National Environmental Service Anyone?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Between 1949, when the National Service Act came into force, and 1963, when the last National Serviceman was demobbed, more than 2 million men (only men) were conscripted into the British Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force to do their National Service.  It applied to all 17 to 21 year-olds and lasted for two years. This 'character-forming' experience was not something I remember looking forward to and happily was something which my school cohort just missed.  It was an echo of the second world war and I understand that the impetus for its ending came from the military which saw it as incompatible with their goal of creating an effective professional service in which here-today-and-gone-tomorrow conscripts would be incompatible with.

Between 1963 and now various suggestions have been made about brining it back, usually in response to recurrent despair about the decadent state of the nation's youth.  In more 'progressive circles' such suggestions would put emphasis on community service rather than square bashing.  In these times, it was usually noted that other western democracies did all this without much difficulty, although the parameters of the "much" were rarely set out.  Sweden is usually cited as a successful example.

I was a little surprised that the idea cropped up in the current election campaign but I wasn't surprised at the poor reaction it got.  This might have been because of the very poor presentation and the emphasis on military service (youth against Putin).  And yet, in this, no one saw fit to mention alternative examples of this idea such as the youth environmental service [YES] that the Eden Project has developed.  Maybe our politicians simply didn't know about it.  Another lost opportunity to forge a consensus about an idea where everyone seems to win.  The urge to reflexively rubbish the other side's ideas remains potent it seems.

YES gives young people aged 18-25 a year doing paid work on a variety of nature-based projects, learning new skills, making new friends, and helping address a variety of critical environmental challenges.  It seems not only to be a good idea in its own right, but a template that might be replicated across sectors to help both young people and the country.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • There was a short time in 1973, after Israel was attacked at Yom Kippur, when the mention of military service was brought up in the UK. Thankfully never devolved into another Suez crisis, so nothing happened. When Obama ran for his US presidency, the idea came up , but this time with the 'service' idea coming up for a required year (or so) of both military service or social service to communities to help on all manner of projects and environmental work. (Not unlike the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) of the 1930s). This service idea was popular for a few months until the other party dared ask who was paying for this national service. Tax-payers rebelled at the idea of helping the country over getting more pork barrel passed.