Compulsory military service, or conscription, is a practice where all qualifying individuals in a country must serve when there are openings that cannot be filled by any other means. There have been five conflicts in the U.S. where this practice was employed: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War – which includes Korea and Vietnam. For 33 years after 1940, even during times of peace, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces that voluntary sign-ups could not accomplish.
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution and certain codes provide for compulsory conscription of men between the ages of 17-45 and some women based on whatever the current situation happens to be.
Other nations continue to practice compulsory military service. This practice has existed since 1957 in South Korea, require men between the ages of 18-28 to service between 21-24 month before being placed on a reserve roster and attending an annual military training for six years.
There are some definitive advantages and disadvantages of compulsory military service to consider for a country of any size.
List of the Advantages of Compulsory Military Service
1. Conscription can help to bring a country’s people together.
The reality of citizenship is that it isn’t an individual effort. It is a team sport. The definition of patriotism is the unity that private individuals put forth to create a better public life for the country. When being a citizen requires specific demands to secure the rights that everyone enjoys, then it allows everyone to appreciate more of what they have at home. The Founding Fathers of the United States defined virtue as the individual who was willing to put their self-interests aside to pursue a common good.
2. Most countries already require people to perform actions in the public interest.
Even though the idea of conscription is one that can be scary or create questions of personal ethics and morality that require answers, there are numerous activities that everyone does that are in the public interest. Many of those actions require a sacrifice on the part of the individual involved to provide for the common good of everyone. Some examples in this category include jury duty, paying taxes, and utilizing the public schools in your community.
Compulsory military service is simply another one of those sacrifices. By putting your needs aside for a specific period, usually 2-4 years, it is possible to gain life experiences and vocational knowledge that can help you to create personal successes throughout your life.
3. It creates a sense of public identity.
When everyone is put into the conscription category, then there is a sense of common identity that the government is able to create throughout the country. Citizens have a sense of national purpose that helps to define everyone. One of the advantages of democracy is that there is more diversity, disagreement, and freedoms that are not available in regimes that follow other government structures. Compulsory military service creates common ground for everyone so that even in the fiercest debate, there is always a level of commonality that can eventually lead toward a moment of compromise.
4. National service allows a country to meet its overall needs in effective ways.
There are several national-level responsibilities that a government must meet through its military. You will find those who are on active duty helping during a natural disaster, volunteering to maintain community parks, and even offering assistance at a local hospital. When the only option available is to use people who want to be there instead of being compelled into service, then there isn’t as much that can get done.
5. It enhances the defensive capabilities of the country.
When the armed forces of a government are well-stocked with human capital, then it becomes more challenging for a foreign state to invade. Even if a war is declared and fought on the homeland, the presence of conscription allows for more resources to be directed into the fight. People come from many different backgrounds, offering numerous skills to the military that might not be available in a volunteer force. That diversity makes the defensive posture stronger, which makes it easier to defend one’s way of life.
6. Conscription adds another layer of accountability to the government.
When there is compulsory military service in place, then more households are directly involved in the daily affairs of their government. The family and friends of a draftee stay watchful of current events so that they know how safe their loved one will be in any given situation. There is a significant desire to understand more about the threats that their government is attempting to counter, providing a voice that offers more support. At the same time, this level of interaction keeps elected officials accountable to their decisions, which means more people can eventually come home.
7. Military service can provide people with useful vocational skills.
Serving in the armed forces means more than knowing how to pick up a gun and how to use it. Military life can teach people specific technical skills that they can use throughout their life. Many veterans have launched a career after their time in service because of what they learned during their time in training. Responsibility, leadership, and teamwork are only some of the traits that get infused into each person as they learn how to defend themselves and their country.
Some of the top jobs in civilian life that prize military training includes law enforcement service, logistics analyzing, management consulting, teaching, nursing, and information technology positions.
8. You will gain a membership into one of the world’s oldest families.
When you become a military veteran in any way, then you are an automatic member into one of the oldest clubs in the world. This special group of people share stories with one another, allowing you to have a family in almost any location. Your status is something that no one can ever take away from you. This membership can even come with certain benefits, like a job offer, and financial incentives like the GI Bill that can make your life a lot easier.
9. You’re not serving for free during your compulsory military service.
In the United States military, a freshly minted second lieutenant earns about $36,000 per year plus full benefits. Monthly allowances of up to $3,000 are permitted as well, depending on where you are stationed. Enlisted personnel earn about $20,000 per year plus full benefits when first getting started, plus an additional $1,500 each month in allowances. Retirement pay can reach up to 75% of the average of your final three years of base salary – and some people earn even more than that.
Even with the Blended Retirement System in place now, conscription in the U.S. would provide several financial benefits that may be worth considering. The same can be said of other military service programs around the world.
10. There are family benefits to consider with military service.
Most nations provide immediate eligibility for full healthcare benefits or insurance for the individual serving and their immediate family members. This advantage stays in place during the entire time spent in service. If you were to decide to stay through retirement after conscription, then you can take the benefit with you when leaving the military. There might be additional temporary benefits available in special circumstances as well.
11. You will get to see the world.
The United States military has several resorts around the world where you can take some vacation time without spending a year’s salary to relax. Some of the most popular spots are the Shades of Green at Disney World and the Hale Koa resort in Hawaii. You’ll receive up to 30 days paid leave per year if the compulsory military service were to follow today’s standards. Your off-duty time is still yours after basic training.
