In the week where the United States killed Iran’s top general, the internet has reacted in its typical style and World War III memes have taken over social media.
100 years on from the First World War, which saw 886,000 British people lose their lives including 70,000 civilians, many have been wondering about how forced conscription would work in the modern age.
In 2020, sex discrimination is illegal and so many have been wondering if women would be drafted into the army alongside men.
Subsequently people have questioned what would happen to children.
The obesity epidemic alongside a heightening awareness of mental health disorders means that the reality may be unrecognisable from that of 1918.
If conscription were to happen, we ask, what fitness levels might be expected and which medical conditions would make you exempt? We looked at the National Archives and looked at expert commentary to help paint a picture.
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Firstly, the question of women and enlistment. In 2016, Hardman Lea, the author of First World War novel ‘The Sins of Soldiers’, conducted a poll about modern attitudes to conscription.
Speaking to The Telegraph in 2016, he said: “The female role was much more formal 100 years ago, but times have changed. Women now serve in the Amed Forces, so if conscription came back in, should they be called up?”
In response to his question 57% answered yes, but 43 per cent said no citing: “women are less aggressive”, “they don’t belong” and “women have occupations that would be invaluable on the home front.”
This also brings up the issue of single parenthood. Hartman Lea said: “Single parenting was a social position that didn’t really exist 100 years ago, so that, along with gender and childcare issues, would present a further problem with reintroducing conscription.”
It seems that if you are called up in World War Three, parenthood and occupation could keep you off of the front lines.
The second question about enlistment is that of health, specifically weight.
In order to pass the fitness tests required by the British army today, you would need to be able to complete the following:
- Run 2km in 11.15 minutes or less after an 800m warm up
- Throw a medicine ball weighing 4kg, while seated, a minimum of 2.9m distance
- Perform a minimum of 46 mid-thigh pulls (deadlift using a machine)
Considering that, as of August 2019, 28.7% of English adults were obese and 35.6% were overweight, it would be easy to think that conscription of these individuals would be impossible.
However, in 2011, a Ministry of Defence study found that in actuality 44.9 per cent of existing British soldiers were classed as overweight and 12.1 per cent were obese or even heavier.
While the army insisted that their personnel were getting larger they insisted that their soldiers were “large and fit”. They did introduce a weight management system in 2009 to tackle the issue.
With this in mind, it should also be noted that this year the British Army has been seeking new ways to increase its troop members, and this includes a “soldier development course” which takes on overweight, unfit and shy recruits.
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This means that if conscription were to return, being overweight may not automatically get you pulled from the ranks.
Finally, we’ve all heard of men being signed unfit for war during the previous world wards due to asthma or flat feet – but what about now? Which conditions could get you out of war in 2020?
If we consider that those conditions which excused men from war in the last century would also count in the 21st century the following would make you exempt.
Records of medical exemptions are rare, according to the National Archives, but the following illnesses were noted in a collection of Middlesex County appeals against conscription from 1916-17.
It’s worth noting that a total of 303 appeals were from men who were aged between 40 and 50.
In the papers were included appeals due to heart defects, heart disease, partial or total blindness, deafness, hernias, chronic bronchitis and Neurasthenia.
Neurasthenia was a psychological term which covered symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, neuralgia and depression.
As modern attitudes towards mental health have improved, it is likely that those with similar conditions, depression, anxiety, ME and other conditions would be excused from the draft.
On the British Army website there is an extensive list of conditions which they say could stop you from being able to join. These include: Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, kidney disease or donation, pregnancy, MS, epilepsy, Hepatitis B or C, ear grommets, Asthma, lung disease, TB, Cerebral Palsy, HIV, Diabetes and HIV.
Also included are PTSD, alcoholism or drug dependancy, schizophrenia, past suicide attempts, anxiety, OCD.
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Even food allergies, 44% of the UK has some kind of allergy, could make you exempt.
Conscientious objection was widely vilified during the last century, however it was accepted as a reason to be exempt in some cases. It was peer pressure which widely pushed these men into the army eventually.
In Hardman Lea’s poll, 57% of respondents would protest the reintroduction of conscription, meaning that this pressure may not exist in the same way.
With all of these exemptions, it seems as though there would be no-one in the UK left to conscript.
However, Hardman Lea notes: “I suspect that their opinions would change when it came to the actual situation and, as was the case a century ago today, they would accept the necessity of the decision, we would have to work out the logistical difficulties, and conscription would return."
- World War 3
- British Army
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