My last essay written as a free person
Disclaimer and warning: This was written at the age of 18, to commemorate my last day of freedom before entering National Service and in one night, so I make no guarantee as to the quality of the content :)
In some countries, like Singapore, Israel, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan, compulsory military service, reminiscent of the press gangs of the British Empire, is enforced upon most of the male (and female, in Israel's case) population.
This practice is exceedingly harmful, not only to the individuals involved, but also the the communities, societies and nations involved.
Conscription entails the drafting of young citizens (of at least 18 years of age - those below that are considered child soldiers by international agreement) for between 1 to 3 years of full-time military training, and most countries require some form of reservist training from the servicemen after they have completed their full-time training to sharpen and hone their skills, and ensure that they are ready to defend their country at a moment's notice. This training, both full-time and part-time, irreversibly changes the structure and character of the conscripted populace, both on the individual and macro level.
Being in a military environment for an extended period of time, the conscripted male (as it is invariably a male) is subject to many influences. In a military camp, people often degenerate to a lower level under the stress of training, and this, coupled with the fact that people from all walks of life are conscripted, means that most degenerate to the lowest common denominator. To give vent to their frustrations and stress, and also because everybody is doing it and they do not want to be seen as different, most incorporate vulgarities and obscenities into their regular vocabulary, if they have not done so already, in which case they increase their frequency of swearing, and build upon their already extensive vocabulary. Thus, those who manage to avoid the depredations of modern culture and life, with f-word touting Hollywood stars and friends who spout vulgarities at the slightest provocation, inevitably are corrupted, killing any hope one might have of cultivating a gracious or courteous society.
Language is not the only way in which conscripted people are affected. Their behaviour is also adversely affected. In military training, barbarous behaviour is cultivated in the recruits. They are trained to kill and to strengthen their savage instinct, to bring the primal beast in them to the fore, through indoctrination sessions, martial training and the practice of getting soldiers to yell as loudly as they can when answering officers' commands, which perhaps leads to a vicious circle with the soldiers' loud shouting deafening the officers, such that the decibel level at which they stop pronouncing, "I can't hear you" keeps increasing. Incidentally, since the officers are those who are judged to be the most intelligent and have the best leadership qualities, this means that the cream of the nation's male youth has their hearing adversely affected, with the appropriate ramifications for the future of the country. Other influences may affect the soldier. For example, weak, tired, hungry, thirsty and aching, a person will be susceptible to outside influences, whether desirable or undesirable, an example of which would be religious fanaticism and fundamentalism - Military camps could be the breeding ground of a future generation of religious fundamnetalists.
While in military training, soldiers are given martial training, and learn both armed and unarmed combat. Furthermore, they have easy access to all matter of weaponry, which they have been taught to use. In tandem with the barbarity inculcated, and the pent up aggression, stress and vituperation, enforced military training leads to a higher crime rate, as since all male citizens, regardless of background, personality or psyche are conscripted, potential or existing criminals are learn how to expedite their criminal acts. Military service results in brutish, gruff and uncaring people - hallmarks of the criminal. The "might is right" attitude that the armed forces impart to their personnel means that people are less willing to be restricted by their moral inhibitions - Singapore's motto is "what you can't defend is not yours", a clear nod to criminals that if they can prey on innocents, they should.
Even if military training does not result in a person committing criminal acts, it still leaves scars on a person's psyche and body. Fatalities and unnecessary exposure to danger may result due to military training, but the extent of these is not known due to their being covered up by governments. Even if one is not killed or permanently injured during training, the constant abuse, physical, mental or otherwise, (by drill sergeants, who seek to torture a recruit until he break down, so that a useful soldier may be made out of him) and punishment, often unfair and meted out the slightest perceived transgression, breaks down the fabric of a person's mind, destroying his self-esteem, may cause mental breakdowns and plants the seeds of horrific nightmares which may haunt the soldiers for the rest of their lives, and this is assuming no permanent physical damage is sustained by soldiers during their tenure. The requirement that soldiers obey orders without question breaks down soldiers' will, and destroys any creativity they already had. People's character and personality are blunted and deadened, even destroyed, by military service. Likeable, jovial and vivacious people are transformed into gruff, coarse and unfeeling brutes, or if not, dead, lifeless husks. The greater tragedy of it all is that this is yet another vicious cycle, as officers seek to inflict the same torture upon their soldiers that they once were exposed to.
Military service also has negative social effects. In some countries, it is a justification for wage discrimination against females, negating the work of the early suffragettes. Sexual discrimination is also implicit in the concept of military service itself - are not females as good as males? Were they not born equal? The practice of conscripting males raises many doubts about the equality of the sexes. Even in Israel, females serve for shorter terms than their male counterparts and are not involved in front line duty. This suggests that women, then, are an inferior gender. Chauvinism is also encouraged by this sexual discrimination, as males look upon themselves as the Protectors of the nation, sheltering the weaker sex. In Singapore, the concept of 'Total Defence' was promulgated in the 1980s, that "everybody has a part to play". Evidently, some people have a bigger part to play than others - those who are active in Military Defence are also required to fulfill their roles in Economic, Psychological, Social and Civil Defence.
