Conscription is a general term for forced labor demanded by some established authority, e.g, Old Testament commentaries use the term to describe the levies of labor used to build the Temple, but here it is used in the specific sense of government policies that require citizens to serve in their armed forces. It is also known as mandatory military service. It is known by various names — for example, the United States' past conscription program was known colloquially as "the draft". Many nations do not have any form of conscription, instead maintaining a strictly volunteer, or professional, military force, rather than relying on conscription, leaving the possibility of revived conscription for wartime and "crises" of supply.
In the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere the term conscription is generally used only during wartime. National Service was the term used in peace-time. A shortage of miners during war-time saw also men conscripted as mine workers - the "Bevin Boys". During World War II, Japanese women and children were conscripted to work in factories.
The term "conscription" refers only to the mandatory service, thus those undergoing conscription are known as "conscripts" or "selectee" in the United States (from the Selective Service System or the Selective Service Initiative announced in 2004).
"Enlisted" personnel are members of the armed forces who are not commissioned officers. The term is often used to refer only to those who have volunteered for service.
Conscription allowed the French Republic to form the Grande Armee, what Napoleon Bonaparte called "the nation in arms", which successfully battled European professional armies.
Conscription, particularly when the conscripts are being sent to foreign wars that do not directly affect the security of the nation, has historically been highly politically contentious in democracies. For instance, during World War I, bitter political disputes broke out in Canada (see Conscription Crisis of 1917), Newfoundland, Australia and New Zealand over conscription. Canada also had a political dispute over conscription during World War II (see Conscription Crisis of 1944). Similarly, mass protests against conscription to fight the Vietnam War occurred in several countries in the late 1960s. (See also: Conscription Crisis)
In developed nations, the increasing emphasis on technological firepower and better-trained fighting forces, the sheer unlikelihood of a conventional military assault on most developed nations, as well as memories of the contentiousness of the Vietnam War experience, make mass conscription unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Russia and China, as well as many smaller nations, retain mainly conscript armies.
Most countries only draft men, although some (e.g., Israel) also draft women. Some have considered the practice of excluding women from the draft unfair, because they feel it goes against principles of equality. During World War II women were drafted into the armed forces of the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. The United States came close to drafting women into the Nurse Corps in preparation for a planned invasion of Japan; the Japanese surrender made this unnecessary.
A conscientious objector is an individual whose personal beliefs are incompatible with military service, or sometimes with any role in the armed forces. In some countries, conscientious objectors have special legal status which augments their conscription duties. For example, Sweden allows conscientous objectors to choose a service in the "weapons-free" branch, services which will prove useful during an invasion, such as an airport fireman, nurse or telecommunications technician. The reasons for refusing to serve are varied. Many conscientious objectors are so for religious reasons -- notably, the Quakers are pacifist by doctrine, and Jehovah's Witnesses, while not strictly speaking pacifists, refuse to participate in the armed services on the grounds that they believe Christians should be neutral in worldly conflicts (also see Conscientious objection).
The provisions for conscientious objection to the draft have been viewed as unfairly descriminatory, favoring religious objection over non-religious objection, and favoring those who value peace and non-violence over those who value freedom. Alternative mandatory service can assuage objections based on peace and non-violence, but do nothing for those who objections arise from strongly held convictions about freedom.
Not everyone who was conscripted was willing to go to war. Many young people used their family's political connections to ensure that they were placed well away from any potential harm. They would avoid military service altogether through college deferments. Others with political influence often joined the military and served in what was termed a Champagne unit. Others used educational exemptions, or became conscientious objectors. Others also pretended to be conscientious objectors. For others, the most common method of avoiding the draft was to cross the border into another country. People who have been "called up" for military service and who attempted to avoid it in some way, were known as "draft-dodgers". American draft-dodgers made their way to Canada or Mexico. Australian draft-dodgers had greater difficulty leaving their country due to the surrounding ocean, but "going bush" worked just as well in the short term for many of them.
Many people looked upon draft-dodgers with scorn as being "cowards", but some supported them in their efforts.
The Vietnam War saw new levels of opposition to conscription and National Service. Many people opposed to and facing conscription, chose to either plead conscientious objection or to evade the draft by fleeing to a neutral country. A small proportion, like Muhammad Ali, chose to publicly and politically fight conscription. In Australia this was known as the Draft Resistance Movement.
