National Service scheme a backward step, says Marshall
Introducing a National Service scheme in which every young person would have to sign up has been condemned as a backward step towards slavery by one pressure group.
And Bermudians Against the Draft (BAD) is urging those who may be enrolled in any future programme to withdraw their support for any government or politician who considers implementing it.
A number of Bermuda Regiment former Commanding Officers last week spoke on the idea of a National Service scheme as a possible alternative to military conscription, which Government has pledged to abolish.
They noted that service could be expanded to include working for non-military organisations such as the emergency services and community projects and claimed the system would be fairer than conscription because every young person would have to sign up, including women. Currently, around 500 Bermudians reach military call-up age each year, but only around 130 are ordered to don khaki through a lottery system.
BAD's Larry Marshall last night said the former military top brass were off target.
Mr Marshall said both conscription and national service were unfair because they were forms of forced labour — and that a National Service scheme would be a step back because even more young people would be forced to take part.
“The ramifications of introducing this so called national service have obviously not been considered simply because, if they had, the proposal would prove to be most unfair and wrong,” Mr Marshall said.
“In essence the nine [former Commanding Officers] foolishly suggest that in order to address the unfairness that currently exists the Government needs to expand forced labour and include all young people, women as well. So, in other words, more unfairness is needed to bring about fairness. That is a most ludicrous suggestion that belies belief.”
Mr Marshall questioned how a scheme could be introduced and enforced, particularly in the current economic climate.
“The additional victims of this expanded national service will not be paid anything whatsoever at a time when it has never been more difficult and challenging for our young people due to the high unemployment rate for 18 to 25 year olds, which is an incredible 45 percent.
“Is it fair to force someone who cannot secure employment to work without pay — or for someone who can for that matter? Well, that would be slavery under the euphemistic term ‘national service.' It would effectively turn back the clock to 1834 for all of our young people. That cannot be right. Also it is interesting to note that one of the main counter-arguments used when we described conscription as modern day slavery was that the conscripts get paid. Well, under this new proposal they won't so it would have to be considered slavery or very close to it.”
Mr Marshall asked what penalties would be imposed for those who failed to comply with the order, suggesting that even more young people would be unjustly punished.
He said: “What organisation will be entrusted to ensure compliance — the Regiment? What penalties will be paid — excessive fines like under the current system? Jail time to really make the point? Will they put on the stop list or have their driving privileges revoked? Will the current Government be backward and diabolical enough to amend our constitution to allow forced, unpaid labour for all young people?
“Will it allow an even greater number of our young people to be even more viciously exploited then now? What about the young, married lady who has two small children and cannot make ends meet due to being unemployed? Who will pay for the babysitter while she goes to work for nothing? Who provides the transportation?”
And he said the former COs appeared to be unaware of basic human rights laws “which is even more nauseating and disturbing”.
“As a consequence they are more than willing to callously overlook a number of human rights violations and abuses to not only maintain a system which they adore but to actually expand it and in the process adversely affect many more.”
Mr Marshall concluded by calling on young people to withdraw support for politicians who supported a move towards National Service.
“My suggestion to our young people would be to let the politicians know in no uncertain terms that if such legislation is even considered their vote will be withheld as a sign of protest against this most egregious violation of their human rights,” he said.
“It is insulting and condescending for the former commanders to speak about this demographic group as if they cannot think for themselves, as if they are too stupid to know what is best for them although they are adults. These are people not chattel.
“Former US President Ronald Reagan — a conservative Republican — described conscription as morally repugnant. He also likened it unto Nazism. That was more than 30 years ago, yet in 2014 we have a group of wannabe soldiers making such ridiculous proposals determined to exacerbate the current situation by expanding the current system which has already brought so much pain to so many over the past 50 years. Shameful.”