• Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

“I don’t want to kill people and I don’t want to die”: Do students need to worry about conscription?

ByDom Croot

Feb 7, 2024
Soldier looks at poster saying 'have a safe journey'

Fears that the world has entered the early stages of a global conflict have sparked debate over the potential reintroduction of conscription in the United Kingdom.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, defence Secretary Grant Shapps said that the country was: “moving from a post-war to pre-war world.”

This added to former President Donald Trump’s comment, made on 28 January, that: “we are on the brink of World War Three.”

In 2016, Mr Trump warned that a global conflict would occur if Hillary Clinton was elected. 

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Britain’s most senior army officer, General Sir Patrick Sanders, warned The Telegraph that Britain should train a “citizen army” in response to dwindling numbers of trained soldiers and threat from Russia.

The government has ruled out conscription (compulsory enlistment into national service, typically the armed forces), stating that Army service would remain voluntary.

Despite this, the debate over conscription has continued.  

When asked, most students reacted negatively to the idea of being conscripted.

One student said: “I don’t want to kill people and I don’t want to die.”

Another, who has considered joining the army, said that they would only support conscription if “used in a defensive capacity.” 

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In 1916 and 1939, the UK conscripted all males aged 18 to 41, exempting those who were medically unable or worked in key industries.

During the First World War, approximately 950 University of Edinburgh students and alumni lost their lives.

The UK’s national service ended in 1960, however countries including Sweden, Israel and South Korea still have at least partial conscription.

“Conscription is not needed [in the UK]…” said Dr Patrick Theiner, lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh.

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He continued: “The UK is a nuclear power, which in itself should be enough to deter serious attacks…

“Whoever decides to attack a nuclear power isn’t deterred by a hundred thousand young adults in uniform.”

Dr Theiner also commented on conscription’s enormous costs: “both politically and economically.”

“I don’t see the current situation being any more dangerous than it was at a number of points during the last century.

“…Obviously, emphasising that the nation is under threat is a common trope for actors [politicians] from across the political spectrum.”

UK Soldier with Poster for SSAFA” by Defence Images is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.