I've heard that in some countries, everyone has to sign up for the military between high school and college. Is that true?

A substantial percentage of the world's nations have some form of mandatory military service. Some of the countries that make military enlistment mandatory include

  • Austria
  • Denmark
  • Egypt
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Iran
  • Israel
  • Norway
  • South Korea

In most of these nations, the laws regarding military service are something like this: At some point between certain ages (usually 18 to around 27, but in some nations the maximum age is older), all males must commit to serving in the military for a prescribed time span. The minimum service requirement is relatively short; often it's only 4 months, but in some nations it's up to a full year. Conscientious objectors (people who philosophically oppose war) are often given the option of performing civil or community service instead of joining the military. Again, civil service work depends on the nation, but it can be anything from working in hospitals or retirement centers, to cleaning up the environment, to fighting fires or providing disaster relief. Those who decide to participate in civil service roles are often required to serve a considerably longer enlistment than they would have if they had chosen a stint in the military.

In many nations, women may volunteer for the armed forces or civil service, but it is not mandatory. Only Israel makes service mandatory for both sexes.

Other nations rely on a draft system, wherein all males between certain ages must register with the armed forces, and a lottery system selects those who are called to serve. Mexico, Sweden, and Russia use a draft system, and theoretically China does as well, but China's huge population has allowed them to fill their military with volunteers. The United States had a draft system until after the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s.