The Continental Attitude

In general, the Continental attitude toward universal military training has been quite different from that in America and Britain. The was of the Continental powers have been fought chiefly by large land armies, and their military policies have been based on the need to be able to put a land force of maximum size into the field in minimum time. Few countries tried to maintain a permanent standing army large enough to meet all possible needs but by the latter part of the nineteenth century the Continental states followed almost without exception a system of obligatory military training for all young men. The length of the required training varied from time to time and from country to country, but it was seldom less than a year. Most countries also required periodic refresher courses, usually consisting of attendance at summer camps for a stated time.

The Swiss system, though applied in a small country and not linked with an aggressive military policy, is typical in many ways of European practice. At the age of 19, a young man is assigned, on the basis of examinations, for training in a particular branch of military service. During the following year he is obliged to spend a minimum of 116 days in uniform. After completing his course, he is assigned to a battalion in his home area and until he is 26 is required to have nineteen days of training each year. From the time he is 26 until he is 32 he trains for three weeks every second year. At 32 he passes into the second class of reservists, where he remains until he reaches 40. During this time he must take at least two courses of nineteen days each. At 40 he becomes a member of the third class where he remains for the next eight years. No further training is required of this final reserve class.

When the Nazis reestablished the German army in 1935 they prescribed a year's military training for every young man who had reached 20. Since most of them had already passed through a six-month period of thinly disguised military training in the Nazi "labor corps," the young reservists of the Reichswehr had behind them an actual training period of about eighteen months. Following the year of army training, each man became, as in Switzerland, a member of successive classes of organized reserves with periodic and diminishing requirements for refresher courses.

Almost from the time of the Russian Revolution, the Red army has been organized on the basis of compulsory military service. Until recently, all young men became liable at 21 for military duty. Some were inducted into the regular army, where they served for two years. Others, not taken into the central or regular army, were organized into territorial units where, for a period of five years, they received short periods of training near their places of work. By this latter arrangement masses of men could be given a substantial amount of military training without being withdrawn from productive labor on the farms and in the factories of the Soviet Union.

After their two-year or five-year period of active training, the men are classed into various reserve organizations, divided by age groups, and they remain liable for service until the age of 50. Throughout this entire period they must attend periodic assemblies, lasting from one to two months, where they receive further training. On an average, each man must attend such an assembly every second year.

Several recent changes have been made. As the likelihood of involvement in the present war grew, the Soviet authorities lowered the draft age to 19 (or to 18 in the case of young men who had completed their secondary school education) and relatively more men were inducted into the regular army than into the territorial units. By these methods, it is probable that at the time of Hitler's invasion the Red army had been increased to about three million men.

The outbreak of war brought another change in Soviet policy. On October 1, 1941 all Soviet citizens from 16 to 50 were ordered to take some kind of military training, usually given after their regular day's work had been finished. Chemical defense, antitank tactics, sniping, and similar skills have thus been taught to great masses of people. Many factories have formed their own training units and have provided their own drill grounds. No nation has ever so fully approximated the concept of the "Nation in Arms" as the U.S.S.R. of the present day.

To summarize briefly, Great Britain, the British Dominions, and the United States have all avoided universal military training, while the states of Continental Europe have had such a system for many years. This difference is not purely accidental. Sea power has been the chief weapon capable of guarding the states of the first group from attack, while those of the second group, having extensive land frontiers or direct land connections with potential enemies, have had no choice but to base their military effort primarily on land power.

From EM 21: Shall We Have Universal Military Training? (1944 Censored)