The British Isles are constantly changing. Due to this, there are differences in culture, stemming from the days of The Empire. These changes have been fully integrated into our society.
Many times, there have been situations in which I was travelling on a bus or a train and someone has cried out, “These youngsters of today, bring back National Service. That will sort them out.”
What was National Service? It was a legislation created by the government in 1947 which went on until 1963, mandating every male aged 18 to 30 to serve a period of 18 months (increasing to two years in 1950) in the military. It was compulsory, the penalty for not conforming being a prison sentence.
The reality show ‘Lads Army’ in which the idea of National Service for modern young adult males was explored shed light on the concept and piqued my interest in what bringing it back might look like. Here are some reasons and corresponding rebuttals regarding its reintroduction.
Reason number one: It will provide a pool of military personnel to draw from in case of National Emergency.
The military performs a lot of different duties in the world, from mine clearance in Africa to building homes and providing medical care to third world civilians in Nepal. The military provides a lot of useful services at home and abroad and National Service would allow an influx of personnel to assist with this. Also, if war broke out then there would be enough military personnel to deal with this.
Rebuttal: The military has enough personnel to deal with emergencies, therefore having National Service personnel as well would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
In the 1950s, the threat of war justified having an influx of military personnel. This meant that the National Service made sense. However, in modern times, there are not as many wars that the UK is involved in.
The military has enough personnel to commit to all the humanitarian duties it undertakes, so conscripting anyone would just be a waste as they would have nothing to do; they would be paid to sit about in the barracks all day.
Reason number two: Youngsters will get a sense of discipline
The military has always prided itself on discipline and creating professionals, who come from all walks of life. During National Service, many Borstal boys were called up, some of whom went on to be officers, for example.
So, the system can teach discipline and give those that lack it a sense of purpose in life.
Rebuttal: Since the loss of crown immunity, the military had to adapt to society not the other way around.
Crown Immunity was a concept by which the military dealt with its own legalities and resolved all discipline issues in-house. This was the foundation of the military system, and when it was dissolved, the military had to then follow the ideals of society.
With current notions of safe spaces and compensation, the military cannot enact discipline in the same way it did before, as it must conform to societies rules. This makes the idea of National Service seem like folly.
As well, the present diversity of cultures in multicultural Britain can impact military planning, so National Service might not be an option.
Reason number three: Youngsters will get trained and be of more use to the work force.
Yes, there is nothing bad about being trained and gaining qualifications in the military. With the idea of NVQs being done in half the typical time, and the chance to gain qualifications in more than one trade by following this system, National Service could be a boon for a young conscript to gain qualifications and experience in preparation for the civilian workforce.
Rebuttal: With colleges and further education being easier to access, there is no need for National Service as a route to gaining qualifications and training.
Colleges and further education are more and more accessible, such that anyone can gain any qualifications they wish. Re-introducing National Service merely as an avenue for education seems like it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Also, the job market still has a lack of jobs anyway, so being a National Serviceman doesn’t give you that leg up, it just gives you a chance to get a job that twenty other people are vying for.
In summary, I think for National Service to be a viable possibility in England today, the military would need crown immunity back, and the freedom not to conform to society.