This is from today’s Times.
Another article wallowing in World War 2 nostalgia designed to appeal to an older generation who find that the C21st makes them anxious and who have retreated into a fantasy world of Spitfires and Union Jack bunting.
Personally I don’t think bringing back national service is such a terrible idea at a national level. Lots of Scandinavian countries have national service rather than a large standing army. I would support a small professional army for limited overseas engagements, and a national defence force of part timers.
I also think that it has some good aspects for participants. There are a large group (mainly boys) who grow up without skills like self reliance and discipline. A spell of national service would do them good, show them the world outside of their neighbourhood. I also think that being able to return and re-train to keep their skills up a couple of weeks a year would be good for people who otherwise would be in low status, low paid jobs.
There is however one massive problem with bringing back national service. It is phenomenally expensive. That’s why we don’t have it any more.
The reason why it is expensive is due to the size of our armed forces. They are at an all time low. Remember all of the cash that New Labour put into the NHS? Loads of it came from a long slow reduction in defence spending.
In 1950 when my uncle did National Service we had nearly 700,000 regulars, looking after an average of 140,000 national servicemen a year
Right now we have 140,000 regulars and 750,000 18 year olds.
Even a limited scheme with only 10% of teenagers taking part would swamp our regular forces. They would be spending all of their time training conscripts with no time to do anything else.
That’s why it will never happen. But that won’t stop The Times from running endless nostalgic articles. A comfort blanket for an anxious older generation forever looking backwards.