Countries with mandatory military service
A number of countries have mandatory military service:
In Austria, compulsory military service applies to all male citizens from 18 to 36 years of age (with some exceptions). The duration of the basic military service is eight months. This can either be done in one go, or as a full-time service of six months followed by regular weapon exercises of several days each as a member of the Miliz until the eight months is reached. Although women have no compulsory military service, they can undertake military service voluntarily. Military alternative service or civil service is possible in place of the compulsory military service. Its duration is 12 months and it can be performed with various different organizations.
Brazil has mandatory military service for men from the age of 18. However, conscientious objection is allowed.
Bulgaria has mandatory military service for male citizens from 18 to 30 years of age. Currently (2004) the duration of the service depends on the degree of education. For citizens studying for or holding a bachelor degree or higher the service is 6 months, and for citizens with no higher education it is 7 months. During the last 10 years the duration of service has rapidly dropped (from 2 years in 1994) and as Bulgaria adopts a professional army mandatory service is expected to be replaced with voluntary service.
The People's Republic of China technically has conscription for both men and women. Women who are conscripted go into the army for two months and learn to use firearms.
Croatian law prescribes military service for male citizens from 18 to 27 years old. The duration of the normal military service is six months (as of 2004), while conscientious objectors can apply for civil service which lasts for eight months. Conscription is regularly postponed for students until the end of their studies, as long as they apply before they turn 28 years of age.
Over the last decade or so, the duration of military service has been halved and civil service was introduced together with the streamlining of the professional army. Should this trend continue, the mandatory service may eventually be completely replaced with voluntary service.
Cyprus has compulsory military service for all men between the ages of 18 and 50. Military service lasts for 25 months. See official pages by the Greek Cypriot National Guard (http://www.army.gov.cy/index.php?id=76). The Annan Plan for Cyprus, that was rejected in the 2004 reunification referendum, mandated the demilitarisation of the island and the disbanding of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot forces.
Eritrea has a mandatory military service program for both men and women aged 18 through 40. The term of service is 18 months. There is no alternate service. The Eritrean government is well-known for hunting down and torturing suspected draft evaders. Draft evaders often flee the country to nearby countries.
As of 2004, Finland has mandatory military service for men of at least six months, depending on the assigned position: those trained as officers or NCOs serve for twelve months, specialty troops serve for nine or twelve months, and other rank and file serve for six months. Unarmed service is also possible, and lasts eleven months. Women can serve voluntarily. Civilian service of thirteen months is available in lieu of military service. Men who opt for neither are sent to open prison where they may work and study for a period of six months. Jehovah's Witnesses and citizens from the demilitarized Åland region do not have to serve. Military service has been mandatory for men throughout the history of independent Finland since 1917.
- Main article at Conscription in Germany
Germany has mandatory military service of nine months for men. Women may volunteer and are allowed to perform the same jobs as men. A conscientious objector may petition for permission to do civilian "substitute service" (Ersatzdienst) or "civilian service" (Zivildienst) instead for nine months, which is usually accepted. A third option is to become a foreign "development helper" (Entwicklungshelfer) for at least eighteen months.Overall, however, during the past few years, the number of men being drafted has declined significantly.
Save for a few exceptions, military service is compulsory for all men between the ages of 18 and 23 years. Those who are engaged in educational or vocational training programs prior to their military assessment are allowed to postpone service until they have completed the programs and can be called upon to perform their national duty at any time thereafter.
- Main article at Conscription in Greece
As of 2004, Greece (Hellenic Republic) has mandatory military service of 12 months for men. However, it is developing a professional army system, and it is widely expected that the mandatory military service will be cut to 6 months by 2008 or even abolished completely. Although women are accepted into the Greek army, they are not obliged to join as men are. Soldiers receive no health insurance, but they can receive medical support during their army service, including hospitalization costs. They receive a salary of approximately 9 euros per month for privates, 12 euros for the rank of draft corporal and draft sergeant, and 600 euros as a draft cadet. The wages are not sufficient to sustain a draftee serving his tour away from his place of residence and most draftees depend financially on their parents to support them financially while they are on their tour.
Israel has mandatory military service for both Jewish men and women not married by the conscription age; some ethnic and religious groups are exempt. Typically, men serve for 36 months, women serve for 21 months. See also: Israel Defence Forces.
There are growing numbers of refuseniks who resist military service, particularly in the Occupied Territories, some of them serving prison terms as a result. See also: Refusal to serve in the Israeli military.
