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Friday, 22 June 2012

The need for defence: A call for overall mandatory military service

In July 2011, mandatory military service in Germany was suspended, for the very first time since the Federal Republic of Germany was created. After its introduction in 1955, mandatory military service was an essential part of German society in which every male citizen at the age between 18 and 49 years was obliged to be military trained and to have served in the armed forces for a certain period of time. The concept was rather simple: soldiers were regarded as “citizens in uniforms”, an idea that the armed forces should be marked by a permanent inflow of social diversity and social input of different individual backgrounds.
By doing this, the army was prevented of creating an isolated vacuum in which the army could have been infiltrated by radical movements, as it happened during the Weimar Republic until 1933.

During the Cold War, the average strength of the German armed forces was between 500,000 and 600,000 soldiers. By now, after mandatory military service has been officially “abolished”, the total strength of the armed forces has been reduced to less than 200,000; and mandatory service was replaced by a voluntary service. However, the numbers of recruits who volunteered to go through the military training system has significantly dropped. Only about 10,000 people (men and women) have volunteered for armed service since July 2011, but around 20% of these volunteers have aborted their services midway.

The general tendency in public opinion that military service is an ancient form of a system that no longer belongs to a 21st century society is currently very popular and complies with the overall thought that there is no need for citizens to be part of the military system. Being severely marked by the past experiences of both World Wars and a number of regional wars during the 20th century, military service is being seen as an illegitimate instrument of states which does not provide a useful asset for modern society or conflict resolution.
However, it should be pointed out that these critics forego a significant point.

Until World War I, military service was a vital part of a nation’s society for various reasons: for social status, for professional training, and even as an institution for a person’s development for his later career in business, public service, and science. Since World War I, however, this image was smashed by the brute industrialized machinery of modern warfare. Ever since, but especially since World War II, the army and the military system as a whole are widely regarded as a bunch of bloodthirsty and murderous sadists. In modern media and society, any army and every soldier has been stigmatised with this black mark and is currently isolated from its further contribution to society just by the mere fact that this person is a soldier.

Although soldiers are risking their lives in Afghanistan in their desperate attempts and their duty to enforce peace to a war-torn country and to promote reconstruction assistance, there are various cases in which soldiers have been attacked in public and have been blamed as murders. The number of these anti-military militants has increased over the past years, above all from the left-wing bias; and above all since mandatory military service has been suspended. It was not the case while mandatory service was still in existence; or at least not that excessive.

The state of Israel is the only country in the world that has extended its mandatory military service to a broader social base, including men and women to fulfil military service over a period of three years. As a result, the Israeli military is very well integrated in Israeli society, and it keeps military service as a vital part for overall social importance even for the time after armed services. This of course is related to Israel’s own war-torn history in which it simply needed an army in order to defend itself in a neighbourhood of enemies.

An army is a vital and overall necessary institution of every state. For every nation, the army represents a functioning and well equipped instrument for its citizens to guarantee readiness to defend the country and to contribute to a greater collective defence system. Such a contribution is simply not possible with a downsized army, and downsizing an army through a suspension of mandatory military service is a wrong signal to the collective defence architecture.

For an army, it does not matter if the potential soldiers do have an academic background or not. An army does not care about sex, race, or religious belief, as long as they can gain the individuals’ assets for its own business – just as any organization or company. Young men and women are no natural soldiers any more than they’re natural carpenters, accountants, or administrators, but it is a trade that almost anybody can learn. Being a soldier possibly takes a bigger part of your personal life than any other job, but basically there is no need for a special kind of person. Anybody’s son or daughter will do.

For an individual, the military offers just the same amount of life experience and challenges like any other job in the world, if not an even wider experience. Armies have been forming systems and nations for centuries, and they will keep forming them as an essential part of a society.

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