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National service is a system of either compulsory or voluntary government service, usually military service. Conscription is mandatory national service. The term national service comes from the United Kingdom's National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939.
Many young people spend one or more years in such programmes. Compulsory military service typically requires all citizens to enroll for one or two years, usually at age 18 (later for university-level students). Most conscripting countries conscripts only men, but Norway, Sweden, North Korea, Israel, and Eritrea conscripts both men and women.
Voluntary national service requires only three months of basic military training. The US equivalent is Selective Service. In the United States, voluntary enrollments at the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps are also known as national service.
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Around 100 AD, Plutarch quoted an early case for national service made by a Roman general sometime around the 5th century BC:
With the politic design of preventing intestine broils by employment abroad, and in the hope that when rich as well as poor, plebeians and patricians, should be mingled again in the same army and in the same camp, and engage in one common service for the public, it would mutually dispose them to reconciliation and friendship.
- "National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939". hansard.millbanksystems.com. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
- Davenport-Hines, Richard (20 August 2014). "National Service: Conscription in Britain 1945-1963 by Richard Vinen – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
- Plutarch (1992). "Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus". Plutarch's Lives, Volume 1 (Dryden translation ed.). Random House. p. 299.