Lebanon has mandatory military service of one year for men. See Official Information from Lebanese Army (http://www.lebarmy.gov.lb/English/FlagService.asp).
As of 2004, Malaysia has mandatory national service of three months for a selected group of both men and women. Twenty per cent of 18-year-olds are selected through a lottery system to join this program. Trainees are not trained to use firearms. The first training date was February 16, 2004. See Official Information from Malaysia National Service Training Department (http://www.khidmatnegara.gov.my).
Norway has mandatory military service for men (women can volunteer) of 6, 9 or 12 months. Pacifists can apply for alternative service.
Poland has a compulsory service term of 12 months for all mature men. However, many of those are considered unfit for mandatory military service during peacetime. Effectively, only a few thousand men are drafted each autumn. Alternative service can be requested, e.g. in the police force.
Romania still has conscription. Even though in 2003 an amendment to the Constitution was advertised as making military service facultative, it only changed the way it is regulated, by organic law instead of the Constitution. In March 2004, the Parliament passed a law which increased the sentence for draft-dodgers, despite opposition protests.
As of 2002, Russia (Russian Federation) has a mandatory two-year draft but some Russians avoid it. See Only 11 percent of Russian men enter mandatory military service (http://www.spacedaily.com/2002/021206145741.ooyw2y54.html).
Singapore, which currently has a mandatory service period of 24 months, used to have one of the longest mandatory military service periods for males, at 30 months. It also has special policies for ethnic Malays, because of possible conflicts in allegiances with neighbour Malaysia. Some of the Malays are drafted into the Police or Civil Defense. Further conscription liability in the form of reservist training extends annually for another 10-15 years. From 1st December 2004, it has been shortened by 6 months.
As of 2004, South Korea has mandatory military service of 24 months. See:  (http://kn.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2002/12/14/200212140004.asp).
In Sweden military service is mandatory for men only. As of 2002, Sweden's government asked the army to consider mandatory military service for women. Less than one third of the country's eligible 19-year-olds are actually drafted each year. See Sweden considers mandatory military service for women (http://www.news-star.com/stories/062703/New_8.shtml). Men may choose to do unarmed service, for instance as a firefighter. Generally, unarmed service is longer than armed.
Switzerland has the largest militia army in the world (200,000 including reserves). Military service for Swiss men is obligatory according to the Federal Constitution, and includes 17 weeks of basic training as well as annual 3-week-refresher courses until a number of service days which increases with rank (300 days for privates) is reached. Service for women is voluntary, but identical in all respects. Conscientious objectors can choose 450 days of community service instead of military service. Medical deferments and dismissals from basic training (often on somewhat dubious grounds) have increased significantly in the last years. Therefore, only about 33% of Swiss men actually complete basic training.
The Republic of China has had mandatory military service for all males since 1949. Females in the outlying islands of Fujian must also serve. From January 2004, the mandatory service was shortened by two months.
In Turkey, compulsory military service applies to all male citizens from 20 to 41 years of age (with some exceptions). Those who are engaged in higher education or vocational training programs prior to their military drafting are allowed to delay service until they have completed the programs. The duration of the basic military service varies. As of July 2003, the reduced durations are as follows: 15 months for privates (previously 18 months), 12 months for reserve officers (previously 16 months) and 6 months for short-term privates, which denotes those who have earned a university degree and not have been enlisted as reserve officers (previously 8 months).
For Turkish citizens who have lived or worked abroad of Turkey for at least three years, on condition that they pay a certain fee in foreign currencies, a basic military training of one month is offered instead of the full-term military service. Also, when the General Staff assesses that the military reserve exceeds the required amount, paid military service of one-month's basic training is established.
Although women have in principle no military service, they are allowed to become officers.
Refusing the obligatory military service due to conscientious objection is illegal in Turkey, and punishable with imprisonment by law.
In Venezuela , all citizens over 18 should report to the local military authority for evaluation. If the citizen can provide enough proof that they should not serve (They are college students, or have medical reason not to) they are exempt. However if they cannot prove this, they are conscripted and must serve up to 2 years of mandatory military service.
Raids are usually made in night clubs and other nocturnal entertainment places to check whether or not men inside are 'registered' as reservists.
Countries that do not currently have mandatory military service
- See main article: History of Australian conscription
Belgium abolished military conscription in the early 1990s.
- See main articles: Conscription Crisis of 1917 and Conscription Crisis of 1944
In Canada conscription has never taken place in peacetime. Conscription became an extremely controversial issue during both World War I and World War II, especially in the province of Quebec.
