When the idea of mandatory military service is brought up, many think of Israel or South Korea; countries afflicted with a constant sense of fear. On the other hand, Canada is thought as a country that is not susceptible to attack, especially given the proximity to the military superpower, the United States. However, mandatory military service for citizens should not be thought of as a deterrent against attack, but rather an individual’s life experience. This article will provide a viewpoint on how military service for all citizens can improve not only themselves, but also society.
All too often we witness individuals in our society who lack common discipline and respect. A mentality for humbleness and frugality has all but disappeared and people enjoy an all too comfortable life. As a result, respect for one another has gradually disintegrated and discipline of all sorts has vanished. Governments are constantly dealing with youth crime, unemployment and other emerging problems. Even something as simple as the person who berates the barista at a coffee shop for getting a ridiculously complex order wrong shows the disarray our society is moving towards. Although the idea of mandatory military service is an afterthought for most Canadians, the lessons gained from military service should be considered.
The first is discipline. The military is often characterized as a rigid and unforgiving environment for individuals. Constant yelling, being told what to do, physical torment and emotional distress are all characteristics of an ordinary training day for a soldier. Although all these aspects are true to an extent, they are all meant to build a better and more effective individual. “Pain is weakness leaving your body,” is a common saying in the military, and it speaks volumes about the “no excuses” approach the military adopts. This saying, along with many others, does not apply solely to military personnel and their respective environment, but also civilian life. It fosters discipline in an individual by embedding the notion that giving up is weakness and there is no excuse for it. From doing a forced march of twenty-five kilometers to having three midterms in one week, there is no difference. The military also likes to assign impossible tasks for its soldiers, such as changing from P.T. or physical training gear to a full combat uniform in a matter of minutes. These timings are clearly impossible and soldiers find themselves punished by wall-sitting while holding a seven pound rifle till they reach their physical limits of exertion. Although this may sound bizarre, it is intentional and meant to build discipline and respect for time management. Soldiers constantly and strictly adhere to timings, as it could mean life or death on the battlefield. Again, these attributes can be applied to civilian life especially managing time for assignments and exams. Consider the previous example about a grueling week of midterms. You already know at the beginning of the semester you’re going to be pushed hard. So what? Don’t mull over it, do something about it; manage and value your time while maintaining discipline when it comes to distractions. This discipline can translate into more hardworking individuals.
The second is respect. It is sad to see the constant reminders of disrespect in our society everyday. The racial slurs, homophobic language, lack of manners are all examples of the ill-treatment of fellow human beings. Although the military is often stereotyped as an environment where difference is not tolerated, that is hardly the case. In Canada, where a diverse and multicultural society exists, the military is a place where equality is paramount. Yes, there is a hierarchy when it comes to rank, but when it comes down to the individual, the only thing that distinguishes yourself from others is your work ethic — nothing else. The military also emphasizes team work to the highest degree. Every soldier is assigned a “fire-team buddy,” or a partner, who you must literally do everything with. This concept not only builds teamwork skills, but also places value on others. The military is uncannily socialist, in that individualism is looked down upon and community is thought of highly. In battle, soldiers do not complete objectives by themselves as characterized in video games, but as a team. Soldiers are expected to put their lives in the hands of others. This kind of trust is rare to see but is embedded within these men and women. This trust and respect is needed in our society where opposite characteristics are rampant. While individualism has its place in society, common interaction between others should always be respectful in order to maintain a society that considers itself civilized.
The benefit of military service is two way street and it has given a unique set of skills to soldiers that induce discipline and organization. Citizens with experience outside the military bring immense and important skill sets to the Canadian Forces. Due to the size of the Canadian Forces, soldiers are required to be well rounded in a variety of skills compared to other militaries. Naturally, well-rounded soldiers that can perform a multitude of tasks can benefit the Canadian Forces, especially in an age of computerized technology. Moreover, skills taught by the Canadian Forces can transfer into the civilian occupation including time management and leadership qualities.
Military service forges the link between the will of the nation and the institutional values that Canadians behold including human rights and democratic beliefs. The Canadian Forces (in the case of Canada) is celebrated as a professional army composed of volunteers, who reflect Canadian societal values. This is because the Canadian Forces draw from the ranks of our citizenry. Citizen soldiers also produce linkages between civil society and the military system. Citizens are exposed to the unique nature and world of the military; citizens gain an understanding of how the military operates within the broader context of society and in the political arena. As Carl Von Clausewitz wrote, “war cannot be divorced from political life; and whenever this occurs in our thinking about war, the main links that connect the two elements are destroyed and we are left with something pointless and devoid of sense.” Understanding how the military is used and how it operates produces better citizens. In a political sense, citizens will be more active and knowledgeable about military affairs and will hold politicians accountable, since citizens will understand that the deeper implications and consequences of military conflict. Soldiers act on behalf of the government overseas and are an extension of the state’s arm. As a result, they directly see the policies and at times are the policy of the government. On a deeper level, citizens will comprehend the unique nature of the military and dispel the myths and mystiques that Hollywood and video games perpetrates. Unfortunately, video games like Call of Duty and movies like Hurt Locker produces multiple and gross misconceptions of the military (for one it is really not that exciting). For the people that have been through the military, they understand it is a unique membership that cleaves the worlds of civilians and military personnel apart.
Military service is a unique opportunity and a life changing experience for those who participate in its unforgiving and rewarding environment. Challenges in the mind and body are overcome not by individual sheer will, but by a closely integrated team. People develop lifelong friendships on course. Skills like discipline and respect are taught in the military and it is unfortunate our society is filled with people who lack those fundamental skills. Moreover, the military service forges the bond between civilian society and the military. Soldiers understand the consequences of careless military action and adventures overseas. For those in university planning on joining the military, I say bravo, you will meet the best of society and at times the worst. Before you go I need you to know there is one phrase in the military that emphasizes the complete waste of human being that is lazy, inherently selfish, disrespectful, lacking in motivation to anything – and that is a “shit pump.” It is a word that encompasses it all and one phrase by military members that is reserved for the most incompetent, selfish and inept members of society. That one phrase is the antithesis of all the skills and concepts that the military tries to bestow upon new soldiers. Please do not be that shit-pump and try not to be a shit-pump in civilian life, it is for the best.