The economic impact upon the country that practices conscription is also incalculable. The lost years of the full-time training is substantial - what would be the impact on a country's GDP if half the workforce (considerably more in actuality, since females constitute less than half of the workforce) were to stop working for 2 to 3 years? And what about reservist training, where personnel can be summoned for up to 40 days a year of training? Besides the economically productive activity forgone, the country also has to pay the reservists while they are in training, a considerable burden upon taxpayers. This does not even take into account the uncountable cost of the mental atrophy that military service induces, the cost of the reduced ability and therapy of of tormented employees and the reduction in a person's creative capacity, as military service trains soldiers to be unthinking and obedient, following orders. As an example, let us look at Singapore, where 6% of the country's GDP is spent on defence, the second highest item on the expenditure list. The cost in economically productive activity forgone both in time and direct military expenditure is considerable. In Singapore, it is reported that there are 300,000 soldiers, including reservists, but one suspects that this figure, like that of China's armed forces, is considerably under-reported. Assuming 3 million citizens (under estimating for a conservative estimate), and a 100:100 gender ratio (to exclude those unfit for military service for one reason or another, again rather conservatively), and further assuming that half of the population is between the ages of 18 and 50 (again a gross underestimation), we can see that the lower bound of the size of Singapore's armed forces is 750,000, which is 3/4 of the reported size of China's army in 1990. Why such a small city state needs such a humongous army to protect such a small land area is unknown.
The burden on the individual is also considerable. Some of the best years of his life are lost while he is in full-time training, and he has to see those friends of his who are not in military training go on to College and University, pursuing their dreams, while he is stuck in a trench plucking leeches from his legs. He drifts out of touch with them, and loses many friends due to different mindsets and enforced separation. Those who have significant others or are married see their relationships suffer, due to a dearth of interaction and the other partner moving on mentally due to University education. Those who are in dire financial straits, whose families need a monetary infusion, are also disadvantaged by enforced military service, as their ailing mothers die due to a lack of money for medical treatment. This is to say nothing of the moral problems - who could bear to kill another human, even in desperate circumstances? Most major religions do not support killing - Christianity urges people to turn the other cheek and the Koran says that "he who kills one person kills the whole of humanity", and military service impinges on the religious obligations and tenets of many (Christianity and Islam accounting for more than half of the world's population).
Even in its titular aim - protecting a country, conscription may not be all that effective. Being forced into service, many conscripts are demoralised and unwilling to fight, and during a real war, desertions and defections are likely. There are also disturbing implications for World Peace - the larger a country's army gets, the larger neighbouring countries will build their armies, and an arms race is set off, destabilising the region and the world. Also, the country that practices conscription itself may be tempted to invade neighouring countries, for, though most countries have "Ministries of Defence", they are actually Ministries of War - not everybody is as honest as Saddam Hussein who has a Ministry of War and a Ministry of Propaganda.
To justify their bondage of a good half of the populace, lawmakers often like to tout the benefits of conscription. They say that it improves the physical fitness of the soldiers, teaches healthy living, good sanitary habits and discipline, and that you get to make new friends but this is tantmount to saying that it is good for your aircraft to encounter serious engine trouble because you get the thrill of jumping out of a plane in a parachute. These are all incidental side effects from conscription, and do not outweigh the bad effects, or they can be achieved more easily by partaking in other, less hurtful activities like joining a health club or chatting on IRC. Some people, attempting to sooth their spirits, console themselves by remembering that they are paid, but then, prostitutes are paid too (and much more handsomely than soldiers!). In fact, prostitutes sell their body, but soldiers "sell" (or, strictly speaking, are forced to give up) their body, mind and soul, as they pledge eternal allegiance to their country and promise to obey the Premier or President. Some people also say that military service is much easier now than, say, a few decades ago, but then, dying now is much better than a few centuries ago, as instead of your body being set out for the vultures to pick at, or, if you were executed by hated enemies, you are first flayed then beheaded and your 4 limbs, sexual organs and head sent to 6 different corners of the globe, you are buried in a nice casket or cremated and put in a beautiful urn - you still die.
With such a myriad of disadvantages, it is no wonder that many countries
are stopping or scaling down conscription - Switzerland is going to reduce
the size of its armed forces, Belgium ended conscription in 1992, the Netherlands
in 1996, Spain and France in 2001, and Italy will do so in 2006, Portugal
in 2003, and that many countries offer Alternative Service for conscientious
objectors. It is a pity that some countries continue to inflict such torment
on the male citizenry, but we can do nought but hope of the best, at least
in Singapore, since a campaign of civil disobedience would be crushed ruthlessly,
and the populace has been indoctrinated to believe that military service
Notes after going into Military Service proper (some Singapore-specific):
I think that my semi-serious rant was more or less accurate, really :)
As all in the SAF know, being in there heightens sexual libido, or at the very least causes it to be expressed more openly. There is moral degradation, for what it's worth, and people start reading male magazines, visiting prostitutes (or going for massages with "special services" and the like) et al. I think that consequently, it raises the likelihood of sexual crimes occuring.
To relieve stress, and because of peer pressure, people turn to booze, cigarettes, and sex (mostly from prostitutes) (in ascending order of magnitude), and this is rather unhealthy, to say the least. Though I've steered clear of these, not least because one risk factor is enough! The Army also teaches lots of bad things, like how to slack, lie, cheat and skive, among others.
I still doubt whether we need conscription in the first place? There's the much-touted role of technology, and the fact that we've a minuscule land area to defend. Unwilling soldiers are also not effective (witness the number of downgraded personnel, and how people like to skive), so numbers are not everything. Besides which, a part time army can never be as good as full time, simply due to its nature.
Some people go crazy (I've heard of a few, and there are doubtless more) and the rest have a few screws loosened. Many people get physically injured, or their bodies are overexerted, leading to injuries later in life.
Also, you lose touch with the outside world and your friends.