Conscription in Canada during World War 1

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PART 1: BRITISH COLUMBIAN WOMAN’S LETTER TO ROBERT BORDEN

“Am British Columbian lady and am writing this letter to express my concerns about the ongoing conscription of young men for overseas military services. I live in Toronto and am deeply concerned about the forceful enlisting of the military due to the failure of the voluntary military to raise enough numbers. My son is among those taken to take part in the war, and these have left me worried about the whereabouts of my son as well as his safety.

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Away from my son, the whole process is a violation of human rights. The military should be solely optional and by taking people to the military by force undermines human right. In my view, this strategy cannot be effective since some of those taken to the war field by force may be less committed and therefore your government may be doing itself more harm than good. My son received a letter to join the military camp last month. Since it was a government order, we couldn’t rest though I never wanted my son to join the military. Also, this was not the right time for him to join the military given that he was in school and yet to clear his college education. Am concerned about his education and how the government could just take young men forcibly into the line. The strategy is not a good one, and the government should abandon it. In my view, this is not the right strategy to raise enough numbers for the military in the ongoing war. The military act of 1917 is a violation of human rights and also what Canada stands for[footnoteRef:1]. This act has questionable military value, and it is likely to undermine military power. The debate over the conscription of young men to raise numbers in the military has divide Canadian people. It is evident that some French Canadians are supporting this policy while most of the English Canadians are opposed to the policy. This division in the country is likely to undermine the country’s harmony and thereby threat its stability. The enforcement of the said act violates the rights of the Canadians especially the farmers who are not willing to let their laboring sons join the military. Also, the policy is likely to sink the country into unrest as evident in the riots that broke out in Quebec, where the supporter of the war and the policy are lukewarm. [1: Cathcart, Jordan, Rebecca Macdonald, Allison McCartney, and Vince Shannon. “Grade 10 Canadian History since World War I, Academic (CHC2D) Resource Pack.” (2015).] It is not good for the government to ignore the consequences of the enlistment of young men to take part in the war. The conscription is a serious violation of personal freedom[footnoteRef:2]. It is not fair for the government to force people to do what they don’t want to do, especially when it comes to war. This move is a serious violence of human rights and the right to make decisions. It is against the freedom of the Canadian young men to act and decide freely. Surely, it is not right to force people to leave their private lives to join the military. [2: Simon, Rita J., and Mohamed Alaa Abdel-Moneim. A handbook of military conscription and composition the world over. Lexington Books, 2011.] Also, deaths are inevitable in a war field. The thought of the death of a family member who has been forcefully taken into the military leaves the families devastated. I am always worried about the welfare of my son, who was taken to serve in the military by force. What would happen if my son dies on the battlefield? Considering that this is my only son, I am likely to be highly traumatized and therefore the conscription effects extended to directly. The government should look at the consequences of the conscription before enforcing it. Many young men are taking part in the war unwillingly. Since deaths are likely to occur, in my view, this is a violation of their rights to live. Taking young men into the war forcefully without adequately training them risks them lives. Therefore, this puts them at a disadvantage in the war field. Taking uncommitted men to the war field risks their lives, and this is a violation of their rights to live. Also, I have noted with concern that the administration of the policy is conducted unfairly. Those taking part in enlisting the young men are doing it without considering equality with some regions being affected than other. This move is further likely to sink the country into divisions that will undermine the unity of the Canadian citizens. The process of taking the young men into the military is also faulty[footnoteRef:3]. The recruitment process is not taking into consideration the fitness of those was taken. Therefore, as much as the government sees this as a way to raise numbers into the military, the quality is likely to be adversely affected. Therefore, the whole process is likely to undermine the quality of the Canadian military and the overall security. Most of the young men who find themselves in the military like my son may not have the military heart. Surely, it is not everyone who fits to be in the military. It is possible that those taken into the military unwillingly will not be able to take instructions and functions effectively[footnoteRef:4]. Therefore, through the process, the government will surely be able to raise enough numbers but should be concerned about the quality of the force. It takes proper training and military education to build a strong military, something that is not likely to happen for the conscripts. Therefore, it is not possible for the government and the military department to convince the parents of this people that their sons are adequately trained and fit to serve in the military. [3: Theobald, Andrew. “Divided Once More: Social Memory and the Canadian Conscription Crisis of the First World War.” Past Imperfect 12 (2008). ] [4: Cathcart, Jordan, Rebecca Macdonald, Allison McCartney, and Vince Shannon. “Grade 10 Canadian History since World War I, Academic (CHC2D) Resource Pack.” (2015).] With the concerns highlighted by the human rights activists the reason I have stated above, it is therefore important for the government to stop the conscription of young men into the military and look for other ways to raise the military number. Also, the government should let free the conscripts to resume their home and bring back those that have been taken overseas to take part in the military. ‘The military act of 1917 is a violation of the human freedom and the right to act and decide'[footnoteRef:5]. The government should let every person make his decision freely as long as it does not affect other people’s rights. Therefore, the government should abandon the policy and embark on other policies to raise the military numbers. The government should let people to join the military as well as other government functions willingly. The government should recognize the importance of quality rather than quantity. Therefore, the military department should embark on sufficiently training the volunteers rather than take uncommitted men into the military. In this regard, I would wish the government to bring back my son so that he can continue his education. It was not his will to be part of the military. ” [5: Heath, Gordon L. “The Protestant Denominational Press and the Conscription Crisis in Canada, 1917-1918.” Etudes d’Histoire Religieuse 78, no. 2 (2012).]