The Czech Republic abolished compulsory military service on December 31, 2004. See announcement by the Minister of Defence (http://www.army.cz/scripts/detail.php?id=3041) and related BBC News article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4118461.stm).
France was one of the first nations to employ conscription, since during the wars following the French Revolution the army needed men to stop Austrian and British invasions. France abolished peacetime military conscription in 2001.
Hungary abolished mandatory military service by November 2004, after the parliament had modified the constitution, ending a long-standing political dispute. To restore drafting, a two-thirds vote in parliament is needed, which is unlikely in the short term. The country is currently developing a professional army, with strong emphasis on "contract soldiers" who voluntarily serve 4+4 years for a wage.
Saddam Hussein's large Iraqi army was largely composed of conscripts, except for the elite Republican Guard. About 100,000 conscripts died during the First Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm. Following the Second Gulf War, the Iraqi Army was recreated as a volunteer force.
Ireland has always had a volunteer military. See the Irish Defence Forces (http://www.military.ie/).
Until January 1, 2005, Italy had mandatory military service for men between the ages of 18 and 45. Men were usually required to serve for ten months. Anyone objecting to military service for religious or ethical reasons could claim to be a conscientious objector, in which case community service was usually authorised as an alternative to the regular ten months of military service.
The Italian Parliament, by a large majority, voted to abolish mandatory military service from January 1, 2005, and the Italian armed forces will be now be entirely composed of professional volunteer troops, both male and female.  (http://www.repubblica.it/2004/g/sezioni/cronaca/fineleva/fineleva/fineleva.html).
Luxembourg has a volunteer military. See the National Museum of Military History (http://www.nat-military-museum.lu/).
The Netherlands abolished compulsory military service in the mid-1990s.
Portugal abolished compulsory military service on November 19, 2004. See an announcement by the Minister of Defence (http://www.mdn.gov.pt/destaques/2004/fim_servico_militar.htm).
The Russian Empire introduced a law in 1873 which created mandatory military service. The first draft took place in 1874. See: Military service in the Russia Empire (http://www.roots-saknes.lv/Army/military_service_.htm).
Slovenia's Prime Minister Anton Rop abolished mandatory military service on September 9, 2003. See the official press release (http://nato.gov.si/eng/press-centre/press-releases/2212/).
Spain abolished compulsory military service in 2001. See an announcement by the Minister of Defence (http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2001/03/09/espana/984145280.html). Military and alternative service was 9 months long and in recent years the majority of conscripts chose to perform alternative, rather than military, service.
Great Britain introduced conscription during both world wars, in 1916 and 1939 respectively. After World War II, it introduced National Service, which was abolished in 1960. Ireland was initially exempt from conscription in the First World War, but it was extended to Ireland on April 9, 1918. This was a decisive factor in pushing the country into seeking its independence. The poet W.B. Yeats wrote to Lord Haldane in protest: "...it seems to me a strangely wanton thing that England, for the sake of 50,000 Irish soldiers, is prepared to hollow another trench between the countries and fill it with blood." Also in protest, Lady Gregory declared "women and children will stand in front of their men and receive the bullets, rather than let them be taken to the front." Northern Ireland was exempt from conscription in the Second World War, and was also excluded from the post-war National Service.
- See main article: Conscription in the United States
The United States has employed conscription intermittently. For example, in 1863 the imposition of a draft during the Civil War touched off the New York Draft Riots. Conscription was next used after the United States entered World War I in 1917. The first instance of conscription when the country was not at war came with the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. Conscription ended in 1973. Currently, male U.S. citizens and many male aliens living in the U.S., if aged 18 through 25, are required to register with the Selective Service System, which describes its mission as "preparing to manage a draft if and when Congress and the President so direct."  (http://www.sss.gov/)
Arguments for and against conscription
- The neutrality of this section is disputed. Please view its talk page.
Some argue that peacetime conscription is an ideal tool for teaching a population basic, important skills such as first aid, swimming, wilderness survival et cetera. However, it can be argued that these skills could better be taught in the public school system than during mandatory service.
The draft as a democratic right and not as obligation
Historically conscription is connected to Democracy. If the army is consisted only of professional military personell then it looks more like a praetorian guard. And the leader of the praetorians could easily destroy any democratic society as it happened many times in the past. As long as countries need armies an army of citizens is better than an army of mercenaries
Perhaps the kind of people who most strongly want to be in the military are not the only kind of people you want in it. Conscripts come from other backgrounds and might have differing opinions and views. A diverse group is more likely to succeed at any task. Still, the lower morale of conscripts may make them less useful in actual combat situations, especially in wars of aggression.
