Tuesday, 14 February 2012

National Service – Hypocrisy at its worst

Every decade has its crisis with “youth” and it seems that there is always a faction that calls for the return of National Service. This faction asserts that National Service would reintroduce into society that self-discipline that it is allegedly missing.
Somehow forcing young people, mainly young men, to don ill-fitting uniforms and heavy boots, march up and down and do largely pointless things, like painting coal white, would foster an inner desire for self-discipline.
Not only do the National Service faction seem to think that military service is a source of self-discipline, but they also imagine that young criminals would also benefit from the same rigours. Quite what training young criminals to the peak of fitness and in the use of a variety of firearms would do to reduce crime figures is frankly beyond me. Surely it would simply mean that once these young tearaways were demobbed they’d simply be able to run away faster and if cornered shoot their way out of the situation. Not exactly conducive to decriminalising “youth”.
The most striking characteristic of the National Service faction is that they are generally too old to be required to endure it themselves, but too young to have done National Service in their youth. It is of course just another instance of gross hypocrisy among our 30+ generations. If, of course, these older persons were standing in line begging the TAVR (Territorial Army Reserve Force) to be let in to do their bit, one could look at it differently. But they are not. Most likely they are entrenched in their sofas watching the television and listening to the latest over-hyped report about Britain’s broken society and wayward younger generations. It should not be forgotten that no male born after 1942 has been subjected to National Service (it ended in 1960), and that makes the last National Service man about 70 years old. So what is National Service?
Well bluntly it’s an arrangement by which the government compels you to leave your home for a period (18 months) and live in a communal facility with little concession to privacy with a bunch of people you wouldn’t choose to be with. The government conveniently suspends your basic human rights and denies you the opportunity to freely leave. It demands that you learn to kill and maim, using traditional and hi-tech weaponry.
If you decline to participate in this activity the government awards itself the right to charge you with various offences and potentially imprison you. If you choose to leave without permission, then the government as representative of the greater community awards itself the right to dispatch its agents, burly military police personnel not known for their delicate handling of arrestees, to bring you back and face trial. Of course if you are a university student you could get deferment and hope that your late teens and early twenties drug consumption renders you unfit.
However if you don’t happen to have sufficient qualifications and parental financial resources, you are likely receive through your letter box a terse invitation to attend a medical at the age of 17 and 9 months. This may be very inconvenient for any number of reasons (i.e. you may have just met the woman of your dreams, be on the cusp of getting that job, be in the middle of an apprenticeship), but if you correspond to “Fodder, Canon for the use of” off you jolly well go. Of course if you are unfit (obese, anorexic, drug induced paranoid etc) they won’t want you. But if you’ve had your “5-A-Day” and kept yourself trim, then you’re exactly the material they will take.
The big day comes and off you go to waste 18 months of your precious youth doing nothing of any value whatsoever. There aren’t any decent sized wars either (underway or planned) so you won’t get to use any of the skills you acquire, and the nation can’t afford to start one for you.
At the end of it, you’re back on “Civvy Street” and if you’re lucky your job has been held open for you. But the fat, asthmatic, flat-footed slob who was your colleague, who was rejected at the medical, has completed his studies and been promoted and could well be your supervisor. Of course your employer may have gone bust as all its plans to utilise you as a trained and newly qualified craftsperson went down the pan once you disappeared into the Army, and they couldn’t replace you because the generous government had passed a law to prevent it.
You may have been further disenchanted if the feminists in government insisted that young women were exempted, as they were during the post-war National Service. So while you’re wandering about on the pittance the government pays you while on National Service, your (former?) girlfriend, sister, female colleague, former fellow secondary student is partying on the higher salary she receives due to the sudden labour shortage caused by the disappearance of all the fit young men on National Service. In response you drink yourself silly on cheap supermarket beer, while you wait for the inevitable “Dear John” txt to appear on your mobile phone.
But really this wont be a prison sentence, they’ll let you have leave once in a while. They’ll even pay for the journey in the form of a travel warrant. Of course the army will have posted you as far away from your home town as they can achieve, and so there you are standing on some drab station waiting for a train. Provided the rail operator doesn’t cancel it and there’s no weekend engineering works, you get home almost a day later.
Naturally you’ll travel most of the way with your new found National Service mates, and having no better way to pass the time you’ll have polished off several crates off beer long before you’re anywhere near home. Naturally having spent the previous three months in the company of other men, you’ll be keen to re-acquaint yourself with the opposite sex. However, excessive alcohol consumption, fast food, train compartments and young women rarely mix, and can easily result in any number of anti-social outcomes. All of which are encompassed in the ready descriptions that were used to justify the return of National Service.
If you make it home without be arrested and charged, you may soon find yourself wishing you hadn’t bothered. Even if you haven’t received the “Dear John” txt from your girlfriend, the embarrassed silence at home when you mention phoning her will quickly tell you what’s she’s overlooked. Even if you deal with it calmly, it will be tremendously galling to go down town to find that there she is in the company of the overweight asthmatic former colleague who’s recently been promoted to the supervisory post over your “reserved” job.
Of course for the middle aged person sat in front of their television with the same company night after night, National Service doesn’t look so bad. For the balding father the idea of being compelled to participate in seeming pointless activity for the benefit of someone else may not be very different from daily life. The same father might indeed welcome separation from his spouse and have little issue with the lack of sexual intimacy in a barrack room. There being little substantive difference between the barrack and the “master bedroom”.
But for the 18 year old to be condemned to waste 18 months in some far flung barracks for no earthly reason, other than the desire among the old to punish the young, is a tragedy of epic proportions.
Frankly we haven’t the morale right to do this to our young, if we are not prepared to volunteer ourselves first. So let all those who call for the reintroduction of National Service line up now and put themselves forward to be first.

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