provinces" of the Netherlands or the cities of the Hanse), calling up able bodies men was a normal method of creating a defence force, as well as one of the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. Indeed, non citizens were generally not permitted weapons and armour, or if they were, it was usually only suitable for skirmishing or other secondary tasks.

I'm not entirely clear that this mentality has transmitted itself to the modern United States, particularly the major urban centres. Indeed, it seems far moere probable that people in small cities and towns, and rural residents will be far more attuned to answering a call to arms, and may even rise up spontaneously in response to events. In a non military context, Americans will flock to disasters with their own tools and equipment to assist rescue and recovery operations (like the so called "Cajun Navy". Other groups of people and volunteer organizations spring up in response to disasters as well.

Other factors will also influence the populations response. Is there a clear and present danger that they are aware of and accept (think of the various conspiracy theories today. What if a large portion of the population does not even believe the government's depiction of a threat?). Do the people even believe they can make a difference? Untrained "troops" with minimalistic firepower are more of a danger to themselves and others than a force capable of augmenting the military. indeed, if people are going to fight a threat, they will want to be issued actual military hardware that will give them an advantage or fighting chance against an enemy.

Once again, history provides a guide. Greek Hoplites demonstrated their ability to perform all the duties of citizenship by having the wealth to buy a complete panoply of armour and weapons (roughly equivalent in purchasing power to buying a full sized car today). Citizens of the Dutch and Italian city states had pole arms and cross bows capable of penetrating knightly armour, and later firearms in sufficient quality and quantity to fight similarly armed foes. A single semi or fully automatic assault rifle and 50 rounds of ammunition is laughable. Pictures of modern soldiers in counter insurgency battles show them carrying at least 10 30 round magazines, plus grenades, hand held rockets and radio equipment to call firepower from vehicles, artillery, aircraft and adjoining units. They also have protection from helmets and body armour, gas masks and other equipment.

Now calling people based on their specialties and trades is also possible, and probably more feasible in some circumstances. However, tradespeople are likely going to resent time off the job to undergo indoctrination and training, and certainly will not be willing to use their own tools and materials unless properly compensated. Indeed, they may be a very unreliable part of the force. The Venetian Republic got around this by making them contractors for the Arsenal (hence it was a paid position, and they were already there). EMS personnel will also have to be dealt with differently, you cannot simply throw people into hospitals and fire stations 24/7, they will soon become ineffective. Many hospitals, fire departments etc already have plans for "surge" capabilities that don't need government input.

I rather suspect that in a zombie apocalypse scenario, the natural urges of people for personal survival will overcome things like selective service and even the threat of punishment. There is a far greater possibility of societal breakdown than regimentation, unless a lot of social changes have happened in the mean time.

So there are historical precedents, but they depend a lot on the societal structure and context. Otherwise, it might be "every man for themselves".

  • $\begingroup$ In the Classical civilization there was no notion of "permitting weapons and armor". Anybody who had the money was perfectly allowed to buy and wear weapons and armor. In Renaissance Italy it was very rare of for the citizens to fight; they most usually hired professionals to do it. (Look up condottiere.) In fact, in Renaissance Italy wars had become highly choreographed ballets; for a pretty much typical example, see the "Battle" of Anghiari, famously painted by Leonardo. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 4, 2020 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ Proper military gear is not super important since we are talking about a zombie apocalypse. A militia vs a well trained and equipped army may be doomed, but against an unarmed unarmored hoard of zombies, a basic firing line is generally going to be the best tactic. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 4, 2020 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ “I rather suspect that in a zombie apocalypse scenario, the natural urges of people for personal survival will overcome things like selective service and even the threat of punishment.” The government just has to convince people that joining the military (or other organised communities) improves your chances compared to going it alone. If the zombies (or whatever else caused the apocalypse) are sufficiently dangerous, it’s easy to imagine that the desire for autonomy is outweighed by the advantages of safety in numbers. $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ A couple of historical side-notes: Most hoplites did not own full panapolies. The most wealthy hoplites made up the armored front lines while the bulk of the army often only had a long spear, shield, and helmet. Also, by the time crossbows became popular medieval plate mail was already too well made to be penetrated by them. Rather, they could kill a knight's horse which could end in the knight being injured or killed by the fall or being trampled by the horses behind him. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 5, 2020 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ Non citizens were not permitted weapons and armour in Classical civilizations. The notion of Timocracy (those who could afford armour and weapons were permitted to vote) covers the wealth part, but if you were not a citizen (however defined), then you were a potential danger if armed. Mercenaries were hired for miilitary and security purposes, but were classes as metics as best, and certainly not afforded the privilege of citizenship. As for Renaissance Italy, there was a massive amount of debate about the use of Republican militia vs hired mercenaries. Machiavelli wrote about this. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    May 6, 2020 at 17:05