PART 2: PRIME MINISTER ROBERT BORDEN RESPONSES TO THE BRITISH COLUMBIAN WOMAN

“I have noted the questions raised against the conscription of young men into the military. However, in my view and considering what Canada stands for, it is the right thing to do now given that volunteering as a means to raise the required military numbers has failed. Many people have opposed the conscription in the argument that it is against the right to freedom of choose and action. However, it is important to note that if we don’t work together to secure Canada, there will be no place to access that freedom. It is important to consider the importance of something and not just concentrate on the negative side of it. Therefore, I would urge your and fellow Canadian citizen to pay attention to the need to secure this control by all means[footnoteRef:6]. In some cases, it is important to sacrifice for a better tomorrow. It is the responsibility of every person to ensure that we live in a safe and secure country, free from intimidation from our neighbor. In this respect, it is therefore justified to go into the war prepared to secure the name, legacy, and stability of this country. [6: Shaw, Amy J. Crisis of conscience: a Conscientious Objection in Canada during the First World War. UBC Press, 2009.] It is not right to concentrate on the negative side of the conscription only. It is important to also pay attention to the many advantages it brings to our country. I would like you to ask yourself one question, what will happen if Canada goes to war without adequate numbers in the military force. The simple answer is sure is, we will lose to the enemies. Therefore, it is important to raise numbers in the military, and given that volunteering has failed, the government and the military department has no option but go to conscription. Many have argued that the conscription would lead to serious divides in our country and threaten the countries stability. What the critiques of the process fail to consider is the critical part that unity plays in making our country stable and ensuring that the country remains stable. Therefore, it is important to consider the benefits of a big military force. And given that volunteering have failed to raise the number, the government of Canada must be concerned about the diminishing military numbers, and therefore necessary steps are required to ensure that we solve the problem earliest possible. For now, the only way out for the government is to conscript young and able men to the army to protect the security of our country and your name internationally. Apart from ‘?international recognition’ regarding to the military power which protects the country from intimidation by foreign forces, there are other advantages of conscription which most of its critiques ignores. It is not right to ignore the role of military conscription in promoting the national unity. The compulsory military services will help build national unity in Canada through many ways which most of its critiques tend to ignore. First, through conscription, our young men will train together in the military camps. Therefore, the military will bring together all the Canadians, whether they are British Canadian or French Canadian. These men will learn the military skills together and learn to work together as they serve in the military. Also, together as young men from the same nation, they will enjoy the free military training and learn together how the military life is. These will help build our military as well as the national unity, starting from our young men and then the spirit will spread to the entire nation. It is important to consider the losses Canada has made from the war. Therefore, it is important to bring our nation together during this hard times[footnoteRef:7]. Taking our young men together regardless of their background, will help them unify and serve the country for a common purpose. As the young people learn how the military life is, they will learn the sacrifices made by the volunteers to serve the nation and maintain our sovereignty. These lessons learned from the military will help build national unity as the young men serve the nation for the common good. Learning what is required for the job will bring the citizens together as they serve the nation especially when it comes to political and cultural threats from our neighbors. [7: Theobald, Andrew. “Divided Once More: Social Memory and the Canadian Conscription Crisis of the First World War.” Past Imperfect 12 (2008).] Most critiques of building the Canadian military through conscription argue that the method will weaken the military through including people who are not interested in the military. They argue that this weakens the military force. I have also noted that you have raised the same issue in your letter. However, what you and other critiques of the process fail to pay attention to is how