Conscription, National Service and Democracy
17 January, 2013
The Minister of Defense has announced that gradually military conscription will be phased out over the next four years. This is a good move, the current system doesn't make any sense. "The Draft" as it is called in America or conscription as it is called everywhere else, has been around for millennia. Wars were fought against neighbors and armies moved on foot. That is no longer always the case and it is very clear that the Georgian army doesn't need
so many young soldiers. This brings up the point, what is conscription for? So originally it was to recruit soldiers, it also gives the government free labor, it can be used as a method of civic integration by mixing units with people of different backgrounds as it was in the Soviet Union or in Israel now, perhaps at least in theory the young recruits could receive some useful training and in general it is often said to be a way to encourage patriotism. But how many of these things are needed, or happen, and should the army be responsible for them all?
In the US, conscription was used during times of war up until WWII. At that point it became permanent until 1973. After that America started what has been called an all volunteer army or professional army but this conceals the reality that it is the the poorest who join the military, and they do it for the money and also sometimes for the job training. But throughout American history there was discomfort with conscription because one way or another, there always seemed to be a way for the rich to get out of serving. During the Civil War in the south slave owners didn't have to serve and you heard the phrase "a rich mans war, a poor man's fight". In the north, people could hire substitutes to fight, or pay not to serve, which lead to the New York Draft Riots of 1863, the largest domestic insurrection in American history. So when there was a draft, the poor were angry that they had to do the fighting. But now there is no draft, there is not that democratic check on going to war. The poorest in America fill all branches of the military, but the the richest Americans often don't have any close friends or relatives serving, but are the ones making the political decision to go to war.

"Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of ordinary life." This is from a new and very popular book in the US called What Money Can't Buy by a philosophy professor at Harvard, it's subtitle is "The moral limits of markets" Although the military is an important conduit for advancement for many of the least advantaged in America, it is not a force for civic integration and in some countries, this is an important goal. In many societies, Georgia included, there are big divisions: regional, urban/rural, ethnic, language groups, and rich/poor. Some way for individuals from those groups to be put together and work together as a team, if it is done on a national level over several years, could be a powerful force for bringing Georgia together more effectively.

The current system in Georgia doesn't do much of that, mainly because those who can get into university and can afford it, don't participate. And there are many thousands of young men who after they receive their undergraduate degrees, rather than getting some experience working, they continue their education simply to avoid military service. The army in Georgia is largely for those who don't have other options. That prevents its biggest opportunity from being realized. Besides civic integration the army could provide useful training. But armies are there to fight wars, not to train recruits for the job market so very little useful training happens. In reality for most recruits, this year is largely dead time; not very much happens. For most soldiers, there are some exercises, and the rest of the time is spent standing in front of government buildings because there is not the inclination or management to have the soldiers do anything more useful.

One idea could be to de-link the army from the more useful concept of national service. Many countries have some kind of national service. Some individuals don't want to fight, or don't want to support the idea of the military, but others simply have skills that could be used in other ways. It could be possible to have all eighteen year olds enter national service, be put in units that would then undergo some basic team building exercises, some training that would be of use to everybody, and then some go on to the army and others to other forms of service to the homeland. The important thing would be to make the experience valuable and valued by society so that everybody wants to do it. But a good way to start is for everybody rich and poor to have to participate.