Conscription should be for all, in fairness

The harsh life inflicted on military conscripts has led many students to enrol in the territorial defence course, or ror dor, because it exempts them from the annual military draft for 21-year-old men.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

This system is unfair to less advantaged families, whose children have little chance of avoiding registration for conscription and the drawing of the black and white balls.

That could change, and even the possibility is enough to worry many middle-class and wealthy families.

National army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said the other day that due to the shortfall of recruits through the normal conscription process, the army might require students who underwent the territorial defence course to also be subjected to conscription.

He hastened to add they would probably be in the service for a shorter time than the normal two-year period.

The commander of the territorial defence force, Lt-Gen Wichit Sriprasert, commander of the territorial defence force, said that although the ror dor course that students went through lasted three years, it was too short and most did not even learn to fire a gun.

Most students took the course because they wanted to evade  mandatory conscription registration, he said. 

After completion of the course, they are exempt from military service and are classified as army reservists with the rank of sergeant. About 100,000 students enroll in the course each year and there are currently about 300,000 students undergoing the course, he said.

Lt-Gen Wichit agreed the course is unfair because it benefits the children of the rich and middle-income brackets who can afford higher education for their children so that they need not have to serve in the military and undergo the hardship. Children of the poor and less well-off who cannot afford their children a good education are subject to the draft.

He said that only those who went through a full five-year ror dor course should be exempted from conscription, because those trainees should be combat ready once they finished the course.

I could not agree more that the system is unfair for the poor. I also agree that the three-year course with a short stint of field training at a training camp in Kanchanaburi’s Khao Chon Kai is not enough to prepare our young men for combat, to ready them to be called into service if the country is ever in a state of war.

A transexual joins a military conscription queue in Bangkok. (Photo by Kosol Nakachol)

I went through the same three-year territorial course over four decades ago while studying at college.  Besides the classroom lessons, I still remember that we never went to a field training course outside the campus, and the only shooting instruction we  ever had was to fire three bullets from a World War One rifle that weighed almost 10kgs. 

After completing the course I was not drafted and was made a sergeant in the army reserve --  with only three shots fired from an old rifle to my credit.

I wonder, how could I possibly have fought any enemy if I was  sent to the frontline, without even knowing how to dis-assemble and re-assemble a gun or clear a blockage. Let alone shoot straight.

I also remember that before the final examination in the third year of the course, we were told to make some cash donation to the drill sergeants who would decide whether we passed or not – and, importantly, whether we would be exempted from the draft.

The result was that not one of us in the school failed the test, even though many slept in the classroom.

For the sake of fairness and to ensure our men are combat ready if called on to serve, conscription registration should be mandatory to all including those who take the ror dor course, even if they serve for a shorter time. This would do away with much of the corruption that surrounds conscription.

But the leading question is -  is the army is really so desperate for recruits that conscription is needed at all?

Besides the hardship the conscripts  go through at the hands of the drill sergeants, another issue  worthy of being addressed - an issue probably dreaded by many parents – is the abuse of conscripts by the commissioned officers. 

Many conscripts have willingly or unwillingly been forced to serve as manual labourers or servants for officers, their wives and their children. This is indeed an insult and an exploitation of the conscripts that must end.

Related search: Opinion, Veera Prateepchaikul, military conscription

About the author

columnist
Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor