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Some countries require by law that their citizens serve a term in their armed forces. This process is generally known as conscription, or colloquially in the US as "the draft". Most countries only draft men, although some (e.g., Israel) also draft women. Except in wartime, the United States (and many other nations) has a strictly volunteer, or professional, military force, rather than relying on conscription.

Conscription, particularly when the conscripts are being sent to foreign wars that do not directly affect the security of the nation, has historically been highly politically contentious in democracies. For instance, during World War One, bitter political disputes broke out in Canada, Australia and New Zealand over conscription. Similarly, mass protests about conscription to fight in the Vietnam War occurred in several countries in the late 1960s.

In developed nations, the increasing emphasis on technological firepower and better-trained fighting forces, the sheer unlikelihood of a conventional military assault on most developed nations, as well as memories of the contentiousness of the Vietnam War experience, make mass conscription unlikely in the forseeable future.

Russia and China, as well as many smaller nations, retain mainly conscript armies.

Conscientious objectors

A "conscientious objector" is an individual whose personal beliefs are incompatible with military service[?], or sometimes with any role in the armed forces. The reasons for refusing to serve are varied. Many conscientious objectors are so for religious reasons -- notably, the Quakers are pacifist by doctrine. Other objections can stem from a deep sense of responsibility toward humanity as a whole, or from simple denial that any government should have that kind of moral authority.

The legal status of conscientious objectors has varied over the years and from nation to nation, currently it is recognized in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Many conscientious objectors have been imprisoned for refusing to participate in wars. In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled in 1970 that it is not necessary for a conscientious objector to have a religious basis for their beliefs.

Some conscientious objectors are unwilling to serve the military in any capacity, while others are willing to serve in non-combatant roles; in World War I, many conscientious objectors drove ambulances, often under fire. In World War II, some conscientious objectors volunteered for hazardous scientific experiments.

Conscientious objection in Britain
Britain recognized the right not to fight in the 17th century following problems with attempting to force Quakers into military service. The Militia Ballot Act allowed Quakers to be excluded from military service. A more general right to refuse was not introduced until during WW I, with the introduction of universal male conscription by the Military Service Act of May 1916.

The Act allowed for objectors to serve their country in non-conbatant roles (alternate service) if they could convince a tribunal of the quality of their objection. Around 16,000 men were recorded as conscientious objectors. 7,000 were granted non-combatant duties, but 3,000 were sent to special labour camps. Around 1,000 men refused any form of service, they were forced into the army and forty-one of them were sentenced to death and only reprieved by government intervention.

In WW II following the National Service (Armed Forces) Act of 1939 there were around 61,000 conscientious objectors in Britain. As in WW I individuals had to face a tribunal, the tribunal could grant full exemption, conditional exemption on alternate service, exemption from combatant duties, or dismiss the objection. An individual could appeal to special appeal tribunals which where headed by a judge.

Of the 61,000 only 3,000 were given complete exemption and 18,000 were dismissed as false claimants. Of those that undertook military service almost 7,000 joined the Non-Combatant Corps, set up in mid-1940 its companies worked in the medical services or any military project not requiring the handling of "material of an aggressive nature". Around 450 NCC members worked in bomb disposal. About 5,500 objectors were imprisoned, charged with offences relating to their unrecognized objection. A further 1,000 were court-martialled and sent to military prisons.

Britain retained conscription as National Service until 1960. The use of only volunteer soldiers was hoped to remove the need to consider conscientious objectors. The concept was returned into active law in 1998 when Britain accepted the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Draft evaders

Not everyone who was conscripted was willing to give up their lives figuratively (and often literally) in the service of their country.

Many young people with families with political connections used those connections to ensure that they were placed well away from any potential harm. Others used educational exemptions, or became conscientious objectors.

For others, the commonest method of avoiding the draft was to cross the border into another country. People who have been "called up" for military service and who attempted to avoid it in some way, were known as "draft-dodgers".

American draft-dodgers made their way to Canada or Mexico. Australian draft-dodgers had a harder time leaving the country due to the ocean, but "going bush" worked just as well in the short term for many of them.

Many people looked upon draft-dodgers with scorn as being "cowards", but some supported them in their efforts.

See also Military history

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