October 1, 2014
The draft is daft
Perhaps the only policy of the demonized nineties immune from criticism until now has been the 1995 abolition of conscription but in recent days it too has been questioned — and not precisely by Carlos Menem’s harshest critics. Buenos Aires provincial Security Minister Alejandro Granados is not the first to propose reviving the draft in order to keep idle youth out of trouble but his status obliges this editorial space to give this eccentric anachronism serious consideration — moreover Granados escalates this defensive approach to deploying drafted lower-class youth against criminals of similar background in violation of Argentina’s domestic security legislation (based on historical experience). Compulsory military service thus takes over from where schooling leaves off in taking the young out of circulation — both schools and conscription are being supported for reasons which have nothing to do with any educational or military logic. Given that almost a million youths in the 16-24 age-group “neither work nor study” in Argentina, an despair in education’s containment role perhaps feeds this urge to look for military reinforcement.
When first introduced in 1901, conscription had a more positive social aim — to create an Argentine identity in an immigrant society, alongside national schools (here it is interesting that education was decentralized to the provinces and conscription abolished within two years of each other). Although achieving a certain initial success in this social integration (while in Brazil it was a major factor in sharply reducing illiteracy), compulsory military service had lost both its rationale and its social consensus long before the cruel murder of the Neuquén conscript Omar Carrasco in 1994 sealed its doom — when not thus brutalized, conscripted youth was humiliated by being made a feudal servant class to arrogant officers who subjected 20th century Argentina to 28 years of military rule and whose human rights violations began in the barracks. And now Granados proposes reviving a mechanism outdated two decades ago on a purely negative agenda.
In Britain and other countries which have abolished conscription similar ideas are voiced now and then but soon perish because the military are the first to protest — aghast at being made a dumping-ground for the dregs of society instead of training volunteers into professionals. It would be interesting to learn if Army Chief-of-Staff César Milani (himself with a missing conscript case in his closet) shares this reaction or if he welcomes the return of conscription to revive military clout elsewhere.