"Bring back National Service" - Will Self

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by smallbrownprivates, May 13, 2012.

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  1. BBC News - A Point of View: Bring back National Service

    A Point of View: Bring back National Service

    Re-introducing conscription to the UK would mean fewer bellicose politicians, argues Will Self.

    Last week, on the anniversary of the extra-judicial killing of Osama Bin Laden that he authorised, Barack Obama, the president of the United States of America and commander-in-chief of its armed forces, strode on to a catwalk erected in a hangar at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan under the probably somewhat weary eyes of the assembled military personnel.
    Weary, not least because it was 04:00 local time - although it was prime viewing time back home in God's own country.

    After clasping the hand of the general who introduced him, and administering a very manly hug, the president went on to announce that complete victory over al-Qaeda was in sight, while linking this to the draw-down of US forces in the region, the clear implication being: We won.

    I'm not particularly interested in unpicking all the illusory veils that this mediatised event were shrouded in - I don't suppose this studio could contain all the fluff that would be generated - suffice it to note that the wide-awake Taliban delivered their own very real riposte within hours of Obama's departure, in the form of a suicide bombing that killed several Afghan civilians.

    No, what struck me observing the footage from Bagram was the same thing that had a year before, when we saw images of Obama, together with Hillary Rodham Clinton and assorted advisers, civilian and military, watching the film taken by US Navy Seals of Bin Laden's assassination.

    In those shots, Obama looked the very soul of martial informality: wearing a dark windcheater jacket and buttoned-up white shirt, he sat modestly in the corner, his expression intent and resolute. There was no hint of bloodthirsty triumphalism, but nor did he appear overawed by the moral implications of what he - a committed Christian - had sanctioned.

    At Bagram, perhaps not wishing to appear as a different kind of poseur, Obama eschewed any uniform, save suit trousers, white shirt and clerically dark tie. True, his sleeves were rolled up, but this, surely, was only an unconscious signal that he was the man to get the job done - so long as he's re-elected.

    What is it about power that almost invariably makes even its democratically-elected wielders come over all macho? Recall: Barack Obama was a gawky kid from Hawaii who cut his political teeth as a community organiser on the poor south side of Chicago. Up until he became the president, his demeanour was in keeping with the academic career he'd pursued for over a decade.

    Or take our own elected leaders - from Margaret Thatcher on, a key aspect of the premiership seems to have become posing with tough, tough boys and their tough, tough toys. Thatcher - in the turret of a tank, her hat swathed in what appeared to be white muslin - was the iconic image of the Iron Lady.

    But Blair hugged the army hoodies with just as much enthusiasm - 'coptering into Kosovo, Bagdad and all points east, lean and fit in his trademark black jeans, ready to sprinkle a little stardust on the dull and fearful slog of war, and have a lot of the military's own unimpeachable patriotism, self-sacrifice and sheer bloody grit rub off on him in turn.

    And so it goes on, with Cameron swapping his bicycle and wind turbine for a flak jacket and a Hercules transporter - it's an act that looks a little unconvincing, though, in all their cases.

    The former industrial chemist, the one-time lawyer, the party wonk, and - if by some caprice of Jove, Ed Miliband becomes premier - another party wonk, what do these people know, really, of the profession of violence, which is what, in the last analysis, soldiering consists of?

    The contrast with the past is instructive, as ever. After the debacle of the Gallipoli landings, their chief architect, Winston Churchill was demoted within the cabinet, then resigned and had himself commissioned as an officer and sent to the trenches. There he fought with distinction for several months, making numerous sorties into No Man's Land.
    This made it difficult - once World War II was underway - for the conscripted army to feel that their prime minister didn't understand their situation perfectly well.

    Now, of course, we have professional armed services and professional political classes. The distinction between them seems to be this: politicians have done nothing but politicking before they assume office, soldiers are often unable to do anything once they've left the service.

    Otherwise the two castes complement one another well, and by carving up the realm of conflict into mutually self-supporting zones of "expertise" make it difficult for the largely unsuccessful foreign interventions of the past fifteen years to be successfully opposed.

    It matters whether or not a majority of the population may oppose any given adventure. The professionalisation of waging war puts it as far beyond our ken as the activities of other professionals - tax accountants, say, or oncologists.

    I suspect that besides the obvious thrill of being a bellicose poseur, what drives our political leaders into the arms of the military is anxiety. Suppose you've spent the entirety of your working life pushing paper in an office and concocting ways of winning elections - then the heavy wooden door of Number 10 finally swings closed behind you and you're treated to a series of hushed briefings from serious men and women who array before your blinking eyes scenarios of deathly force directed against your electorate and yourself.

