How not to be a “Shit-Pump”: A Case for Mandatory Military Service | By Quentin Lau and Ivan Ho

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.

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Quentin is a fourth year political science honours student who has served with the Canadian Forces in the Primary Reserves. He is currently reading Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. You can follow him on Twitter @quewl
Ivan is a fourth year history student who has an interest in military studies. He is currently reading War by Gwynne Dwyer and he enjoys doing judo in his spare time.

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  • No way

    I’m sorry you lost me when you started advocating for “constant yelling, being told what to do, physical torment and emotional distress”. Not everyone is cut out for a military lifestyle, and most certainly not everyone is cut out to fight in a war.

    In one of your opening paragraphs you mentioned youth crime as a disturbing facet of modern society we should endeavor to eradicate. Fair enough, I’m sure most people would agree. Let’s check some numbers. According to this site ( bitly.com/7HghUw ) countries like Canada, France, the UK, and Japan have some of the *lowest* rates of murders committed by youths, and they don’t have any sort of conscription at all. On the other hand, countries like Russia, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico have some of the highest. They also have conscription. Even South Korea, your sterling example, is tied with Canada. Sure seems to be working.

    It’s not even worth mentioning that levels of unemployment in western countries without conscription is still the best in the world, so that argument seems a bit silly too. “Other emerging problems” is a bit loose, so I’ll let that one slide.

    Fostering discipline in people is also not always a good thing. How many times has the excuse of “just following orders” worked out for the better? Developing a strict hierarchy is lousy for things like creativity and innovation if it’s imposed on society as a whole. Sure, self-discipline is a great thing, but there are many other ways that people develop that.

    You mention respect – until 2011 the United States was one of the least respectful organizations towards members’ private lives, and the repealing of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has only started to fix that. And sure, building a diverse skill-set is wonderful, but people gain skills literally by doing anything.

    Fundamentally, this article suffers from an extreme case of “who the fuck are you to tell people what to do.” It is strictly not true that every Canadian should think, act, and believe the same way, and forcing everyone to go through any one single program is a violation of basic civil liberties.

  • Le Con

    Couple problems based on assumptions.

    Bad habits leading to the problem of Modern Youth (A Clockwork Orange) develop well before the age of majority when mandatory military service is imposed. Unless of course you want to conscript at 12. So you’ll still get irreverant and undisciplined citizens either way. You can see this in the countries you chose. In Scandanavia they are just like North Americans, same with Israel, South Korea, and Egypt. If the Chinese are more polite and disciplined it is the consequence of the culture in their homes and schools, not their military.

    Further, humiliation and denegration are not effective teaching tools. Imagine if your TAs and profs treated you that way.

    I also dispute that soldiers are respectful necessarily from their soldiering. My encounters with soldiers have been pretty regular. They have been respectful and progressive; and they have involved a great deal of swearing, slurs, and backwards world views. They have had just as many gripes with superiors as I have with my boss; where they respect their superiors it is because they are excellent leaders regardless of rank. Same goes with each other.

    Further, the reason our professional military is so professional is that it is composed of people who want to be there. Add in tons of people who don’t, and you’ll get a dilution of that positive military culture. Israel and Egypt are good examples of this, where military service is basically a way of developing patronage networks.

    Final note, discipline and obedience are not virtues. They are virtues in totalitarian regimes, but they are the nemesis of free and fair democracies. We should be instilling critical thinking in our citizens by sending them to universities; not sending them to boot camp.

  • A. Valencia

    I generally agree with the message in the first response to this article. I don’t believe that mandatory military service is necessarily the best way of realizing values, like discipline or respect, in individuals.

    Yes, having military experience can be invaluable for a person. Things like emphasis on team work, discipline, respect, understanding of military affairs, etc. clearly provide skills and knowledge that would provide anyone with an enriched disposition towards life and society.