the process helps the country build a strong military force that is active. Letting the trends that have been noted in the military continue will seriously affect the nation’s military force regarding the numbers and therefore the capacity of it to protect the country’s interests internationally. Making it compulsory to join the military will ensure that the country has enough numbers in the military and ensure that our military is strong and active. Most people have opposed the conscription of the youths into the military but fails to consider have it makes the citizens pay more attention to the functioning of the government. Unless the citizens feel that they are part of the government, they will always feel isolated by the government functions. Therefore, it is important by all means to increase the citizens’ participation in the functions of the government[footnoteRef:8]. One of the means that can be used to increase the citizens monitoring of the government’s functions is conscription. With the citizens expected to join the military force when a need arises, the citizens will fall closely and be more aware of the government’s decisions especially when it comes to the matters of national security and national cohesion. Therefore, during this times of war, it is important to make the citizens feel they are part of the government through all means possible. For example, in your letter, you are more concerned about the security of your son. Therefore, understanding that the lives are at threat or sacrifice, you will seek to understand more about the threat of the country from foreign forces, and you will be concerned about how the government approaches such condition. [8: Brown, Robert, and Donald Loveridge. “Unrequited Faith Recruiting the CEF 1914-1918.” Canadian Military History 24, no. 1 (2015): 24.] People will be concerned about the security of their family members and friends in the war filed, and therefore they will be more committed to working with the government of Canada to ensure that its forces, as well as the country, are safe. This commitment will enhance national unity and the levels of public participation in the functioning of the government. It is evident that more French Canadians have volunteered to be part of our military by looking at the ‘?military statistics’. It is clear that the military department has failed to meet the expected number of volunteers to join the military. Therefore, by all means, we have to raise the numbers of the military forces. It is important to note that we lost a good number of soldiers in the Battle of the Somme and now it is not possible for the government to continue relying on the volunteers since fewer people are volunteering to replace them. Since volunteering has failed in Quebec, Canada have to turn conscription to maintain our numbers in the forces working overseas and those protecting our boundaries[footnoteRef:9]. [9: Shaw, Amy. “Expanding the Narrative: A First World War with Women, Children, and Grief.” Canadian Historical Review 95, no. 3 (2014): 398-406.] It is important to consider that most French Canadians have opposed to conscription on the issues that they have to specific loyalty to either Britain or France. These citizens of our country only feel that they should be loyal to Canada. Therefore, they are less willing to take part in the war which threats the stability of Canada and its security from interruptions from the foreign forces. Therefore, letting the volunteering process to be the only process that will raise the military numbers is likely to divide the Canadians into ethnic lines between the Anglophones and Francophone. Despite the many raised questions against the conscription, it is important to ask ourselves what will happen to our soldiers in the war field if the numbers remain that low. Therefore, it is important to increase the numbers to protect them. It is also important to understand that the longer the war takes, the more our economy and the stability of Canada is threatened. The idea of larger military force will help fasten the war and make end soonest possible. If will increase the number of our soldiers in the battlefield, will be in a position to overcome Germany soonest possible and therefore the war will end soon. By increasing the numbers, we will contribute to the success of our allies, and they will win the war. It is important to recognize the importance of the win to our country and the entire world. Canada has a good reputation in the war till now. It is therefore important to consider the position and not let the allies see as if we are contributing less in the military. Increasing the number of military forces to help our allies fight the enemies will help keep the good reputation we have earned ourselves by fighting on to this point. Also, it will ensure that will Canadians effectively contribute to the military since the military