    Meanwhile, out in the back garden, a couple of strapping fellows are parading up and down the lawn with Heckler & Koch machine guns around their necks, their mission: to stop the baddies scything you down.

    Under such circumstances, even the most competent Oxford PPE graduate is likely to feel a little nervous and think to themselves: best do what these people tell me, they seem to have their heads screwed on. Then, as the days and months of being hustled from car to plane to secured room pass, the captive prime minister begins to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, to fall in love with his armed captors (sorry, I mean protection officers), and even suffer from the delusion that he, too, is capable of terminating his enemies with extreme prejudice.

    In my view this state of affairs helps nobody - not the politicians, with their adrenalised dreams of foreign adventuring to offset domestic torpor, nor the armed services who feel themselves, rightly, to be used - and certainly not the citizenry, who remain effectively powerless, our military role diminished to waving Union flags and sporting paper buttonholes.
    So, here's a modest proposal that I think will satisfy everyone the length of the political spectrum: since we require defence against potential aggressors, let us all, collectively, be responsible for it.

    Yes, that's right: Bring back National Service! The cry beloved of the ramrod-straight and the crew-cut is joined by me with all my bohemian heart. Old, young, female, male, straight, gay, industrial chemists, lawyers and even party wonks - let us all do our bit and maintain a citizen army, as the Swiss do, numbering in the many millions.

    Personally, as someone who enjoys nothing more than a little camping, marching, and target practice, I'd be first in line. However, we don't want a tooled-up nation that suffers from a constant sense of embattlement - like, oh, I don't know, Israel for example - so, while accruing all the marvellous open-air and discipline-promoting benefits of annual service in the armed forces, we should also take serious steps towards reducing our exposure to foreign threats. I can think of quite a few nations that, while wealthy and covetable are never viewed as seriously at risk of invasion - Sweden springs to mind.

    A neutral Britain with a citizen army would become a powerful moral counterweight to the expansionist and meddling powers that flank us to the west and the east. But what, I hear you chorus, about those situations in which we have an incontrovertible duty to intervene even if they don't present us with an existential threat?

    To which argument I can only reply - do you seriously think we would have that much difficulty in mobilising an expeditionary force given a pool of 20 million odd - some, no doubt, very odd - trained personnel?

    No, the continued existence of a professional army remains now what it has always been - an expression of the authority of the state over the individual, and of those individuals that control the state over the rest of us.
    If Barack Obama had called upon a citizen army to get up in the middle of the night so as to bolster his re-election campaign, he would've been greeted by a deafening chorus of snores.
     
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  2. If Mr Self has experienced national service he'll know exactly what he's talking about.
     
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  4. Introducing National Service would entail the best of the Army training or looking after poorly motivated personnel who don't want to be there and looking after those who had broken the rules. Our front line capability would be reduced by at least 75% and our effectiveness by more.

    Still, sounds good I suppose.
     
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  5. Not sure if the armed forces should be populated by large numbers of people who don't want to be there, but there should be a form of national service i.e. work in hospitals, park services, care homes etc. In short , a 6 month / 1 year stint spent putting something back into the system. Any thoughts ?
     
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  6. deleted due to having put typing fingers into gear without engaging brain.
     
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  7. Of course those that are so vociferous about bringing back National Service are not likely to have to do it themselves. And what Markintime says is, I would suggest an optimistic assessment of the effect on the Services.
     
  8. I think that he has correctly identified the problem but he has come up with completely the wrong solution.

    At the moment you have career politicians running the country who do not have a clue as to what it's like out in the real world, never mind what it's like being in the military.

    My solution is to not let anybody stand for parliament until they have done at least 20 years proper work.

    FC
     
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  9. This is why thoughtful yanks resist every attempt to disarm them, an armed citizenry should not be a problem for a proper government composed of that same citizenry.
     
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  10. Surprised Will Self didn't mention the German (and I think Dutch) example.

    Doing a spell in civil protection organisations or the relevant equivalent.

    Expanding the Prince's Trust which does much good work with young people could be very valuable.

    I think as Markintime puts it, it would be a misdirection of valuable military resources (to put it at its mildest).
     
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  11. This is something I have advocated for sometime, whilst it would not be compulsory, it would be necessary to have done this prior to being eligible for any State benefits.
     
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  12. Sorry mate, that's probably very clever as it has gone right over my head!

    Could you run it past the thicko at the back of the class again please?!
     
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  13. What about starting with the applicants that fail the current entry criteria - at least they had shown a commitment in applying in the first place..anyone know the numbers rejected each year ?
     
  14. Just out of interest, did any of those attending Bad Lads Army join up in the end? I know there was talk of it from them, but did they?
     
  15. Got my vote.