Conscription and Democracy: The Draft in France, Great Britain, and the United States

Conscription and Democracy: The Draft in France, Great Britain, and the United States

Conscription and Democracy: The Draft in France, Great Britain, and the United States

Conscription and Democracy: The Draft in France, Great Britain, and the United States

Synopsis

Offers a comparative historical view of how the institution of conscription worked in three Western industrial democracies.

Excerpt

And besides, soon there won't be any army. We shall all be in it, from
the age of seven to sixty—in what come to think of it? The word
“army” means nothing when entire nations are hurling themselves
against each other.

—Georges Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest

When George Bernanos wrote these words in 1936 the 20th century had already seen mass armies at war on an unprecedented scale. Millions of men and women died in World War I and II, thousands of towns and villages lay in ruins, and entire societies and cultures were dislocated. Science and technology played a role in unleashing this new destructive warfare, but just as important, as Bernanos implies, was the militarization of entire nations, the mobilizing of society, and the creation of mass armies.

Such armies required the adoption of compulsory military service, conscription or the draft, as it was called in the United States. Mobilizing manpower for war has always been more difficult in a democracy than in a dictatorship. Russell Weigley, the American military historian, writes of the United States: “The historic preoccupation of the Army's thought in peacetime has been the manpower question: how, in an unmilitary nation, to muster adequate numbers of capable soldiers quickly should war occur.” When the nature of modern warfare made an all-volunteer army inadequate, the major Western democracies (France, Great Britain, and the United States) confronted the dilemma of involuntary military service in a free society. Studying the methods by which each of these nations solved the problem, why some solutions were more lasting and effective than oth-

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