Friday, 4 March 2005

The (Voluntary) Draft

There's been a fair amount of talk (usually in a US context) recently about "Selective Service", "National Service", call it what you will. I prefer the word "State Slave" rather than "Draftee", because that's what it is, state-enforced temporary slavery.

No-one in the military wants slaves draftees because slaves only make good soldiers when either brainwashed ( see the Jannissaries ), or fighting against slavery.

When I worked in Germany, I was amazed and disconcerted by the sheer waste in productivity caused by having intelligent people (who in Australia would already be going to University or engaging in productive work) trudging about the countryside, driving trucks and marching, marching, marching. Military Conscription is horrendously wasteful of economic resources, and these days, professional Warfare is such a high-skill occupation that it takes many years to learn it adequately. Too long for an unwilling "temporary state slave" to learn.

Yet we draft our children into an education system for 12 years, and this is usually thought to be a Good Thing. I certainly think so. So there must be some "Pro" as well as "Con".

If I ruled the world... I might institute a Draft of sorts. Not into the military - though by volunteering for the military (or other emergency services), you could "dodge the draft". And emphatically not as a form of slavery, a "Starship Troopers"-like semi-compulsory service useful to the State - if we need more people to help staff nursing homes or do social work, we should pay them more. No, it's as a form of compulsory, or at least, "strongly encouraged" education. Education in things like Civil Defence, First Aid, Search and Rescue, Firefighting, Surf Lifesaving, skills which would be useful in case of Disaster, natural or otherwise.

The idea would be to provide a "surge capacity" of skills where they could do the most good. So that, for example, if there's a Bushfire, the professional and volunteer firefighters would have a second-line of defence to fall back on, people who could provide "warm bodies" for tasks requiring a relatively low degree of skill (and allow them a much-needed respite). Or so that if someone has a heart attack on a city street, the odds are overwhelming that at least one passer-by knows CPR. Or that if someone is choking to death at a restaurant, there'll be someone who knows and has practiced the Heimlich manouvre. Or even to provide a reserve of "special constables" with minimum legal training and powers who can patrol neighbourhoods while the professional police are dealing with a civil disturbance elsewhere. Even people who know a bit about structural engineering, so they can form ad-hoc rescue teams in the vital first few minutes or hours after an earthquake or landslide.

Should this be compulsory? I think not. Compulsion means that the draftee thinks they have better uses for their time - and sometimes they'll be right. But additional incentive can be supplied by giving "draftees" tax breaks, additional credit when applying for a job or entering higher education, and additional preference for that matter when companies have to "let people go". Certainly government-paid leave and subsidies for employers who have a programme for their staff to do such semi-voluntary work, things like that. Positive Discrimination. With a decent advertising campaign, after a generation or two, Peer Pressure alone might be enough.

Additional benefits would be those adduced by ... wait for it ... the Nazis. An increased cohesiveness in society, with the Rich and the Poor forming teams - though it's called "networking" these days. Showing how "the other half" lives. Which could well lead to a greater degree of equality of income distribution, as the poor see just how much waste and folly the rich indulge in (and demand a greater share of the common wealth), or the rich see just how tough some of the poor are doing it. On the other hand, if the US is any guide, it may lead to the reverse: the self-made rich won't feel guilty about being that way, and would be more hard-hearted to those who had the same opportunities, but wasted them on short-term gratification. Prejudice may well be decreased due to the dissolution of ignorance, but there could be more Justice and less Mercy, which is not neccessarily always a good thing. Remember the Babel Fish : effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation
Any such "benefits" are arguable, and probably negligible anyway.

And of course, there's always the danger that what is effectively an Emergency Services "Boy Scout" movement for adults could turn into a politically correct Komsomol or Fascist Hitlerjugend. But the whole idea of this thing is not to instill Virtue (political or otherwise) or Build Character. It's to give people skills, so that in an emergency, if they wish to volunteer, they can be useful.

The one area that it's particularly inappropriate though, is the Military. I'll quote Heinlein on the subject :
I also think there are prices too high to pay to save the United States. Conscription is one of them. Conscription is slavery, and I don't think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of slavery for anyone, no matter what name it is called. We have had the draft for twenty years now; I think this is shameful. If a country can't save itself through the volunteer service of its own free people, then I say: Let the damned thing go down the drain! [Heinlein 1961:245]
By all means teach basic urban and rural fieldcraft and survival techniques, so that in case of invasion, irregular defenders can survive long enough to learn the neccessary skills. Many such are also useful to people lost in the wilderness, victims of air crashes etc. But no more than that - there's no time, and there are far more useful skills that should be learned first.

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