The one detail I would change is to make all able bodied persons proper reservists who regularly check in for additional training. 1-weekend a month, 2-weeks a year works fairly well to be useful a modern military purposes, but even something more limited like 1 weekend a quarter might be enough for your purposes. If you make a Directive 0 call to arms on a bunch of people who have not been reminded about what to do in the past 5 years, the amount of confusion you create will tie up your regular troops so much coordinating things that you will actually be down more manpower than you gain in the short term. And in an emergency, the short term is VERY important.

By doing this regular training, people already know thier wartime jobs, where they will go, what they will do, etc. so there will be no waiting for orders. In essence, I may not know what the threat is when the alert goes out, but as long as I know that I need to go to wall section-42 and start filling sandbags it does not matter. It is better to not need the sandbags and fill them anyway than to take an active soldier off of duty to remind me about what the heck I'm supposed to be doing.

  • $\begingroup$ I’ve seriously considered this approach but I want the Garrison to be a pure volunteer-only military. Would it be better if this was a compulsory civil defense program separate from the military? $\endgroup$
    – user69268
    May 4, 2020 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ @user69268 if it's purely volunteer, then you are better off using a limited size reserve force than trying to call up the entire citizenry. The only situation I might consider for a fully untrained citizen army like this is to just give everyone a gun and send them home. That way, you do not have to coordinate them, but if the zombies get through the walls, they will have to fight house to house which should deplete the hoard much faster than it can grow since most people can shoot more than one zombie before being bitten. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 4, 2020 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ @user69268 How can it be voluntary if anyone who refuses to comply is going to be tried in front of a military tribunal? $\endgroup$
    – Llewellyn
    May 5, 2020 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Llewellyn the military itself is an all-volunteer force, not the civil defense militia $\endgroup$
    – user69268
    May 5, 2020 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ @user69268 Along that realm of thinking, the civil defense militia may still be an organized reservist force. Many nations have mandatory military service for young men but also have voluntary career options for those who want to go longer. What you are describing could just be a softer version of this where mandatory military service is limited to a reservist capacity rather than several years of active duty. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 5, 2020 at 18:40

First off, as a resident of Washington DC I want to salute your reversing the Alexandria Retrocession.

In the context of sci-fi, your plan is workable. You are basically envisioning a situation where there's an unprecedented crisis and you want to know if it's possible to coordinate people in defense roles. There are precedents for this kind of thing, both real and fictional.

You might want to refer to questions about galaxy ships since they have a large number of residents and some stories have all residents dedicated to the work of the ship.

There have been a number of situations where the government has drafted massive numbers of Americans to fight. I'm currently reading The Great Influenza, a history of the 1918 pandemic. At one point, the United States government had plans to draft all men of fighting age who were not working in essential industries. That would have covered the entire country. According to Wikipedia, more than 2 million were actually drafted. Given the limited technology and smaller US population back then, that mobilization effort was larger than you're imagining. You could say something similar about any of the 20th century wars that involved drafts. You had tons of people being forced into service.

There have been several plans in US history to require some form of mandatory service. Here's an example from 1944:

A Permanent Policy of compulsory military training is recommended for the United States by Secretary of War Stimson and Secretary of the Navy Knox and at present enjoys substantial support in Congress. Universal service is urged by its proponents as the only means of affording adequate protection against future aggressions by foreign powers. They contend also that a year of military training for all young men in their late ‘teens would raise the standards of education, health, civic responsibility and personal integrity of the nation's youth.

Going back even further, you can find similar ideas:

The first celebrated proposal for a form of “national service” occurred in 1888 with the publication of lawyer and journalist Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, which envisioned compulsory service for men and women between the ages of 21 and 45. In its time the book was outsold only by Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben‐​Hur: A Tale of the Christ and was translated into 20 languages.

A contrary example comes from the militias active during the American Revolution. The book Arming America explains that many people in the militia ran away during combat or just didn't show up for drills.

