‘Bring back national service’ says Prince

Art of war: Harry served as an Apache helicopter co-pilot and gunner in Afghanistan in 2012 © PA

Prince Harry has ended his ten-year career in the army by advocating national service. Should the UK return to compulsory military service for young people?

Wrestling a 10ft crocodile, taking part in a traditional Maori war cry, scoring the winning goal in a football match: there has been no shortage of photo opportunities during Prince Harry’s tour of Australia and New Zealand. But nothing has caught the media’s attention quite as much as his interview calling for the return of national service.

As the prince reaches the end of his decade-long military career, he praised the army for keeping him ‘out of trouble’. He admitted that young people can make ‘bad choices’, but argued that it’s ‘how you recover’ that counts. ‘Bring back national service — I’ve said that before.’

The comments have revived a debate which spans over half a century. Conscription was last introduced during World War II, when all young men were legally required to join the armed forces. Although the Allies were victorious in 1945, they still had military commitments in a world savaged by international warfare. In Britain, conscription was renamed ‘national service’ in 1947, and men aged 17-21 were called to military training for up to two years of their life. The law remained in place until 1963, with 6,000 men recruited every fortnight.

Even then, national service divided opinion. Many credited their time in the army with teaching them discipline and a respect for authority, while giving them training and opportunities. It also provided Britain with the soldiers and pilots it needed in an unstable political world.

However, not everyone found the experience rewarding. The constant training drained resources, while the ‘square-bashing’ drills were intentionally cruel, and even drove some to suicide. Many left the service with a newfound resentment towards authority.

‘I dread to think where I’d be without the army,’ said Harry. Is that enough to justify making it compulsory?

Unto the breach

You cannot take someone away from their life and force them to take part in a career they did not choose, critics say — especially not such a dangerous and potentially violent vocation as military service. Modern Britain is very different now, and far more accepting of diversity. We know now that what is right for one person is not always right for another; returning to the enforced militarisation of entire generations would undo decades of social progress.

National service is an equaliser, its supporters counter. It brings people together from every background, and gives them shared goals and experiences. It also offers skills and opportunities for underprivileged young adults who might otherwise have struggled to find their way. If the army turned around the life of a prince, imagine what it could do for those without the advantages of a royal name.

You Decide

  1. Would two years of national service benefit you and your classmates?
  2. Does Prince Harry’s royal status make his views more important than those of more ‘ordinary’ veterans?

Activities

  1. Imagine that national service has been returned to the UK in 2015. Design a poster explaining the benefits. Alternatively, design a poster protesting the law.
  2. ‘National service is no better than slavery.’ Hold a debate on this proposition and put it to a vote.

Some People Say...

“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.’ Normal Schwarzkopf”

What do you think?

Q & A

So are you saying I might have to join the army soon?
No — in the UK, members of the Royal family are not able to influence government policy (you may remember that this was the cause of the controversy around Prince Charles’ ‘black spider letters’, as we reported last week). A National Service Bill was introduced to the House of Commons in 2013, but did not make it through parliament.
Is Britain at war right now?
Not at the moment. The UK withdrew from Afghanistan in October 2014, but it continues to deploy troops in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions around the world. Hundreds of soldiers were sent to Iraq to help train Kurdish fighters against IS (so-called ‘Islamic State’), and hundreds more are training local forces in Ukraine, Turkey and Jordan.

Word Watch

Maori war cry
The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. The Maori haka is a synchronised war dance involving chanting, stamping feet and slapping chests. It is now used in celebrations to honour guests.
Join the armed forces
The army recruited around 1.25 million national servicemen between 1948 and 1960, while the RAF took around two-thirds of that number. The Royal Navy was far more selective, taking fewer than 44,000.
The Allies
Britain joined forces with several other countries during World War II, including France, the US, the USSR, China, Australia and New Zealand.
Military commitments
The end of World War II saw Germany in tatters without a stable government. The Allies occupied the country until at least 1949 when the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in the Western territories. There was also continued conflict in several areas around the world including Egypt, Hong Kong, and Palestine.
Up to two years
At first, national service lasted 18 months. When war broke out in Korea in 1950, this was extended to two years.