You can sometimes jump on a military hop to fly for free if seats are available. Some have a minimal charge, as low as $5 or airport taxes, allowing you to go to South Korea, Japan, or Germany with on-base lodging that is typically cheaper than the average hotel.
12. There are leadership opportunities available to you.
Even if you don’t think military service is the best road to take in your life, the time you spend in the service can help you to get your resume to the top of the pile when you return to your preferred career. You’ll have proven skills and experiences that will let you take on leadership roles immediately. Some people can even have their degree finished after conscription because of the talents they show to their superiors. If given a choice between hiring someone straight from college or an individual with 2-3 years of practical experience, most hiring manager choose the latter option.
List of the Disadvantages of Compulsory Military Service
1. Some people will still refuse to serve in the military.
There are individuals in every country who will not follow a conscription order, no matter what the government tries to do to that person. One of those people was David Harris, who wrote for The New York Times in a 2017 opinion piece that he chose prison over fighting in Vietnam. “I went from Fresno High School Boy of the Year 1963, Stanford Class of 1967, to Prisoner 4697-159, C Block, maximum security, La Tuna Federal Correctional Institution, near El Paso,” he said.
Up to 500,000 men violated the law that required registration for military service. About 25,000 were indicted in the U.S. for their choices, with 9,000 convictions and about 3,250 who served jail time because of it. Harris was given a 3-year sentence.
2. The government is forcing people to put their lives at risk.
Because you are serving in the military, there is a risk that your life could be in danger because of conscription. That is why some people refuse to serve, even if that means they violate the law. Although the total number of Americans killed in battle. Is less than 1.5 million over the course of U.S. history, three conflicts are responsible for almost all of the casualties: the Civil War (750,000 deaths), World War II (405,399 deaths), and World War I (116,516 deaths). Vietnam and Korea were both above 50,000 deaths. If you were forced to serve in these conflicts, then there was a chance that you weren’t coming home.
For the countries that still require compulsory military service, this disadvantage is a significant risk that people consider.
3. It violates the idea of personal freedom.
The idea of having freedom is rooted in the concept of making your own decisions about life instead of having someone dictate what you can do. Compulsory military service means that a person’s individual liberty is placed on hold so that the freedoms of other people can be protected through their service. Although the United States reduced this disadvantage by offering conscientious objection through the Military Selective Service Act, it is a tradition that dates to the American Revolutionary War.
About 12,000 draftees used this option during the 1940s in the United States. Many nations do not offer this choice, and those who do usually require a specific payment to avoid being responsible for military service.
4. Conscription adds to the bureaucracy of the government.
When there is mandatory national service of any type, then there must be a bureaucracy that supports the administrative end of the armed forces. Public-sector services are almost always less efficient than what is found in the private sector because there isn’t the same need to find a profit. That means it will take more work, additional money, and the service will be less beneficial to those who choose to participate. That is why a volunteer option for serving in the military tends to be more effective in terms of skill growth and ROI.
5. It can interfere with an individual’s educational path.
The Selective Service System in the United States has gone through several changes since the 1970s. The draft was reformed in 1971 so that a student deferment was possible if you were a full-time student making “satisfactory progress” in any field of study. You could continue to go to school and be deferred from conscription until you were too old to be drafted. Now a college student can have induction postponed only until the end of the current semester, while seniors can receive a postponement until the end of the full academic year.
Even if you are making sufficient progress in your career or with your education, compulsory military service forces you to make a change. Your circumstances might not be for the better, which means you may never get out of the lull that happens when your life gets put on hold.
6. Conscription can compromise the readiness status of the military.
Compulsory military service takes people who normally don’t want to be warriors and makes them start serving anyway. The U.S. Army had only 174,000 soldiers in 1939 before being drawn into World War II. At the height of the war, there were 8 million men and women serving, along with another 3.4 million in the Navy. Most of the new members of the military had never traveled outside of their home state.
Recruits were made to think of themselves less as an individual as part of their basic training. Platoons slept, ate, and learned together. Their hours of physical fitness were performed as a group. Small mistakes could create challenging physical punishments for the whole group. Many remember this time as a transformative experience, but not everyone graduated with needed skills. If you have too many inadequately trained men hitting the battlefield, then it can compromise the readiness status of that group.
7. Some people are not fit for military service.
There are physical, mental, and spiritual reasons why some people are not fit for military service. South Korea recognizes this disadvantage of conscription, using a 7-point grading system to dictate what jobs men can do when they become of age. Anyone in the first three grades is automatically enlisted for active-duty service.
Grade 4 is an indication that the physical or psychological status of the person is not healthy enough for active training, so that person would be directed toward second-citizen of supplemental service. Grade 5 is for someone incapable of entering active or supplemental service, but capable of enlisting for second-citizen service. You must be Grade 6 to be exempted because you are incapable of performing due to disease, physical incompetence, or mental health concerns. Grade 7 requires a 2-year follow-up to update the diagnosis.
Verdict of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Compulsory Military Service
Conscription makes sense when the sovereignty of a nation is at a risk of being lost. The dangers of World War II were enough to inspire many people to go serve. By the time the United States reached the Vietnam conflict, many were focused on the disadvantages more than the positives that can occur with compulsory military service.
The people who serve get to learn a variety of new skills that they can take with them throughout their life. It can also be a time in a person’s life where they must place everything on hold to serve others – which is a favor that isn’t always returned.
The advantages and disadvantages of compulsory military service are essential to review periodically, especially when a government relies on a volunteer force for defense. By staying ready for anything, it becomes easier to protect one’s way of life.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.