Other People's Sons: Conscription in the Rhodesian Army 1972-80

Monday, 7 April, 2014 - 15:00

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In the history of conscription in Rhodesia what began as a straightforward appeal to citizenship and national defense became obsessed not with the obligations of citizens but the fate of young men called upon to do the work of soldiering, work that had already been done for over a generation by African volunteers. This particular history is not an easy fit with most histories of conscription in which the ability to command the full-time labor of young men, citizens or residents, describes the expanding power of national states. Citizenship was an imprecise category in Rhodesia even in the best of times, and the state’s power to command its citizens was at best uneven. Historians of World War I in particular have argued that conscription – and resistance thereto – allowed for the extension of state powers that first impacted citizens (by birth or naturalization) and second loyal resident aliens but almost always impacted poorer. In the twentieth century, conscription expanded state power not only by drafting young men but by expanding the apparatus and organizations of surveillance that could distinguish ineligible young men from draft dodgers and conscientious objectors, and find and prosecute deserters.  Conscription in Rhodesia, especially after UDI, tells a different story, of state power that did not expand beyond the mailing of call up papers, and of a military increasingly frustrated by the state’s inability to secure it more manpower even as it understood it could not effectively use. The questions of who to conscript and how much to pay them were debated in cabinet offices and the headquarters of combined operations (Comops), while national servicemen wrote of being pressured by their families to go to war. Family stories -- about conscription, foreign soldiers, or the conduct of the war – disclosed the weakness of the coercive power of the state just as they exposed the complexities of belonging in Rhodesia.


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