The entirely ghastly idea of National Service

To be of service is of course entirely normal - it’s the way we all make our living, producing something of value to others. National has its value too but the idea of National Service becomes repellent. For it’s the forced theft of the time and effort of the individual. As is conscription itself.

Thus this is an horrific idea:

Earlier this month, though, some of his growing fan club were aghast that he had taken leave of his senses. In one of his social media salvos, Stewart announced that if he were to become prime minister, he would introduce compulsory national service for every 16-year-old. Cue horror: compulsion? Service? Marching jackboots and itchy blankets? Even though Stewart made clear this would not be military service, the Twitter hordes were up in arms.

But national service is an idea whose time has come (again). Bear with me. I know that this is a proposal fetishised by a certain kind of person; the kind who thinks life was better when teachers could wield the cane, when men were men and women wore skirts, when bad people swung from the gallows. Yet strip national service down to its bones and what is it but a collective endeavour for all young people, a mixing of tribes, a rite of passage into deeper patriotism? And this — in these rancorous, anxious times — is exactly what our country needs.

It always is something imposed by those too old to have to undergo it. We’d have rather more sympathy - more but not enough - if it were politicians insisting that politicians must lose some years of their life to the State’s force, or columnists ditto. That other people, those too young to be able to successfully complain, must do so isn’t, we think, quite fair. Actually, it’s repellent.

It’s also true that for any parent who wishes to so encourage their child, for any child who so wishes, there is already that option. Over and above Scouting and Girl Guides there are varied forces related cadet forces, The Woodcraft Folk, Pathfinders, HaNoar HaTzioni, Habonim Dror and the Boy’s Brigade - which we’re pretty sure includes girls at this point. And that’s just from a idle scan of Wikipedia, we’re sure there are many more out there.

That is, everyone who wants to do such a thing may. The only addition that National Service would bring is the power of the State to force. And that’s what’s so repellent about the idea of course.