By 47% to 43% British people tend to support the re-introduction of national service for young men – but only one in four would volunteer for a WWII-style war
One of David Cameron's Big Society election gestures in 2010 was to join forces with Michael Caine and pledge a National Citizens Service, inspired by the post-war national service to tackle the "pointless waste of potential" among teenagers. In a recent speech the Prime Minister announced £1 billion over four years for the scheme, and in December 2015 his former communications director Andy Coulson called on the government to make it compulsory.
Peace-time national military service was brought in in 1948, and the last men entered service in 1960. The law applied to all healthy men aged 17-21 who had not registered as conscientious objectors.
In new YouGov research British people tend to support the re-introduction of national service for young men - among those with an opinion it is supported 47% to 43%. Among men 50% are in favour and 43% are against, while women split 45%-43%.
British people are significantly more supportive of bringing back national service than Americans, 64% of whom said the US should not return to the military draft in 2014. From 1940 to 1973 American men were drafted to fill vacancies where volunteers did not suffice, and over 2 million were drafted during the Vietnam era.
The tendency to support the draft in Britain is reversed when applied to young women, however. 42% then support and 48% oppose. Men divide 46%-46% while women are opposed by 49% to 38%.
The last people enrolled in mandatory conscription would be 73 today, but most people over the age of 40 support re-introducing national service for young men (54% of 40-59 year olds and 62% of over-60s).
There is also a tendency to say bringing back the draft would decrease crime rates (49%) rather than have no effect (30%) or increase them (4%).
Hell no, we won't go
Although only single men aged 20-22 were liable for national service in 1939, prior to the outbreak of war, the British Army had 897,000 men including reserves. Today the army numbers around 141,000 including reserves.
If a war of similar severity to World War II were to break out tomorrow, but with only voluntary conscription, 65% of British people say they would not join the armed forces. One in four (25%) say they probably would, made up of 33% of men and 17% of women.
At the end of 1939, after mandatory conscription was extended to all men aged 18-41, the size of the British Army stood at 1.1 million men, increasing to 1.65 million in June 1940. By the end of the war over 3.5 million men had been enlisted.