Of course Personnel diversity might be bad for the army but it helps all these different people come to contact and realize the true nature of a society helping them understand the problems of other classes/professions/cultures/educational levels
The Draft As Slavery
"Conscription subjects individual personalities to militarism. It is a form of servitude. That nations routinely tolerate it, is just one more proof of its debilitating influence" by Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and Thomas Mann in Against Conscription and the Military Training of Youth--1930 (http://www.peace.ca/manifestoagainstconscription.htm)
Some groups, such as the libertarians, say that the draft constitutes slavery, since it is mandatory work. Under the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, slavery or indentured servitude is not allowed unless it's part of punishment for a crime. They therefore see the draft as unconstitutional (at least in the U.S.) and immoral. As this opinion has not been decided one way or the other by the courts the draft remains an option for the US government for the future.
In the USSR, most of the conscripts received only very basic training and were used for forced labor unrelated to actual military service - usually digging up potatoes in the field with zero wage cost. The soviet planned economy system thus had no incentive to produce better combined harvesting machines and the soviet agriculture remained low-tech.
In soviet-bloc Hungary, more than half of pre-1989 conscripts received a mere few weeks of rifle training and were swiftly assigned to "working squadrons" which usually hand-built railway tracks "for free", but in very poor quality obviously. At the same time, railway tracks in Western Europe were being built to high-quality standards by semi-automatic, rail-rolling factories operated by professional workforce.
These examples clearly demonstrate that military draft can be and has been abused to serve economic aims by way of slave labour and this process inevitably demolishes the society and the economy.
The Draft As Nationalism
The military draft is predicated on the assumption that nations have rights that supersede those of the individual, Einstein and Gandhi put it this way "The State which thinks itself entitled to force its citizens to go to war will never pay proper regard to the value and happiness of their lives in peace." in the Anti-Conscription Manifesto. The building of large conscript armies coincided with the rise of virulent nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Draftees can object being conscripted if they are separatists and do not want to support the armies of the state they oppose. On the other hand, some separatist fighters acquire their military skills in the army they will later fight against.
The Draft As Justification for Terrorism
Conscription is a key component of total war, and is also used to justify requirements that "lesser" sacrifices also be required of civilians. Once a draft is allowed, Justice Louis Brandeis argued, “all bets are off". This results in a blurring of the moral distinction between civilians and the military as legitimate military targets or as targets of terrorism. Father John A. Siemes, professor of modern philosphy at Tokyo's Catholic University, and an eye witness to the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima wrote:
- "We have discussed among ourselves the ethics of the use of the bomb. Some consider it in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civil population. Others were of the view that in total war, as carried on in Japan, there was no difference between civilians and soldiers, and that the bomb itself was an effective force tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan to surrender and thus to avoid total destruction. It seems logical to me that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of war against civilians. The crux of the matter is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good that might result? When will our moralists give us a clear answer to this question?"'  (http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/abomb/mp25.htm)
- "It is debasing human dignity to force men to give up their life, or to inflict death against their will, or without conviction as to the justice of their action." -- Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi in the MANIFESTO AGAINST CONSCRIPTION AND THE MILITARY SYSTEM (http://www.peace.ca/manifestoagainstconscription.htm)
- Campaign to Abolish Mandatory Military Service in Slovakia (http://www.foodnotbombs.nl/pages/Slovakia.htm)
- Rangel calls for mandatory military service (http://edition.cnn.com/2002/ALLPOLITICS/12/29/mandatory.military/)
- The Association for Injuried Officers And Soldiers of Mandatory Military Service, Republic of China (http://www.iosmms.org.tw/KUN_1.HTM)
- The European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (http://www.ebco-beoc.org)
- Campaign Against Conscription in Greece (http://www.omhroi.gr)
- Australian Draft Resistance and the Vietnam War (http://www.takver.com/history/matteson.htm)
- Canadian Newspaper Archives - Conscription (http://warmuseum.ca/cwm/newspapers/canadawar/conscription_e.html)
- Anti-Conscription Web Ring (http://h.webring.com/hub?ring=anticonscription)
- Refusing to bear arms (http://www.wri-irg.org/co/rtba/): a survey around the world, conducted by "War Resisters' International" about conscription and conscientious objection to military service.