The armed forces of a nation are an indispensible part of its identity. Through most of my readings on Indian history: be it textbooks, articles in newspapers or on the internet, the military has received high praise, and hence, has continued to be a source of immense pride. As an Indian citizen, I am in awe of my fellow nationals who volunteer to be part of the Indian Army. I associate such individuals with fearlessness, vigor and incredible mental and emotional strength. Due to the large citizen population in the country, the Indian Army does not face a dearth of volunteers to join the military, and thus mandatory military service is not the norm. However, many countries around the world do compel their citizens to have military service for a limited period of time. It must be known that ‘military service’ includes non-combat roles as well – roles that support troops as they prepare for, and engage in, warfare. Such roles are logistics, intelligence gathering, research & development, medical training, to name a few.
The military is an institution in and of itself. It has its own social structure; a culture, and traditions that become a crucial part of its members’ psyche. I’ve observed that most men and women who have a military service record have a duality wherein they are highly reasonable; their thought processes rooted in empiricism, and have strong instincts about people; yet they do not discredit faith and the presence of an Almighty. This observation is not restricted to the servicemen and women alone – it is reflected in their family members as well. The culture of Army personnel is one that inspires poise, grace and nerves of steel.
The age at which a person is required to complete their military training and clock in their service is an important factor when considering the benefits of mandatory military service. When an individual is 18 years old, he or she is expected to have completed one’s high school education, and thus, is expected to be able to follow rules and traditions of the Army quite easily. It is a significant period in an individual’s life – it can determine the kind of adult this person will be. Over the next two or even three years, this individual is groomed to have stronger mental capacity than their ‘civilian’ counterparts and learn the ability to withstand stressors; they are inculcated with strong disciplinary values and ethics – in short, they turn into responsible, reliable adults. This point has been vouched for repeatedly, for many years, by members from all sections of society.
An often over-looked feature is how military service affects families, especially the spouses and partners of those employed by the military. In a country where military service is compulsory for all citizens irrespective of gender, there is a greater acceptance between partners as they have undergone similar experiences in their formative years of adulthood. For countries where obligatory military service is restricted to the male populace, their partners would have understanding for their way of life as they would have been raised with fathers, brothers or other family members who have had the same training.
Most countries that have mandated military service for its youth are those that are locked in geographical, political, and/or military conflict for an extended period of time, such as Iran, Israel, South Korea and North Korea, to name a few. These countries have a relatively small population as well. Conscription ensures that the entire population is accounted for as ‘reserve troops’; should the need arise over short notice, these individuals can be called upon to serve the country. It has been noted that being a part of the military encourages active civic duty, develops a sense of pride for the nation, and perhaps most importantly, creates social bonds between individuals from different socio-economic, ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. In this day and age, where finding differences seems to be convention, the army provides an umbrella under which all individuals can find a role that provides meaningful contribution to the working of the military establishment.
Newspaper articles from countries where the mandatory military service was phased out temporarily during peacetime (Sweden and Germany) show support to the idea of mandatory military service for reasons mentioned in the earlier section of this essay. Countries that have imposed compulsory military service for its youth (Israel) have noted an increased positivity for the nation, increased acceptance of citizens of Israel, and an overall well-being of all members of the community.
Over the last decade, many countries have considered conscription seriously for its citizens between the ages of 18 – 25 years. France is one such notable example – President Macron has proposed required military service in light of the recent disturbance of peace in France and the European Union. In the Middle East: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have made conscription as law. These countries have instituted this directive as a response to the prolonged unrest in the region, and to protect its sovereignty against legitimate and powerful threats.
In many cases, conscripts do not match up to volunteer soldiers because they are given basic training as opposed to a more rounded, complete training given to a volunteer soldier. In a battlefield, this lack of rigorous training could be detrimental not only to oneself but also to fellow soldiers who are engaged in combat. Countries that enforce conscription for its youth do not find it difficult to replenish their forces; however, they do find themselves in need of individuals who can take over military command. This leads to a high demand for individuals with leadership skills, which leads to positions of command and authority remaining unfilled, but a surplus of eager personnel that are fit for combat, logistics and intelligence gathering. An effective army, navy and air force is one where there are competent officers to train, and lead their juniors into combat situations.
Voluntary military service ensures that members of society who wish to pursue alternate career paths are not derailed by a few years of mandatory military service. In an increasingly competitive work environment, these two or three years can be crucial to set up a favorable career trajectory immediately after completing one’s education. Volunteer cadets can opt for non-combat roles after they finish their education, and hence they will be more motivated to contribute effectively to the military, as opposed to being forced to do it. This ensures high quality solutions, innovation in technical as well as strategic aspects of the military. It also addresses the need for military officers, since a university education can enhance and nurture leadership skills in an individual.
Mandatory military service places a large economic burden on the country. The army has to take care of, train, and educate their conscript which demands a significant portion of the country’s budget every year. In addition to this, the bureaucratic machinery required to proficiently track and enroll its citizens into the military is an additional expense of the taxpayer’s money. After the recruits have completed their training, they need to be assigned to a branch of the military that is best suited for their skills; in a populous country like India, this can be a herculean task as it demands many resources and funds that can be more effectively used elsewhere, both within and without the military.
Many decriers of mandatory military service argue that binding military service of any duration is an infringement of a fundamental human right – freedom. Obligatory military service goes against the principles of Humanism; forcing youth to join the military will coerce individuals into a system of which they do not want to be a part. Many young adults today have a romanticized view of combat and the military, largely due to how it is represented in movies, books and other forms of entertainment; this is harshly corrected in the strict, traditional environment of the army. Such a drastic change from expectation to reality may not be well-received by some, and hence, may lead to mental and emotional difficulties.
Compulsory military service targets the youth, which can adversely affect their families as well. These young men and women may go to the military happily; however their parents and other older family members may not be contented by it. Some family members who have experienced combat during their time in service will not want to wish the same on their children; they would rather have a ‘civilian’ child to support them as they grow older. This discontent can foster into resentment and eventually hate for the government and the military of the country. This will go against the very nature of the Army – to protect and serve the country and its citizens.
One of the main reasons for Sweden and Germany to remove conscription from its laws, after over a 100 years and 60 years respectively, is due to economic constraints. During peacetime, the ruling government of the country realized that the money and resources put into conscription could be used more effectively elsewhere. Austria has a conscription program as well, however, it also offers civilian alternative for individuals who have conscientious objection. This ensures that the benefits of engaging with citizens are not lost due to the choices of these citizens.
When I engage in conversation with my friends who are currently serving in the military, or who have served their mandatory military service (Singapore), I notice how they are poised and confident of themselves. They have an innate sense of pride and accomplishment, and an attitude that changes mountains into molehills, as the saying (almost) goes. My senior, whose husband has served for many years in the Army, has a seemingly unending well of tolerance, and the ability to look for alternative solutions for any problems. Both groups of people credit the military service for these desirable characteristics. However, they are always aware of the danger that is inherent in this life, and the testing times wherein they are separated from their loved ones; sometimes with restricted means of communicating their well being to each other.
In conclusion, mandatory military service is a boon and a bane for any country – its ruling government and the general population. Military service has proven to have benefits at a personal level, professional level, and on society as a whole. However, in this age of technology and virtually unlimited choices, the youth of today may not be interested in serving their country through the military. In some cases, they may oppose the choice of the means of serving their country being taken away from them. Personally, I believe that military training over a limited period of time (6 to 8 months) would be beneficial to citizens – it provides the advantages of strength, instinctive thinking, decisive action, patriotism, building a sense of community and togetherness; while allowing the individual to have the freedom to pursue their career and choose how to serve their country on their own terms.