Opinion: If you doubt benefits of conscription, look at Israel

The debate on calling up young people to the army is currently underway. What’s shocking is that there are suggestions that serving your country and the security of Lithuania is a duty first and foremost of unemployed, homeless young men and even criminals. One gets the impression that the authors of this “idea” still see Lithuania’s armed forces today through the prism of the Soviet army where brute physical aggression and crass , absurd obedience dominated, eliminating any kind of thinking. It was no accident that during the Soviet times we threatened with the maxim “if you fail school, you go to the army”.

In any contemporary Western democratic country, however, which is what Lithuania is, it’s not only physically fit, but well-educated, broad-minded, psychologically strong young people, capable of making exceptionally complex decisions in extreme situations, who serve in the armed forces. Today’s Western army is not about nonsensical training, press ups and running around with a back pack and shouting. It is first of all about knowledge and learning to use state of the art technology; lessons in leadership where the wrong decisions can, unlike in business, mean not only financial loss but could cost human lives.

Let’s take a look at Israel and how it deals with challenges very much similar to Lithuania’s, as well as its geopolitical position which forces it to constantly enhance its armed forces and which includes compulsory military service.

To begin with, nobody in Israel doubts the need for compulsory military service. Everybody serves – men for three years and women for two years. Military service, despite its day-to-day and obvious threats, is the pride and joy of every Israeli, parents and grandparents. Surprisingly, most recruits – up to 70 percent – want to join combat units and need to go through competitive selection process.

No Israeli politician would argue about making an exception for someone from military service. It would never occur to an Israeli not to call up more privileged or more successful young people into the army. The concept of “avoiding military service” doesn’t even exist in the lexicon of any young person in Israel or of their parents.

Indeed, no Israeli would dream that someone more privileged or more successful in life could not be called up into the army. Serving in the army and defending their country is something that every Israeli considers not only a duty but also an honour and something to aspire to. Every year, as the army call up approaches, specially chartered transatlantic flights arrive in Israel bringing hundreds of conscription age young Jewish people from Canada and the US as well as from Great Britain, France and other countries. After a simple welcoming ceremony they all go off directly from the airport to their military units.

In Israel, particular attention is given to the selection of soldiers-to-be. Experienced officers with specialist qualifications in human resources perform the selection. In their opinion, the fundamental principle in the formation of the Israeli army is ensuring social equality. Children of millionaires and the unemployed alike serve side by side in the Israeli armed forces. Essential rules are adhered to when manning the military units – in each unit, together with the weakest there must also be progressive and educated young people who can serve as an example to the others.

Employers value especially highly people who have served in the army. If you serve especially well and come highly recommended by the commander of your military unit, a good job is guaranteed. Israelis know that relationships formed in the army and the experience in working with the most advanced technology make for a good basis for building business companies later on that can gain international success.

If anyone in Lithuania thinks that conscription will impair the success of skilled young people in business or life, or that the number of business startups will drop, I suggest that they take a look at Israel, a country that leads the world in the number of startups per capita and whose number of high technology companies listed on the NASDAQ is second only to the United States.

Approximately 30 thousand soldiers and officers served in the Lithuanian army during the inter-war period, i.e., three times more than today. In the event of mobilization at that time in Lithuania it would have been possible to call up 120 thousand soldiers. Military expenditure on the armed forces was four times bigger than it is today. The armed forces of inter-war Lithuania were the pride of the society and respected by everyone. The officers’ corps enjoyed a special prestige.

I am confident that the return of conscription to Lithuania and a correct and transparent process for its implementation in line with Western standards will strengthen the authority of the Lithuanian armed forces and earn the respect of the society. It’s therefore important that the best serve in the Lithuanian armed forces.

For those who have doubts about military service and its role in creating political and business leaders, I would suggest that they read up on the speech delivered at Texas University by Naval Admiral William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. This speech was recognized as the best United States University graduation speech of 2014.

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