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conscription

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Conscription
Conscription is mandatory (compulsory) military service for a certain group of a
country's citizens, for example all men between the ages of 18 and 35. Many
countries in the world today have conscription and compulsory national service,
such as China, South Korea, Russia, Israel, Poland, and Denmark. Australia has
never adopted conscription as a long-term policy for her military forces.
Australia had debated the pros and cons of conscription during World War I when
the issue was put to two plebiscites in 1916 and 1917. Every citizen of voting age
in Australia was asked to vote for or against conscription of Australian troops for
service in Europe. Conscription was defeated twice. It was clear that the
Australian people did not want their young men or women drafted into the
armed forces for service overseas.
Upon the outbreak of World War II, Prime Minister Robert Menzies instituted
conscription for militia operating in Australia and her territories. All unmarried
men aged 21 and over were required to attend three months of compulsory
military training. The Australian government did not have the intention of
changing this conscription policy.
The government invoked the Defence Act to call up the conscript militia for home
service and raise volunteers for overseas. The Second AIF was raised from
volunteer troops - men who had rushed to enlist after war had been declared.
Many influential Australians appealed to the government to introduce
conscription. It was argued that conscription was a fairer way to raise troops.
Voluntary military service appealed to Australian citizens moved by a sense of
duty and patriotism, but did not necessarily utilise the most fit and able men. It
was a duty as a citizen to defend one's country and voluntary military service did
not exploit Australia's labour force.
Informal conscription was instituted by some companies - the directors of
Dennys, a Geelong wool-broking company demanded 'every single man of
military age to offer himself for military service'. If he did so, he would be
guaranteed a job upon completion of his military service.
For the early years of World War II, the Australian public and government did not
entertain the idea of mandatory overseas military service for her citizens.
In 1941, John Curtin was elected Prime Minister of the Labor government. In
World War I he had provided staunch opposition to conscription. He argued
aggressively against conscription and was jailed for a short period.
When Curtin became Prime Minister, he assumed responsibility for Australia's
war effort and defence, and the threat of Japan changed Curtin's stance on
conscription. Australian soldiers had been seriously damaged by injury, disease
and exhaustion.
Many American soldiers were stationed in Australia and Curtin was concerned
about the message Australia was sending to the rest of the world. While American
soldiers were conscripts sent to the other side of the Pacific to defend a country
that was not their own, Australian conscripts could stay in their own country.
If Australia's war effort was to be taken seriously by the rest of the world, and
provide adequate defence for the Australian mainland, drastic changes in
recruitment needed to be made. He needed Australian conscript soldiers to fight
the Japanese in the Pacific, but at that time they were limited to the Australian
mainland and her territories.
In November 1942, Curtin asked the Labor conference to approve a plan to
extend the territory in which Australian conscripts could operate to include the
south-west Pacific. The Labor Party was not impressed by the suggestion. It had
always argued against conscription for overseas service. Curtin's suggestion
caused many Labor Party members to question his loyalty. Maurice Blackburn
and Arthur Calwell attacked Curtin's proposals aggressively. See image 1
On 19 February 1943, the Labor government ceded to the demands of Curtin and
allowed the conscripted Australian Military Forces (AMF) to be sent to fight in the
south-west Pacific, except for the Philippines, Western Java and Northern
Borneo.
In 1943, the Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Act 1943 (Cth) was passed.
Conscripted soldiers were able to serve in all areas south of the equator in South
East Asia. There was some discontent about the change in policy, however the
majority of Australians were genuinely concerned about the Japanese threat. Any
defence the Australian government could provide was welcomed.
The compulsory military service came to an end in 1945.
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