This is the cry we have heard from the mouths of our old folk, usually when 'the youth of today' have enraged them. However, hold your scorn at the title, more than ever there are strong and compelling reasons to consider bringing back National Service. It might be a solution to a number of our social problems.
What do I actually mean by National Service? Not what you might expect; I have long since believed that National Service produces poorly-motivated soldiers, who do not want to fight. Any forcing of the will of young men and women to serve their country is counterproductive, it's not right to make men and women serve their country in uniform.
The state is entitled to demand military service of you for the same reason that it's entitled to demand that you pay a portion of your wages: military service is a form of taxation paid in kind. Military service is like slavery in the same way that taxation is theft. And if you read this and pumped up your fist and went 'Well, yeah!', you need to read more books as you've clearly missed my point.
I am not a crazy patriot; nationalist, Christian or veteran who believes the sun rises and sets on the British Empire. I am trying to be pragmatic and thoughtful about the complex social problems that lie before us, mainly those affecting our young people and their rights of passage, their role as custodians of the future. I have, since being a young delinquent myself, falling into crime and whatnot whilst in social services care as a teenager, been a soldier. As a soldier, I learned remarkable new skills, with portion of the population from completely different classes, backgrounds and levels of education. I served in the British Army, arguably the finest expeditionary, rapid-deployable, combat-experienced army in the world. These factors set us apart from nearly every nation on earth; much larger armies are sloth-like, vast and cumbersome, taking much longer to establish themselves as battle-ready. Brand 'British Military' is a flagship for doing a lot of things right; it is a model that can be extrapolated for society, for our young people and worked to serve the community and country better. In short, take the best bits from the army's ethos and training and leave the brash-army-barmy bits - and going to war - out.
So why would you conscript our young folk and make them go and do community work when they'd sooner be smoking pot at college on some pointless sociology course doing four hours of lectures a week, leaving the institution thousands of pounds in debt? Err, I wonder. Oh no wait, the baby boomer generation did it, so why shouldn't the next, and the next nut who is paying for this?
My idea of National Service, the one I see in my deluded head when I've had a few, involves a military structure, a military ethos, the teaching of a sense of loyalty, honour, respect, hard work, adventure, outdoor pursuits, teamwork and individualism. A two-tiered military, where the professional component continues in the current structure, the professional army, the war fighting army. Alongside, there's a second tier of National Service Cadets, young people with basic military training, performing a whole host of duties and tasks for our country within the UK, the Commonwealth and wider international community.
Therefore, in my world, an eighteen-year old finishes school, and - before University or work - does twelve months National Service. There are two flavours to choose from; Uniformed Military Service attached to one of the Armed Services (much like Reservists and Officer Cadets are attached) or Non Uniformed Service, where s/he will be expected to do basic training still with the military, to pass their Military Ethos Cadre together with first aid, adventurous training, teamwork, and leadership and thereafter will be posted to a non-government organization, a charity either in the UK or overseas. A posting will be issued following their results from basic training, the motivation and effort they've shown on the ten week training cadre for both Uniformed Military Service Cadets and Non Uniformed Service Cadets. Their posting will be ten months, and they'll be paid the National Service minimum wage, enough to support them in the basics during your service. If their parents are rich, much like university, then they must contribute to the cost.
I can feel the wrath of the chattering-classes as I write this, the middle-class armchair warrior baying for my blood: 'How dare you make my children do anything they don't want to,' blah blah. Well guess what? You chattering-class-baby-boomers made this happen; you took the pensions, the free university degrees, the state health care and threw away your medical prescriptions when you realized you actually didn't have an infection after all, despite repeatedly going to visit your doctor and wasting his time. Meanwhile the rest of the world worked its ass off to pay for basic medical care, as you bred and took the spoils from the economic booms following the second world war, enjoying the greatest lifestyle uplift for generations - and now we are paying for it. In social AND economic capital, and so will our children and their children.
It's unsustainable, and only a robust review of our social responsibilities, mindset, work ethic and attitude can we address the shortfall of the future. The minimum wage is no longer a living wage, we have to plan for the future and by changing the mindset of our young, and by equipping them with real skills, Britain stands a better chance of being industrious and highly entrepreneurial in a complex global world. We can secure the best for our country by being the best. The next generation holds the keys to this.
Twelve months serving their country with a social contract is good for them and for us.
Now let's consider the economics (the main issue will always be money); half a million young people reach the age of eighteen each year, those not in education, employment or training are called NEETs. There are 1.2m NEETs in the UK. The government rightly takes those not training or earning seriously, they often become lifelong dependents of the state. A vicious cycle then sets in. Recent research shows that the class divide between young people is not reducing, young people do not mix outside their social groups as much as they should, leading to segregation, laziness and listless behavior not conducive with seeking out employment or sticking with courses to secure qualifications. The difficulty in penetrating certain industries and social circles is almost impossible for some young people. The military however has proven itself repeatedly to remove all social divisions between the classes; it is, for the most part, five times more integrated than civilian life. What is more, with the Government being tougher on benefits and handouts, the lazy generation who allowed this to happen will be unlikely motivators for the next, so who will motivate the young?
The Government has worked hard on National Citizen Service, a scheme set up to address some of these issues; it offers young people at school a challenging outdoor experience during the holidays, and in return expects them to contribute some community service. It is a fantastic idea.
I have long since been concerned that those that need to be doing something are not being helped. The young people we need to reach truly are not in Cadets, Scouts, National Citizen Service or other uniformed youth groups. Why? Because these groups are voluntary. No one is encouraging them to help themselves, and for this reason it is now time for all of us to make our young people do something, for them and for us. Enough is enough.
However, National Service would have the power, the power to take these 1.2m NEETs out of their mindset, train them and equip them with useful life skills before going onto work or further education.
Don't tell me we can't afford this, don't tell me we cannot make this work, we have just cut billions off our state expenditure, we still spend billions on reforming young people, NEETs cost us £15bn, what a burden on our national purse. The billions on prisons and detention, and police responding to petty and repetitive crime, against the cost to the nation to bring in National Service; it's a social investment in the future of our country, our young people, and our place on the world stage. It is a cost that can be paid for by the country and parents, and those that can afford to invest in their kids, should do so. The net benefits include millions of hours of community service, up and down our country, young people will have personally invested sweat into their communities, forging respect, mutual understanding, and breaking class borders and divides.
If we are serious about our young people, our communities, our country, we will find the money to invest in this; after all, the infrastructure, trainers and team to deliver this are already in service.
That is, until we make them all redundant.