Why won’t Britons serve in the armed forces if called?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
February 26, 2024, 10:44 AM GMT+0

With YouGov previously discovering large numbers of conscription-age Britons would refuse to serve, we returned to the question to ask them why not

With the spectre of a new global conflict growing in recent weeks, speculation that conscription could be reintroduced was prompted by General Sir Patrick Sanders – Britain’s most senior army officer – calling for an increase in the size of the army and said that the country needed to increase preparedness for conflict.

A YouGov survey last month found that a third of 18-40 year olds would refuse to serve in the event of a world war – even if the UK were under imminent threat of invasion. This figure was higher than the proportion who said they would either actively volunteer or at least accept being conscripted.

Now a repeat of that survey has followed up by asking why people would refuse to be conscripted.

We have restricted responses to those aged 18-40, which is roughly the conscription age range when it was first introduced in the two world wars.

The most common reason people gave was that they are unwilling to fight for the rich and powerful – who they see as profiteers or otherwise unfairly able to avoid the consequences of conflict themselves – at 21%.

"I won't put myself in danger to defend the interests of people who would not risk themselves for me."

"Because this government and country don't care about me at any other point in time. They are the most corrupt government in generations and I won't serve them."

"My life is more valuable than being wasted in a war caused by rich people’s greed."

"Because the process would be an unfair process and the expectations would be on the working/lower/middle classes to serve and not the rich, royalty or the politicians making the decisions."

"Why should the youth fight the wars that the elderly politicians have created? I refuse to leave my son and family behind."

Why would Britons avoid conscription?

Some others said that they weren’t prepared to fight for this country (7%) or the people living here (1%).

"I’m not patriotic and wont risk my life for this country."

"Not willing to go to war for this country, don't feel a sense of patriotism or pride to live here."

"I don’t owe my life to my country."

"The UK has seen people like myself as a danger to society. I have no nationalistic pride to protect my country. If my country treated me as an equal, not a minority I would be willing to serve."

"Because our borders are already allowing in thousands of men from countries who hate is anyway, so we’ve already lost before we begin."

"I wouldn't fight for a country that hates its native people. They don't care about the natives, insult the natives, put the natives on a scrapheap then want to use us as cannon fodder for their borderless economic zone (I can’t call it a country any more) well, forget it!"

Why would Britons avoid conscription?

Anti-war themes were common among the replies as well. One in five (19%) said that they were against war, or that they thought war doesn’t solve anything…

"I’m not interested in anything to do with war it’s pointless and destructive I don’t want any part of it."

"War does not solve the world’s problems instead makes it worse."

"I am very against war, and I think it is entirely unnecessary so I will not risk my life for it."

"I do not believe in humans killing other humans. Political leaders should reach agreements."

"War, fighting and death is not the solution for poor politics and violent intent."

Why would Britons avoid conscription?

…while another 8% explicitly brought up ideological or religious beliefs involving pacifism or conscientious objection.

"I am a pacifist and I refuse to hurt other innocent people sent to war by greedy governments."

"I am a pacifist who believes armed conflict is inherently wrong. I would gladly volunteer for an internal service e.g. NHS or manufacturing but will not kill another human being."

"I am a Christian and would never get involved in warfare."

Why would Britons avoid conscription?

Others (9%) are understandably fearful about the prospect of dying

"It terrifies me."

"I don’t have a death wish."

"It scares me. I hope the world has more sense and we can move on so history doesn’t repeat itself."

Why would Britons avoid conscription?

…or the possibility of fighting or killing their fellow man (4%)

"I'm not a pacifist per se but I would not be able to live with myself if I were at least in part responsible for someone else's death."

"I don't want to be put in a situation where I might have to kill someone and I strongly oppose war of any kind."

"I do not condone violence. I would wish to have no part in taking someone's life even if my own were in danger."

"I do not believe in war being a solution to anything. To take part in fighting/killing of others would be my worst nightmare - I'd rather die than be a part of it."

"Wars and going to a war is the absolute opposite of everything I am. There is always another solution besides that. War - simplified - is two or more countries' governing bodies disagreeing and ordering their people to go and murder each other. I refuse to take other people's lives. If the government wants to go to war they are welcome to enlist themselves and do the dirty work but nobody should be able to force me to ruin my own life. Not to mention it goes against my faith."

Why would Britons avoid conscription?

Some seek to avoid conscription for fear they would make a poor soldier (9%)

"I would be terrible at war. I am physically unfit and I do not perform well under traumatic conditions (e.g. war). I freeze as a response to trauma/threat, I am clumsy and my aim is poor. I would be a liability to whichever army I joined. I do not wish to shoot/kill anyone. I also have a moral objection to joining the armed forces."

"I have no military skills. I would be totally useless and die in a stupid way."

"Because I wasn't trained to be a soldier."

Why would Britons avoid conscription?

Other answers included the fact that they have dependents to look after (7%) or that they simply don’t want to (5%).

See the full results here

Photo: Getty

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