service, conscription, and insurrection

Bee's picture
Sun, 08/21/2011 - 03:05 -- Bee

One of the immediate and idiotic proposals after the riots was to bring back mandatory national service for all kids. I asked - will the prime minister's children get a free pass on that? Because I know that I will not let my children serve in a quasi-military organisation, ever. They will be in school.

I grew up between an army base, a naval shipyard, a facility that builds nuclear warheads, and a submarine station. All of my cousins either served or married into the services. I was a military wife for five years, during which time we were so poor we qualified for food stamps. Even when his pay swelled to represent duty in a war zone. This seemed dramatically unfair and illogical, but I did learn what service means, on a visceral level. I committed my own life to saving my children from that particular Faustian bargain.

If they wish to join the armed services they will do so after they reach the age of consent and finish their education. By that time they will have formed independent ideas about the world, and the skills to navigate it. They might not agree with my ideas, but neither will they be pressured to go to war by economic necessity.

I suspect this feeling is shared by parents right across the political spectrum, but I know that rich parents don't worry about it. Their children have never been cannon fodder.

My second and more pertinent question was, how will the country pay for that kind of program? Armies are not profit centres. If we can't "afford" to pay for the program that helped poor kids buy bus passes and books, how can we afford to build safe barracks, training grounds, buy equipment, and hire appropriate staff? Oh right - we can't.

Though what a fantastic and dreamy notion if we could. Perhaps the UK, instead of looking to the military and prison industry for inspiration, could look at programs like Job Corps, a voluntary work training scheme for underprivileged kids. It isn't perfect, but it is a valid option that has helped a lot of youngsters sort out their lives.

In the United States these make-work programs are common and scattered throughout history. VISTA is another adequate example. Not something our senior politicians would allow their children to do, but a real lifesaver for the rest of us regular folk who want to get an education, get a job, and get ahead. Without picking up a gun.

An even better example is the Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps and its various departments. That organisation did everything - painted murals, built bridges, kept a generation of people working in the face of profound economic devastation. If you live in the United States, stop and look around. No matter where you are I bet you can find a sidewalk, park, or road marked CCC.

The point is these programs did not, do not, and will not earn a profit for their government sponsors. They get people working in an effort to stimulate an economy and stabilise communities. Radical historians would even argue they were just a panacea to prevent riots and civil insurrection.

But I'm enough of a pragmatist to vote for jobs over anarchy. Come the revolution I might be first against the wall, because fundamentally I just want my family and friends to have food, shelter, and medicine. Government has evolved over the centuries to redistribute wealth and prevent abuse of all kinds. In the last ten years it feels like we've lost track of that fundamental idea.

I want government institutions to make sure that the population is protected from catastrophe. I want every baby born to be safe, every child to see life as a spectrum of possibility, every family to have the basic ingredients required for survival, every citizen to enjoy civil liberties.

None of that can be achieved through mandatory service or drafts. Conscription is just another word for slavery.