department has noted that there are fewer men from the French-Canadians volunteering to take part in the military. Mandatory enlistment into the military will ensure that Canada promotes equality among its citizens. This equality will only be seen if all groups of people living in Cana will contribute fairly to the military forces. Therefore, instead of just picking the soldiers by just Volunteering, it is important for the government to come in and ensure there is equality. This equality regarding the contribution to the forces can only happen through conscription since people from different groups cannot in equal proportions contribute to the military. Many critiques of the Military act of 1917 argue that it is against the human rights to life. Have noted that you have also raised the same question in your letter. You have raised the question whether our military is adequately trained[footnoteRef:10]. It is important to understand that when you get into a war, casualties are expected. The military department has always ensured that the soldiers are well trained before they are taken to overseas countries to take part in the war. Therefore, it is not right to judge the conscription as a violation of the right to life. The aim of the government is to take the young people to take part in the war together with our allies to protect the interest of our nation and not to die in the war field. [10: Brown, Robert, and Donald Loveridge. “Unrequited Faith Recruiting the CEF 1914-1918.” Canadian Military History 24, no. 1 (2015): 24.] Some qualities are good for the military. There exist specifications that the military department always feel are good. Some people have the qualities but are reluctant to join the military as volunteers. Therefore, the government should intervene to ensure that it utilizes its potential regarding the military manpower. In this regard, it is the responsibility of the government to decide who should join the military when it feels that such people fit to serve in the military. However, any person who is taken to serve in the military is given a chance to appeal the decision. You are supposed to argue your case before two judges. If the judges feel that your case have some weight, they can always decide to let you stay at home and not take part in the overseas military force. In your letter, you have raised the question of how the whole process is being undertaken. You have argued that the process does not consider the fitness of those people taken and therefore this risks their life.[footnoteRef:11] However, I find this information not right and in bad faith. The process always considers the fitness of those taken to serve in the military. The government realizes the importance of quality and not just quantity. It is better to have a military force with fewer numbers but great quality. However, it is important to remember that the number of soldiers in the war field and the reserve camps are also important. [11: Heath, Gordon L. “The Protestant Denominational Press and the Conscription Crisis in Canada, 1917-1918.” Etudes d’Histoire Religieuse 78, no. 2 (2012).] Conscription of young people in the military is not a violation of the law and human rights as highlighted in your letter and argued by many people against the process. It is in the quest to help raise adequate numbers in the military to help our allies win the war so that we can also reap the benefits of the win. Our military force is very important in avoiding intimidation by our enemies, and therefore we must show our power on the battlefield. Therefore, it is important to consider the advantages of the conscription and not just concentrate on the negative side. It is important to weigh both sides before coming to a conclusion about the whole process. It is important to consider the contribution of the process in building a strong army, bring about equality and unity in the society as well as maintaining the good reputation of Canada since the war started “.

Bibliography

Brown, Robert, and Donald Loveridge. “Unrequited Faith Recruiting the CEF 1914-1918.” Canadian Military History 24, no. 1 (2015): 24. Cathcart, Jordan, Rebecca Macdonald, Allison McCartney, and Vince Shannon. “Grade 10 Canadian History since World War I, Academic (CHC2D) Resource Pack.” (2015). Heath, Gordon L. “The Protestant Denominational Press and the Conscription Crisis in Canada, 1917-1918.” Etudes d’Histoire Religieuse 78, no. 2 (2012). Shaw, Amy J. Crisis of conscience: a Conscientious Objection in Canada during the First World War. UBC Press, 2009. Simon, Rita J., and Mohamed Alaa Abdel-Moneim. A handbook of military conscription and composition the world over. Lexington Books, 2011. Theobald, Andrew. “Divided Once More: Social Memory and the Canadian Conscription Crisis of the First World War.” Past Imperfect 12 (2008).

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