COLOMBO: The proposal of compulsory military service that has been resurfaced by Minister Milinda Moragoda is evoking much interest although the topic of the times is about peace.
His proposal is not linked to the current military situation and he is thinking in terms of broader objectives like instilling a sense of discipline among youth and living and working together with those who may be speaking a different language and belonging to different communities.
These are certainly worthwhile objectives but the basic function of compulsory service is to prepare young people in the art of defence of the country both against internal and external aggression.
Compulsory military service implies recruitment from all sections of society and not the kind of voluntary recruitment that has been going on where the bulk of the armed forces comprise those of poorer sections of the community who were in need of employment.
This is different in case of the officer cadres where middle class young men joined on their own volition. The rank and file, however, were attracted mainly because of employment.
If the sons and daughters of the affluent sections of society were brought into this conflict, it would have been conducted with much circumspection to achieve military and not political objective as what happened. Those commanding operations would have had to be military professionals and not politicians.
For a scheme of compulsory military service to succeed, it is essential that the people should be inspired to do so by the leaders of the country. There cannot be forcible conscription if it does not seem to be applied fairly and squarely.
Thus, it is essential that politicians and other leaders of society should lead the country in this respect. If youthful politicians, even those of Moragoda’s age, sign on with their followers estimated at tens of thousands, the scheme cannot fail.
The other feature is that children of the affluent, particularly of politicians, should lead. In these times, we often hear of children of ministers with plenty of money to throw around carousing at nightclubs and being involved in brawls where their fathers’ bodyguards are summoned to their assistance.
Their fathers are very indulgent with their rowdy brood. One such father commenting on his son’s behaviour had said: Boys will be boys.
Compulsory military service could make these delinquent boys real men and serve the country, but for this to happen the laws must be very stringently applied. It should be possible to recall even those studying abroad to return home and serve.
It will undoubtedly be a very difficult law to apply because of the parents’ natural inclination to protect their brood.
With the pacifist anti-war sentiment in full cry and the women’s peace sirens screaming at full blast, we doubt very much whether this compulsory military proposal of Moragoda will go through.
Besides, there has been a high rate of desertion from the armed services because of the poor conditions of service.
Nonetheless, Moragoda’s proposal is worthwhile on the basis of long-term nation building. Even if the “war” is ended soon, the armed forces cannot be disbanded to the state of a ceremonial force.
Events of the past quarter century have shown that we need a modern and effective fighting force. Above all, the entire nation needs a sense of discipline.