Compulsory military service
The proposal of compulsory military service that has been resurfaced, by Minister Milinda Moragoda, is evoking much interest even though the topic of the times is about peace.
He points out that this has been proposed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe when he was the Minister of Youth Affairs some years ago. Mr. Moragodas proposal is not directed 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.
Indeed, the current plight of the country and the present siutation may have been avoided had a system of compulsory military service been in operation.
Compulsory military service implies recruitment from all sections of society and not the kind of voluntary recruitment that has been going on where the vast bulk of the armed forces comprises 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. Corruption in the purchases of armaments that resulted in the slaughter of our servicemen would not have been possible if the lives of the children of the high and mighty were at stake.
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 Mr. Moragodas age, sign on with their followers estimated at tens of thousands, the scheme cannot fail. Politicians cannot exclude themselves from the process and special arrangements could be made for them to be exempted from routine political work such as attendance of parliament.
The other feature is that children of the affluent, particularly of politicians should be made to give the 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 indulgent fathers poor fellows who were not able to see the inside of a nightclub till they achieved high political office are very indulgent with their rowdy brood. One such father commenting on his sons 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 their period in the military services.
It will undoubtedly be a very difficult law to apply because of the parents natural inclination to protect their brood. Even Velupillai Prabakaran who believes in compulsory no forcible recruitment from the age of seven years, does apply it rigidly to his dear teenage son and daughter. If they are members of his fighting cadres his propaganda units would have made much of a song and dance about it but it has not happened. Probably they will end up in an European (probably Norwegian) or even American institution as an adjunct of the on going Peace Process, proscriptions of foreign terrorist organisations et al notwithstanding!
While many countries have compulsory military training the element of compulsion rarely comes into play. In Britain, members of the royal family invariably serve in the armed services. During the two World Wars members of the royal family have been killed in battle. It is said that about half of the best of British aristocracy died in World War 11.
With the pacifist anti-war sentiment in full cry and the womens peace sirens screaming at full blast, we doubt very much whether this compulsory military proposal of Mr. Moragoda will go through. Besides there has been a high rate of desertions from the armed services because of the extremely poor conditions of service. Even today, serviceman serving in the North and East find it extremely difficult to come on home leave because of the inadequacy of transport facilities.
Nonetheless, Mr. Moragodas 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 had shown that, We need a modern, compact effective fighting force as required by our internal and external threats. Above all, the entire nation needs a sense of discipline as pointed out by Mr. Moragoda.
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