Harry (prince of the realm, son of Charles, somewhere in line of succession) came out with an off the cuff comment a few days ago that was picked up and suddenly became a major if short lived topic.
What I found humorous is that the media organisations that had been commenting on the ‘Black Spider Letters’ and how much access or influence Charles has with the government were the same people who immediately made a comment by his son a major news story. The apple not falling far from the tree so to speak and here I refer to both Harry AND the media.
Anyway, National Service. A compulsory call up for all men (and these days perhaps women as well) of a certain age for military or government service. Given the traditional age of national service people as being 18 to 25 I’m sure Cameron would love this as yet another way to get rid of those pesky young men that he seems to hate so much.
British national service was historically with the military, other countries such as Germany allowed the conscripted people to serve in a civilian capacity or as volunteers for certain organisations. Harry was specifically talking about serving with the armed forces though and several MPs keep popping up talking about national service as being in the armed forces.
So is it a good idea in the 21st century to bring back national service and conscription, I will cover a number of points below so you can decide for yourselves.
Quality vs Quantity.
An age old military situation, smaller numbers of well trained and equipped soldiers against a horde of poorly trained and equipped conscripts. Think the 300 Spartans.
The 21st century western armies are technology heavy, they use command and control, combined arms operations, computers, digital communications and a host of other technologies to significantly enhance their ability to fight and win. But it takes considerable training and experience to get the best out of all that technology and that takes time and a long term commitment on the part of the soldiers.
Many second world nations use simple numbers to make up for the lack of training and equipment, fielding armies much larger than even the United States, but as the middle east has demonstrated again and again, quantity on its own is no defence against high tech and good training.
By bringing in conscription you are, in effect, creating a new military force that lacks the training or experience to fight alongside your existing military, soldiers who cannot use the military technology that is becoming more and more common and as such cannot serve alongside regular forces with anything approaching the same capabilities.
We live in an age of ruthless government cuts to just about every area of our society. The armed forces have been cut as savagely as any group and are still suffering cut backs in numbers. Trained and experienced troops are being sacked to cut costs often as they return from combat operations overseas.
So where is the money going to come from to pay the wages of tens of thousands of conscripts, how much will they be paid or will this be something akin to workfare where the unemployed get conscripted first and serve in return for a pittance each week.
What about the costs of administering the whole conscription, the legal challenges, simply providing uniforms, food and accommodation for tens of thousands of conscripts will be expensive though there are a lot of empty army barracks left after the military cut backs, presuming they haven’t all been sold to friends, families or old school chums of the Tories or corporations.
One of the reasons why the military doesn't want conscripts is that compared to regular soldiers they are not just under trained but for the most part unwilling to be there. If you force a person to serve in the military through conscription and then send him or her into a combat situation you really shouldn't be surprised when they don’t want to go, when they refuse to fight or just run away.
Modern combat is terrifyingly lethal and a good part of the extensive training given to soldiers is how to operate on the battle field and how to survive. Conscripts lacking the training and experience to survive will suffer much higher casualties and will understandably have a much lower and more fragile morale.
Regular soldiers are likely to be reluctant to trust conscripts who will be unable to support them properly or may simply be wiped out or run away leaving the regulars alone. This creates situations where it is not possible to deploy conscripts and regulars alongside each other and people being people will rapidly lead to division between the regulars and the fodder.
We live in the age of the lawyer, they are everywhere, crawling out from under rocks to push court cases for reasons both major and trivial. Turn on your TV and they are everywhere, had an accident, PPI, call our law firm.
The British government and military have faced a number of legal challenges over the last two decades regarding military actions. The families of men killed fighting the British or taken prisoner by them have found themselves surrounded by packs of lawyers promising to get them compensation (and generate some hefty fees for the lawyers).
Now consider the lawyer happy society we live in and conscription. We are under a Tory government who have form in rewriting laws to allow them to get away with their actions with regard to the unemployed or disabled and the Human Rights situation will not help but consider how many lawyers will come crawling out of the woodwork when conscripts are ordered to deploy to a combat zone.
Given the lack of training, the probable limit on equipment they have not been trained to use and the higher probability of casualties where those wounded in body or mind run the risk of being dumped into the streets when they return because there is no money for the NHS to treat them and organisations like the DWP will declare them fit for work then sanction them when the PTSD prevents them working and yo are looking at a lawyer feeding frenzy of expensive court cases on behalf of conscripts who refuse to go.
Of course the government can always change the law retroactively yet again to make it a crime to refuse to fight which takes us back to the first world war and men being shot for cowardice not to mention that the government will have created a legal system of mass murder in the form of conscripts sent to fight foreign wars.
The bloody lawyers would have a field day, getting rich off the tax payers.
There are many other considerations, I have just covered a few highlights here. Britain used to have conscription and national service, as a nation we stopped doing that when we moved to the sort of volunteer professional army that is needed in the post cold war era of technology.
Conscription seems to offer many disadvantages and few advantages apart from as a way to force tens of thousands of young men into the armed forces and subject them to government authority in a way that is very difficult to resist.
For myself I think it’s a bad idea but I think a lot of things governments do are bad ideas, they go ahead and do them anyway. To me conscription is a very bad idea, the many negatives and no positive that cannot be achieved in better ways elsewhere.
What do you think?