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 "The three of us went into the service together: me and two MPs."

AKA "The Draft".

Some people who find themselves in armed conflict aren't there by choice. Nations both real and fictional enact campaigns of conscription, forced military service, for a variety of reasons. Maybe they are a small nation overwhelmed by a superior opponent. Maybe a war of attrition has left their forces decimated and badly in need of additional manpower. Maybe making it really easy to opt into alternative non-military service is cheaper and easier (for the government) than hiring hospital orderlies and highway clean-up crews on the open job market.

Another reason for conscription is to (in theory) foster a sense of national pride and solidarity; everyone will have the same experience of serving in the armed forces. Whatever the reason, conscription has a long history in both fiction and the real world.

But conscription is a double-edged sword. Armies of conscripts are often drawn from the lower classes of society - on average poorer, less educated, and inferior in discipline to volunteer forces. Many conscript forces have problems with fighting in the barracks, hazing, drug abuse, racism, and in some cases even mutinies.

The rich, talented, or well-connected can often find ways to get out of serving. Conscript armies are more likely to flee, less likely to carry out dangerous orders, and tend to waste their time devising petty ways to cause trouble for higher-ups. Many conscripts see themselves as Cannon Fodder, and either Redshirt Army at best, or Slave Mooks or Battle Thralls at worst, as their gear and level of training is often of low quality and they tend to rather rely on sheer numbers and mass attack tactics than sophistication.

In addition, there is the moral issue of so called "free nations" creating what is in essence a slave army. Conscription is involuntary servitude, no matter how prettied up with patriotism or "service to your nation" it is.


Portrayals of Conscription in fiction

Anime and Manga

  • In Rurouni Kenshin, the reason why Kaoru is a dojo master is because her father was conscripted and then died in the line of duty, leaving her as the only person fully trained in the family kendo style.

Film

  • The latter part of Gangs of New York takes place during the New York Draft Riots. During the American Civil War, immigrants were being drafted as soon as they got off the boats, while anyone with enough money could buy their way out of being drafted. Needless to say, this didn't sit well with New York's poor immigrant community, and it degenerated into the closest thing the U.S. has had to class warfare.
  • In Star Trek the Motion Picture Dr. McCoy claims to have been recruited back into service due to this. "A little known, seldom used, reserve activation clause."
  • Mulan: The Emperor orders the conscription of one man from each family to bolster the ranks of the Chinese army. Mulan's father is the only man in their household, and he sustained a leg injury the last time he went to war that drops his odds of surviving this time around pretty damn low. Mulan, wanting to A. Prove herself and B. Save her father's life, poses as a man and joins in his stead.
  • M*A*S*H:

 Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan: I wonder how such a degenerated person [Captain "Hawkeye" Pierce] ever reached a position of authority in the Army Medical Corps.

Father Mulcahy: He was drafted.

Literature

Live Action TV

  • Babylon 5: It is mentioned in passing that Earth had a planet-wide draft at least as far back as the Earth-Minbari War, although Captain Sheridan had joined some time before that.
  • A pretty large percentage of the cast in MASH. Hawkeye, Trapper, BJ, and Klinger were all draftees.

Tabletop Games

  • In Warhammer 40000, whenever a large threat appears the Imperial planets in the surrounding area conscript men and women into the Imperial Guard in large amounts and teach them an extremely rough form of the basics while on their way to the fight. Their helmets have a white stripe on the top so they can be easily identified and sent to die to help out actual trained guardsmen.
    • Not that volunteers are common place, like most of the Imperium it depends on the world.
      • And some of those worlds' entire militaries (of which at least 10% are sent to the Guard) are composed of conscripts, for example: Every single Cadian serves at least four years due to their proximity to the Eye of Terror, every firstborn son of Vostroya as penance for the planet refusing to provide soldiers to other Imperial planets during the Horus Heresy, and many Hive Worlds just round up underhive gangs and give them Lasguns. Unlike other examples, Cadian Shock Troops are considered the premier Imperial Guardsmen; while the Vostroyan Firstborn are very disciplined, specialized at urban and winter warfare, and the troops within regiments are standardly True Companions with each other.
    • A different form of this is Penal Legions, men and women recruited from penal colonies and the prisons of normal worlds which are even more expendable. They often go into battle wearing collars that can be remote detonated.
    • Possibly the most extreme example of this in the Imperium can be found in the Death Korps of Krieg. While "normal" worlds pay their debt through the manufacture of goods, Krieg's only resource is its people: every single human born on Krieg is conscripted to service in the Death Korps. This is taken to such an extreme that the use of near-forbidden technology is needed to maintain any form of population.
    • The Imperial Navy recruits all it's non-skilled workers by press-ganging everyone too slow to escape from the "recruiters". Those souls then load the starships guns and other necessary functions. With ropes. While being whipped.

