It just struck me a minute ago that what I'm writing about today already seems very distant and exotic to younger generations of Croatians, while within a few decades it might sound completely out of place.
You see, I was one of the last generations of Croatian men who went through mandatory military service. This was a normal state of affairs for countless generations of our people. All eligible men between the ages of 18 to 27 at one point had to serve in the military. By the time I joined, military service was down to 6 months, but for people like my father and older, who served in what was then Yugoslav army, service was at least a year in duration. Infamous Navy service in Yugoslavia went on for almost 3 years at a certain point.
I am a believer in peace and I hate the global obsession with guns and destruction. As a child I even disliked fire crackers which are to this day the most important tool in celebrating New Year's or even (incredibly) – Christmas in this country. However, I wouldn't change my military training for anything. In fact, and this could very well be an unpopular opinion, I am sorry we don't have mandatory service nowadays. Not only this, but it is exactly the part of the training related to weapons and survival skills that I feel we need to re-introduce to our youth.
Most of military service is unpleasant
I don't think experiencing army life automatically makes people bloodthirsty or war-loving. Quite the opposite might be true. Most of military training is pretty unpleasant. Being devoid of your individuality, being physically exhausted, having your liberties completely revoked (no mobile phones, restricted movement)...all of these are not my idea of a good time.
What about showering twice a week and having to do so in a very limited amount of time with 80 other guys? Yep, all of that you can look forward to in basic training. So, it's not like I am yearning to go back and do it again.
However, there is still the question of being able to defend yourself or those around you in the worst case scenario. I lived through such a scenario as a child back in 1991 and 1992 and I was pretty grateful back then that people around me knew how to handle themselves in crisis situations. It's not just wars or terrorism that we need to be prepared for. Natural disasters are a normal part of life on this planet and when they happen, professional services are usually not enough to deal with the destruction. Everyday people need to step in and help. Today, if a young person in Croatia didn't complete training for a driver's license or some work safety course, he or she would probably never went through even the most basic first aid course. This is not a good idea for any organised society, I don't care how liberal or peace loving.
Speaking of peace, I hope we have World Peace by the end of the work week. However, it somehow doesn't seem all that likely. While I respect the opinion we should all lead by example and throw down our arms, perhaps we should let the big powers lead the way in this case. While some of the world's most powerful economies are recording huge profits from sales of weapons, maybe it's not the craziest of ideas to learn to use those weapons, or at least to defend ourselves from them.
I was good at being a soldier. I was one of the top ten marksman of my company and was among the top rated soldiers on the general test of knowledge and skills. The only thing I wasn't at the top of my class was physical fitness which was surprising considering I prepared for the service through a tough regime of partying through the summer and a strict diet consisting mostly of chocolate and pizza.
The most important part of the experience was that I learned a few things about myself that I wouldn't otherwise. I now know having your liberties taken away is a horrible thing. I know people very different from one another can be easily trained to work as a unit and achieve great things. I also know how to kill another person with an assault rifle. Hopefully, this will prove to be a completely useless skill during my lifetime, but if it doesn't...
Bozidar Jukic, AKA The Restless Native, is a Dubrovnik local with too many interests to name them all, with writing being at the very top of the list. He is a lover of good food, music and film, and a firm believer in the healing power of laughter. His professional orientation is towards tourism and travel so it comes as no surprise he spends most of his time alongside Mrs. Jukic running their own local tour company. Their goal is helping travellers from all over the world get a more intimate experience of Dubrovnik and what it has to offer. To find out more about their work, visit their website or Facebook page.