Bermudians Against the Draft formed the same year this writer began his service. Had they entered at the same time they’d be finished now. Perhaps if a legal motion had been mounted in that time, as we completed our service, then the recent trip to the Privy Council may have been a success. Sexism could have been argued on the basis that the regiment suffers from the policy of accepting female volunteers but not conscripting. It could have been heard how conscription discourages people from volunteering post service and makes the regiment a worse place to be. It could have been demonstrated how little the regiment has really done to encourage volunteers and in the end how it drives complacency more than anything. As a young Bermudian who has finished compulsory service there is little to personally gain from still holding a position against conscription. Yet having experienced it first hand does Bermuda or the Regiment really benefit from conscription or are we instead losing out?
Sexism and the draft are controversial topics and yet rarely are they approached from the perspective of the regiment. Women in the regiment need their own barracks, their own showers, separation from the men, protection from sexual harassment and rights to fair and equal treatment and consideration. They deserve and have a right to these things. Given a full platoon of women the regiment can manage quite well, yet given a handful it does more damage than good. The issue is simple. Catering to such a small number is burdensome and taxing on the regiment. Resources that could make the regiment a better place are inefficiently allocated to cater to this imbalance. A handful of women need many special concessions and special considerations where a platoon would not. This goes far beyond the rather simplistic but valid argument that drafting only men is sexist, it establishes an element that the regiment is worse off being required to accept female volunteers but not being allowed to draft female conscripts.
Another argument is that conscription itself is damaging to the regiment. Many individuals who found themselves liking the Army elements and aspects of serving one’s country were vastly turned off at the prospect of “babysitting” conscripts. Tremendous wasted effort is dedicated to dealing with people who don’t want to be there and will fight the system in every way possible. Despite the perception that the regiment resolves the issues of wayward youth, for the vast majority this simple wasn’t the case. Many are far too stubborn and dedicate themselves to fighting the system or resolve to gamble with being thrown in jail by never showing up. It is a misconception that the regiment has the resources or the ability resolve our social problems. Instead the whole system drives away those most eligible to rise the ranks as many learn to avoid extra service and focus on avoiding the chaos. Even individuals originally keen on the regiment burn out and leave far sooner than it would rather because it isn’t worth the energy dealing with exceedingly stubborn conscripts.
Next up is the argument that the regiment doesn’t do enough to attract volunteers. Somehow it is accepted that since the regiment attracts poor numbers this justifies conscription. Yet were is the clear evidence that they’ve made effort to attract volunteers? What innovative advertising and beneficial programs attractive to the average Bermudian have been tried to no avail? Perceptions suggest the regiment is complacent as it seems they spend more money advertising for female volunteers than they do men. What encourages the regiment to put in the effort to attract volunteers if they’ll get conscripts either way?
Things could have been done to attract volunteers that weren’t. A number of startling things left this writer disappointed with the process and certainly not interested in “signing-on” for extra service post conscription. The regiment is very much an old school top-down military. All feedback has to climb the ranks and frankly goes nowhere. The only way to change the regiment is to climb the ranks, which of course changes you more than it, or flank it with international media attention. There is little wonder the organization has barely changed in 30 years.
Many see the regiment as a large waste of time. If you’ve spent years getting highly educated it is insulting when despite having recorded it, they make no effort to make any use of it. It can be even more frustrating when service in the regiment impedes opportunities for career advancement. Further, the perks that could be there are passed over. The once reasonable free college has been replaced by a government program. Putting in the extra time for things like the “drivers cadre” to obtain a truck license (a testing process seemingly far more stringent than TCD) gets you a flimsy paper regimental license, deceivingly not valid for non-regimental vehicles. Unless you’re big into the army motif there’s little incentive at all to stick around unless you put in the time to become a decently paid member of one of their social or their country club. Further it’s largely disappointing that the regiment has something like 200 aging paintball guns in their armory going unused. This is a perfect opportunity to create an experience that can’t be had anywhere else on the island and use it to not only attract volunteers and expose people to the regiment but also perhaps tackle some growing animosity on our island. Yet why would they bother? They don’t have to because there’s conscription.
The Bermudians Against the Draft movement may not have been the best way to address the issue of conscription but it doesn’t make the questions about conscription any less valid. Why is it reasonable that we can randomly draft some men and not others, that all men are created equal but women are not. Why do we truly think conscription is in the best interests of the regiment when it discourages people from staying on? How can we believe it is in the best interests of our island when it is a misperception that it addresses the social issues that plague many of our youth? Why do we accept that the regiment is doing everything it can to attract volunteers when there’s little evidence of that fact? Is it really reasonable that it can impeed those Bermuda most wants to see exceed and yet ignore simple things they could be doing today to attract more volunteers? In the end it is rather unfortunate that the regiment may well suffer in the long term under the guise of conscription being a good thing. It’s a sad state to see when the regiment could have an even stronger role in making our island a better place. Perhaps one could be forgiven for believing neither Bermuda nor the Regiment greatly benefits from conscription. Even having finished his service, with nothing personally to gain from saying so, is it worthwhile to heed the words of someone who’s been through it and still wonders why we’re pro conscription?