Video Games

  • A few examples from the Civilization series:
    • In the original Civilization, Conscription was a scientific advancement that allowed you to build the Riflemen units, which were the single best defensive force in the entire game (with the exception of the Mechanized Infantry).
    • In Civilization III and IV, there is an option to draft units from your cities: each use of the "draft" button turns one unit of population into the "basic" unit of your time. Since in both games, conscription requires the technology Nationalism (in III, it is required directly; in IV, Nationalism is required for the Nationhood civic, which is the only civic that allows you to draft units), this generally starts with Riflemen (or equivalent; the English in IV got to draft their unique unit, the Redcoat, generally considered far more awesome), and then Infantry and Mech Infantry later on. Drafting causes unhappiness in both games, and the units receive an upgrade penalty.
  • Command and Conquer: Red Alert gives us... Conscripts. In the two games the poor saps have appeared in, they're the cheapest basic infantry unit. Let's put it this way: The other factions have scouting units that cost more than the Conscript.
    • Their respective personalities varied from the second game to the third game. In the Red Alert 2, they were mildly patriotic but mostly unwilling basic soldiers. In the red Alert 3, they became incredibly jingoistic morons, eager to throw themselves at anything declared an enemy. They will eagerly attack an Apocalypse tank while yelling, "Field promotion, here I come!"
  • The Right of Conscription is available to the Grey Wardens in Dragon Age, which allows them to conscript anyone they need into the Wardens, from prince to commoner. Generally, though, the Wardens only conscript exceptional people to get them out of trouble with the law or otherwise save them, i.e. conscripting a highly-skilled thief to save him from the gallows, a magi who unintentionally helped a blood mage and is facing Tranquilification as a result, or conscripting an elf who is facing trouble with the city guard after fighting through a noble's estate to save his female friends from being raped.
    • As well, the Grey Wardens are only interested in the very best. Everyone else doesn't have good odds of surviving the initiation. They're all picked because they demonstrated their strength. It's shown in Awakening that they don't have to conscript people in trouble with the law, as you can conscript a rogue who has nowhere else to go, an elven keeper who has personal reasons for fighting Darkspawn, and a dwarven warrior with prior experience fighting Darkspawn who wants to join, in addition to the Rogue Magi and the person who would ahve otherwise been executed. Velanna given that She had already been attacking humans passing through the Wending Wood.
    • It should be noted that condemned people aren't recruited in order to save them as much as to assure their loyalty by giving them a way out. Seeing that the alternative is taking a dirt nap, condemned individuals are also usually much more willing to be conscripted then most fellows, which results in better motivated recruits. The Gray Wardens are above all pragmatic, not merciful. Especially since they're actually just trading one death sentence for another.
  • Valkyria Chronicles: The nation of Gallia had an extensive conscription program linked with public education; and children as young as 12 served in front line combat.
    • This is similar to the Swiss and Israeli methods described below.
  • The Orcs in World of Warcraft, as part of being a Proud Warrior Race, seem to conscript their members more than any other player race in the game. But since they're a heavy warrior culture, and dying in battle is considered their greatest honor, none seem to mind.

Webcomics

  • In the future of the Webcomic SSDD member nations of CORE (supposedly the good guys) all have some form of the draft. Most conscript criminals, who are shamelessly used as Cannon Fodder unless they appear useful.
    • The Anarchists on the other hand have a completely volunteer military, meaning they have to rely on Inlays and clones.

Western Animation

Real Life

  • Conscription was almost the universal method of mustering armies all around the world during the period from The French Revolution to the end of Vietnam War. Professional armies have more or less superceded conscription in the industrialized Western world, but many countries still cling to it.
  • Small, independent countries such as Israel and Switzerland have a variation on conscription: compulsory service. On coming of age, every citizen serves a period of time in the military, usually a couple of years. After leaving the military, there are periodic refresher trainings, usually once a year. In the event that the country is attacked, they can then call upon every single one of their citizens over a certain age to defend. There's a reason people don't usually fare well in all-out warfare with either country[1].
    • In Singapore, it is possible for a foreigner to obtain citizenship by volunteering for the initial two years of military service but subsequently he or she is subject to the same regular call-up as other citizens. The physically unfit are relegated to desk jobs such as the Logistics Divisions, which count as service.

Notes

  1. Well, okay, it's also because Switzerland is a natural fortress thanks to the Alps.
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