“Universal Obligatory Military Training and Service”

This pamphlet is entitled “Universal Obligatory Military Training and Service,” and appeared to be a straightforward guide for the argument for Universal Obligatory Military Training and Service. The language was not complex, but could be understood easily by the common citizen. However, underneath the title, it is described as “A Catechism in Twelve Lessons,” which caught my eye. I learned the word “catechism” as a word for religious truth, something unquestionable. The idea of a pamphlet on military training presenting “lessons” that were religiously unquestionable immediately drew my attention.

The pamphlet was set up in a question and answer format, which I found greatly limited the reader’s critical thinking and ability to doubt its contents. Each question that followed appeared the most logical question, with a very logical response. However, as a result, I felt that my creativity in synthesizing questions to engage with and challenge the text was decreased. The question presented to me superseded any attempt to formulate my own question, which made me feel at the end that all of the questions had been answered thoroughly and that the position was well-defended, although obviously the author would not have asked himself questions he was unable to respond to convincingly. Each question is carefully tailored to appear the most logical response, although they never attempt to seriously challenge the author’s argument.

After a very thorough and critical reading of the pamphlet, I was able to come up with certain questions that were unaddressed by the author. However, the average reader skimming through this pamphlet would not have found the time or concentration for this argument, and would be immediately convinced. It was really a brilliant rhetorical method.

Another result of this question and answer set-up was to create a deliberately one-sided argument for universal military training. When addressing the view of opposers, the author assumes a patronizing tone that ridicules their position as a result of the propaganda of weak, but professional, pacifists.

Although the pamphlet argued that this idea is simply the most logical development of national defense and unrelated to any “new ideas,” the date of publishment (1917) indicates that this line of thought is very much tied to the debates of preparedness revolving around the Great War.

The author made the argument to adopt the Swiss style of Universal Obligatory Military Training and Service, which was very interesting, since Switzerland was not a prominent world power. I also found it interesting that Switzerland, currently considered the symbol for neutrality, established this prepared military system in 1848. Typically a larger military force is seen as a precursor to aggression, with the idea that those who are capable of seizing more power will attempt to do so. However, the pamphlet makes the argument that Switzerland’s peace is the result of their large military force, rather than in spite of it. The nuance is that militarism is derived from a large standing army, which Universal Obligatory Military Training makes unnecessary. Therefore, according to the author, this form of a military system would prepare a nation to defend itself, but would not encourage aggression.

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One Response to “Universal Obligatory Military Training and Service”

  1. Eric Yellin says:

    Great point about the date — that this pamphlet about “preparedness” as much as war. And the aspect of the Swiss is also interesting. It gets at one of the fascinating results of studying history: re-discovering lost alternatives. Today, a mandatory draft would fit into a mold of militarism, rather than the possibility of “peace through preparation” as implied by the Swiss model.

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