Conscription is the practice where citizens of a country are forced to serve in the military against their will in times of war. This practice was first used in the First World War after a large number of casualties among the armed forces were reported as well as diminishing numbers of recruits. Since the war was not yet over and more men were needed, conscription became an option where the Canadian government offered conscripts to give reinforcement in the war. The results of conscription usage were not pleasant, leading to the rising of contentious objectors who were against the practice of conscription. Arguments of contentious objectors, as well as other opponents, showed how conscription was not necessary in the Second World War
According to (Granatstein, 1985), conscription, otherwise known as National Service, The Draft or Call up, can be defined as involuntary labor usually demanded by an authority that is already established. Conscription is mostly used in some policies of a government requiring citizens to take part in armed forces operations. Many countries are known for not retaining forces of conscription but opt to rely on professional military and volunteers. However, even some of those countries that do not impact forces of conscription, have at one time or another used them especially during the war as well as crisis. Those people undergoing conscription may offer mandatory service to their nation’s armed forces and in the US they are called selectees or conscripts. Enlisted is another term that the US uses for those who volunteer to offer other kinds of service except for service for commissioned officers.
Conscription and Its Objection in World Wars
Conscription started in Prussia, developed in France by Napoleon, and spread all over Europe. It was used in the First World War due to a reduction in the number of volunteers needed to bring the war to an end but caused so many damages leading to its objection. Similarly, in most of the nations practicing conscription, several people have come out to show their objection against conscription and are called conscientious objectors. These comprise of people who have beliefs that are not compatible with the armed force’s roles. Some countries have provisions for the special status of law covering conscientious objectors, giving those duties that are in line with their beliefs, for example, the law allowing them to pick a role in branches that do not use weapons. The rise of contentious objectors was caused by the damages occurring due to the usage of conscription in the First World War by Canadians. These included high numbers of deaths and casualties, creation of tension between relations of French Canadians and English Canadians which consequently led to fewer numbers of citizens volunteering. (Duggan, 1946)
The reason was partly that, Canadian soldiers’ conscription had very minimal effect whatsoever in the results of the first World War, which was a great discouragement when compared to damages incurred. Therefore, conscription could not have been a good idea for Canadian Soldiers in the Second World War. However, by 1941, enough citizens had volunteered for military service as the king was receiving pressure from conservatives to have Governor General allow conscription. It did not take long before the holding of a plebiscite in 1942, were citizens of Canada were supposed to vote against conscription showing that it was not necessary for the Second World War. The plebiscite was also to request the Canadian government to keep the promise it had earlier made, that conscription would only be used in very necessary situations and that its use would not be mandatory. Most of the Canadians were already fed up with conscription, hence the results that had a large number of Canadians objecting to immediate conscription. However, a shortage of volunteers made the king where support conscription that led to more damages just like in the previous World War. However, this did not change the fact that conscription was not necessary and this can be supported by several based on arguments against the practice. (Tim, 2006)
Arguments against Use of Conscription in the Second World War
Human Rights Universal Declaration
(Jacobs,1967), argues that, this declaration opposed conscription in general as well as conscription that discriminated on the basis of gender, taking men only for mandatory service, which violated the US human rights universal declaration. The same rights were included in constitutions of countries that have suffered a similar situation during the war. Among the principles that were violated included everyone’s entitlement to declaration’s freedoms and rights without gender-based distinction, everyone’s right to security, liberty, and life, and that no person should be enslaved. Others include, right to everyone’s freedom of religion, conscience, thought as well as their changes and manifestation in observance, worship, and practice, among others. The declaration also stated that no person should be forced into any association, and the right to choose employment freely. The practice of conscription had all these violated; making citizens’ lives unbearable as well as causing deaths that could be avoided if it were not used.
It has been found out that conscription exposes the personalities of individuals to militarism, making it some kind of enslavement. Its toleration in the Second World War proved its influence on affected citizens that was deliberate. However, conscription as enslavement has been addressed by several scholars among them, H.Wells, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Man, and Albert Einstein airing their arguments against the practice. Though it was allowed by the draft when First World War was taking place, its amendment in the constitution of the US considered its usage unnecessary in the Second World War. This was because, during conscription practice, citizens were forced to do hard labor that was not related to military service. (Tim, 2006)
This refers to conscription discrimination on an age basis as it always picked on young people as opposed to old ones. The young were conscripted first as they were considered qualified for military service but usually failed. Youth liberation advocates as well as ageism opponents, describe conscription as a disparity that is severely impacted on citizens and discriminating on age by government mandate. The US amendment of the constitution had the voting age lowered to eighteen whose proposal largely responded to conscription criticism that regarded conscription of men who had not attained a voting age as unfair. This response though outnumbered by old voters maintained on the lack of conscription’s necessity in the Second World War as long as it involved more young men than old ones. (Monton, 1989)
Sexism and Proems in Discipline
Sexism is another reason why conscription was unnecessary since it had led to so many deaths of young men as it was limited to males. This had already caused imbalances in family structures that were mostly left with women and weak men. Therefore, it would be unfair to have more young men killed in the Second World War. Also, since military service involved high levels of discipline, it was evident that more discipline would come from volunteers than conscripts as a discipline requires motivation that lacks in the conscripts. Therefore, conscripts’ indiscipline was corrected by the use of very harsh actions, while its maintenance was through capital punishment. This was a very unpleasant way of inducing discipline measures to young people and would have been avoided in the Second World War as it had negative impacts on the youth’s morals. (Tim, 2006)
Civilians’ Attacks Justification
According to (McGurk, 2003), conscription is one of the total war’s components, which is used by governments to justify their demands of sacrifices from civilians. The draft used in the First World War allowed this, consequently leading to moral distinction blurring between military and civilians as their targets as well as civilians’ attacks. This was particularly seen in the Second World War’s bombing that led to so many civilian deaths than it would have been if conscription was not used in that war. Other reasons were the low quality portrayed in the service of conscripts as compared to volunteers, which showed that if volunteers were used instead of conscripts, the Second World War would have had better outcomes. Also, conscription in Second World War caused more losses than it would have been in terms of costs in the training of the military. Therefore it would have been better if this was learned from First World War and lead to their non-usage in Second World War.
Therefore, conscription usage has proved to have more demerits than merits, mostly due to its effects in the first of the World Wars. Contentious objectors rose against conscription which led to a large number of them being imprisoned. The contentious objectors were out to air their views about the practice of conscription, which was very inhuman. However, though most of them were imprisoned and conscription used in the Second World War, its effects over what would have been done, like the use of professional military prove it unnecessary. On the contrary, there are arguments that have been brought forth in support of conscription but have been outnumbered by those against the same practice, based on humanity. (Duggan, 1946)
Duggan J. (1946): legislative and federal development of conscription for military service: The Catholic university of America Press pp14-18
Granatstein J. (1985): A history of conscription in Canada: Coop Clark Pitman pp10-19
Jacobs C. (1967): The selective Service Act: Dodd Mead pp 23-26
McGurk J. (2003): Volunteers in the second world wars: The journal of military History: JSTR pp 14-17
Monton D. (1989): Canadians and the Second World War: Key Porter Books pp33-37
Tim C. (2006): Canadian historians and the writing of the world wars: university of British Columbia Press pp 44-59