    But as was pointed out there are other ways to develop these values, and I’m quite certain that there are probably are safer (and I mean that term further than in just a physical sense) for the individual person and psyche. First, I think there needs to be a clearer understanding of a distinction which is sort of even provided in the article. Militant culture is vastly different from civilian culture. Do we really want there to be a blurring of values between the two? Sure, there are ways in which this would be beneficial. Just look at the values that have already been emphasized. But by imposing mandatory military service, the message we are espousing (explicitly or implicitly) is that of a militant approach and attitude to regular affairs which may prove to be jarring or incompatible. “Constant yelling, being told what to do, physical torment and emotional distress” are not things we would want, for example, to be encouraging in parent or educators. Granted, people aren’t stupid and can make distinctions between various areas of their lives and understand what is and isn’t appropriate. But then again, we can never really be surprised at the capacity of human incompetence, selfishness, or ineptitude. You make that clear in your article. But does having military experience mean that we necessarily loosen ourselves from these chains? I would say that this isn’t the case. Once military service comes to an end, we run the risk of letting negative misunderstandings or misappropriations of the military spirit run amok in civilian affairs.

    You could also say that, yes, war is an inevitable feature of human civilization. However, do we really want to be subjecting a mandatory participation in the military complex to the citizenry with all the risks that are associated with it? Here are some legitimate objections: The possibility and burden of PTDS seems like a real risk. There are bound to be people who, psychologically, will pervert any perceived sense of power gained in military service, which when coupled with the reverence we hold for our armed forces can be dangerous. An ideological imposition by government (that we ought to participate in war or the structures of war) can be seen, and perhaps quite rightly, as a violation of civil liberties and consequently we may see aggressive anti-military or anti-government sentiments.

    To add, I would hate to see the attitude and discourse around “shit-pumps” to be a mainstream part of any society’s consciousness. It seems a bit contradictory to call the military “uncannily socialist” in the same article which sincerely allows for the objectification of a “complete waste of human being”. But perhaps, that’s what makes it uncanny. Even though it plays into it, I don’t want to get into the argument about whether or not people are totally responsible for their own situations and actions, as we see with arguments of the homeless or unemployed or with marginalized groups. That’s a whole other discussion. But I’d just like to make the point here that it would be an unsettling and bizarre culture in which one wouldn’t so much as bat a lash in response to such a view of things.

    Ultimately, what would prevent us from institutionalizing other methods of “human betterment” that can serve to also improve other areas of society (as the military does in the case of the will of the state and in matters of national security and military interest)? Education… well, okay. Our civil liberties aren’t trampled in mandatory enrollment in schools. On the contrary, they enrich our lives in helping us realize them. But how about the institution of marriage or an institution of parenthood? The familial unit (parent and child) is after all a necessity of any functional society’s composition. Or how about institutions which require mandatory commercial or financial work, or of appreciation and mastery of artistic or political craft? Why don’t we make experience in the trades, in basic cooking skills, etc. mandatory? After all, being able to build something or cook for your own self can provide skill sets and values that make for a better society. They’re all beneficial in their own ways, but if made mandatory in some institutional form, they wouldn’t individually provide for personal liberty or for the holistic enrichment of the person that education seems to try to provide (through academics, sport, social activity, professional/personal development, etc.). And to make them all mandatory would be (sadly, in my opinion) unrealistic. I see military service as one aspect of enrichment in a greater picture, that people should freely be able to participate of their own accord.

  • 10 Year Vet

    Military service is a very good life experience, no doubt. It’s been my living for ten years now, and I’ve drawn tremendous benefits from it. National Service is a bad idea, I think, because it forces people who don’t want to be there to do it anyway, and I really can’t see them being productive assets for the Forces. In my current position, I supervise troops who have finished their recruit courses and are waiting to move on to their trade courses, and I can tell you for a fact that most of them haven’t been remade into more disciplined people, and likely never will be. They’re happy to get paid, but don’t want to do anything for it. They make mistakes or forget things, and it’s our fault. They skip roll call, we have to call their cell phones instead of knocking on their doors with the Sergeant Major and escorting them to the OC’s office to answer to an AWOL charge. It’s nothing but frustrating babysitting, and we’re going through staff like there’s no tomorrow. And that’s with people who volunteered to join. Conscription worked in the past because people had different values. Trying to impose it on society today would just leave you with draftees who are fed, billeted and paid at an immense cost to the Crown, and who give the bare minimum back on the best of days on the one hand, and tired, frustrated, burnt out , supervisors on the other. At the end of the day, I don’t really see anyone getting anything from it. Our society’s problems aren’t going to be fixed by conscription.