It's up to you how successful you want the effort to be. You can write your characters as dedicated to the common defense or you can write them as frightened individuals trying to survive on their own. In the face of an apocalyptic fight for survival, mandatory government service is a reasonable thing to implement.


Not in the USA as we know it

Parts of your plan are almost certainly unconstitutional.

Military tribunals for civilians.

A court case during the civil war established that military courts cannot try civilians as long as the civilian courts are still operating, with very strong implications that this is only acceptable in a bona fide war zone.

In that case, the military detained someone who was suspected of being involved in a plot to overthrow the government (i.e. a rebel sympathizer). They subjected him to a military tribunal, where apparently enough evidence was introduced to get him sentenced to death.

Now, this was a man accused not just of refusing to help, but of actively trying to overthrow the government, during an actual war. The case reached the Supreme Court shortly after said war ended, and it decided that the military had no power to try the man, and that such an idea was fundamentally inimical to the basic principles of American liberty and democracy.

The problem

The military tribunals thing isn't a bridge too far; it goes much further than that. But even if you ditch it, fundamentally this gives a tremendous amount of control to one man: the President.

You can read the Ex Parte Milligan opinion here. It lays out the argument that once you give someone total power when they declare martial law, when the next war comes (which will inevitably happen soon enough, whether or not a 'clever man' sees the opportunity and brings it about deliberately) then they simply use the power of total martial law to make themselves king, Constitution be damned. The stability of our system of government relies upon the fact that no one person can get control of too much of it.

So you can do this. But not only would it likely require a constitutional amendment, the long term implications are, to say the least, very troubling. Once you do this, the USA is forever changed, and probably not in a good way.

Involuntary Servitude

Your plan goes far beyond the notion of a military draft. This is a problem, because the draft relies upon text in the Constitution empowering the government to 'raise armies'. This directive compels people to drop what they're doing, and start doing what the President says. Importantly, it can't be reasonably connected to 'raising armies' because it's outside a military context - you specifically describe forcing people to do non-military but still important work you have in mind.

It also doesn't say anything about paying them to do it. As such, you are probably also going to fall afoul of the Thirteenth Amendment. It was aimed at outlawing slavery, but is in fact more broad:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Honestly, even if you pay folks, it likely still constitutes 'involuntary servitude' (I'm no lawyer) because you're threatening to kill them if they refuse. But if you're not even paying them, that definitely violates the 13th.

  • $\begingroup$ What can I do to keep most of Directive 0 while also still respecting the Constitution? Because the US Government in my story/world is still defiantly devoted to the old-world values and ideals of the US. $\endgroup$
    – user69268
    May 5, 2020 at 1:09
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    $\begingroup$ A draft is still allowed by the constitution, but Directive 0 must be declared by Congress and it must be a civilian court that tries and sentences people who dodge the draft. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 5, 2020 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ I edited my answer to add another big constitutional sticking point: the Thirteenth Amendment likely bars the government from forcing people to work for it on pain of death. $\endgroup$
    – Ton Day
    May 5, 2020 at 4:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry, but I don't see any way you can salvage the main points of Directive 0. It just looks too totalitarian to ever be compatible with the ideals of the US. If you try to water it down enough to make it compatible, you probably end up with something that doesn't look much like Directive 0, but much more like a natural extension of the current system. If the government simply launches a blizzard of contracts to hire the people it needs, and drafts the rest, well, that looks a lot like today, just writ large. $\endgroup$
    – Ton Day
    May 5, 2020 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ @TonDay Step 1: require that all civilian gun owners be registered as part of an official (well regulated) local militia, as a "clarification" of the 2nd Amendment. Step 2: require that, in event of an external threat, all militias are (as part of the conditions of official registration) to defend their local community (perhaps triggered by a past incident where - despite a large population of gun-bearers - no militia materialised, and significant loss of life ensued.) $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 12:30

It exists in the real world today, just not in the USA. In Israel most males and many female are part of the military reserve. During conflicts the country almost shuts down as virtually everyone except the young and the very old are called up.

In Switzerland once again all males between 18 and 65 are part of the reserves and most keep military rifles and ammunition either at their homes or at a near by armory. They have not been tested by real world conflicts as often as Israel, but few if any countries would care to try and invade them.

The main issue as I mentioned above is that the rest of country has to virtually shut down when so many are called up. Look at the difficulties US industry faced in WWII try to find workers and the USA did not come close to drafting 100% of the population.


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