Bringing back national service

May 1, 2009

Should we make our young people work for a year in the military or a civil scheme?

National Service, which can be military or civic in character, brings together young people from all parts of the country and all sectors of society in a shared venture. 

The day-to-day realities of military life teach young people valuable skills and gives them a structured, disciplined lifestyle, which many of them lack.  

The relationship between the military and the civilians in the UK has become distant. A National Service scheme would strengthen it.

Britain would benefit substantially from the help that a civil version of National Service would provide - there are numerous groups and organisations that would welcome extra manpower in their work for charities, sports and community clubs and environmental organisations.

The 18- and 19-year-olds who would take part in National Service could learn skills such as IT, languages or mechanics, and gain experience and confidence through working with experienced adults.

The thousands of students who leave school without any proper qualifications would get a chance to secure some through National Service.

A National Service scheme would enable the tens of thousands of students who take gap years and work overseas to do something for their own country and its citizens.

Countries all over the world already run successful civil schemes.

It would take a gigantic administrative effort, including a costly expansion of the Ministry of Defence and forces infrastructure, to re-establish any military scheme. Likewise a new government department would have to be established to run any civil scheme.

Part of the reason for dropping National Military Service in Britain in 1960 - it started in 1939 - was that there wasn't enough for the recruits to do. The same is now even truer: soldiering has become a much more technical business and it would be extremely difficult to find a way gainfully to employ 600,000 short-term recruits every year.

National service would not benefit the UK economy. It doesn't create real jobs, and some projects would take trade away from other professionals. Secondly, this scheme would stop able-bodied and able-minded workers from working in real jobs - and paying tax.

Britain is a liberal society that doesn't force its members to do anything other than obey the law, pay tax and occasionally do jury service. We should not change this. 

Many young people would rather go straight to higher education, go abroad on a gap year, get a job or do anything to avoid taking part in a scheme which pays the minimum for often uninteresting jobs. There are likely to be many conscientious objectors to working with the army, and many people who would do whatever they could to avoid National Service.

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