Somewhere down below, Doug Merrill was perceptive enough to notice a remark – easily overlooked but of fundamental importance – by Renate Schmidt, Germany’s Minister for Puppies and Sad-Eyed Children (or something like that). In short, the minister signalled, in a roundabout way, that the end is nigh for conscription to the Bundeswehr. The German Kommentariat is not as quick on the uptake as Doug, but they’ve twigged at last, and this has become a Big Issue. (It is eclipsed somewhat, of course, by the question whether we shall all go to prison for having a Putzfrau come in for a couple of hours a week.)
The quick version is this: Germany’s post-war constitution enshrines the right of conscientious objectors to refuse armed service. And the flower of German youth is keenly attached to this right; huge numbers of young men refuse military service. Instead, they perform civil service, most of them in hospitals and old-age homes, or deputed to care for individual handicapped persons. The minister intimated that care institutions and charitable organisations are going to have look elsewhere for their workers. Without obligatory civil service for COs, a compulsory stint in uniform for the non-shirkers starts to look constitutionally dicey.
In other words, the end of substitute civil service is likely to mean the end of the call-up. Now, that is very interesting. Because if you had asked me at any point during the last ten years or so, I would have said that, if civil service ended, it would be because conscription had been done away with first. What’s more, I would have said that the spectre of an end to civil service would ensure that conscription went on forever.