Following its prominent role in the invasion and military occupation of Iraq, the popularity of the British Army sunk dramatically. Over one million people marched through the streets of London in protest and the general public’s anger at their government resulted in far less interest in military careers.
Since then, with an increased advertising budget in hand, the Army have sought to rebuild their image. However in their bid to increase recruitment, the British Army have been accused of utilising underhanded tactics in targeting children.
A 2009 study published by the Evening Standard found that students as young as seven were being groomed for recruiting by the army through school visits. The study claimed that children and adolescents were being given a “glamorised” view of warfare and researcher David Gee believes that this is being done deliberately.
“Recruitment literature emphasises potential benefits: Comradeship, the active lifestyle, travel and training opportunities.”
“It omits to mention or obscures the radical change from a civilian to a military lifestyle, ethical issues in- volved in killing, risks to physical and mental health and the right of conscientious objection. As the pool of potential recruits shrinks, outreach to children is expanding”
“Key messages are tailored to their interests and values: Military roles are promoted as glamorous and exciting, warfare is portrayed as game-like and enjoyable and outreach to the young is described as serving their personal growth and education.”
The targeting of children can be evidenced by the British Army’s new line of toys which they claim have been designed to fill the “significant void” in the action figure market. These toys which include authentic replicas of Infantry soldiers, RAF Harrier Jets and remote control Royal Navy assault hovercrafts, are heavily marketed during the advertising between popular Saturday morning cartoons.
Mr Dee’s statement can be further evidenced by The Army’s recent stream of recruitment advertisements. Viewers are offered the chance to “develop skills in an management and communication” and work as part of a “successful and proactive team”.
However there is no mention of the Armies “tariff” on compensa tion for injured soldiers or its shortage of essential technology that has cost many their lives.
In 2009, Sergeant Rick Clements of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment suffered devastating injuries when he stepped on a mine while leading a foot patrol in southern Afghanistan. He lost both legs, severely damaged an arm, suffered terrible internal injuries and was told that he could never have children or a sex life. However as a result of the army’s compensation cap scheme, he receives just £2,000 a month to cover medical costs in comparison to the £4million he would have been entitled to if he had suffered those injuries as a Civilian.
His fiancée and full time carer Leanne Isaacs was furious;
“I can’t see how they can justify the amount he has been given. He has given everything to his country and the government won’t even pay the amount he is entitled to. It makes me very angry.”
“No amount of money can compensate Rick for what he’s lost but surely they can do better than this. It’s disgusting, it’s unfair”
An inquest revealed that Welsh soldier Daniel Wright may not have died had the army provided radios for trainee parachutists.
He fell 2,500ft to his death during Special Forces training in Oxfordshire. Another inquest into the death of 19 year old soldier Fusilier Gordon Gentle who died in a bomb attack found that his regiment had not been given vital high-tech bomb disabling equipment that might have saved his life.
His mother, Rose Gentle expressed her anger at new Army Advertising campaigns which she believes gives viewers a distorted
perception of military life.
“They say this and that, yet they don’t look after the boys when they get back – some are still on hospital waiting lists and they should be a priority. The fact is that they don’t look after the boys and they don’t look after their families.”
Nonetheless, these stories generally receive fleeting media coverage and with the economy in the midst of a crisis, a career in the army is an attractive proposition for many. While trebled fees have made University an unaffordable luxury for many and the Unemployment rate has reached a twenty year high, the Army offers young people very favourable financial rewards.
Students can receive grants of up to £8000 toward University fees in return for three years of military service. In training, recruits take home £811.38 a month after all their accommodation and food costs, and can earn up to £32,000 within five years.
According to former SAS Soldier and Spokesman for Veterans for Peace Ben Griffin, army recruitment centres are now targeting impoverished areas in a bid to take advantage of the lack of opportunities for young people.
“The army had this idea that there is this untouched resource of people or children from backgrounds who might not have a history of joining the army, maybe from ethnic minorities, and they thought that they could go into Hackney and maybe take advantage of the fact that there was not many employment opportunities.
“You know, they had things in their like computer games that you could play that sort of glorified war and simplified the whole process of killing and war.” Mr Griffin also warned that the benefits of army life evaporate once a soldier leaves.
“A lot of the skills you learn in the army aren’t transferable to civilian life. A lot of veterans are left with alco- hol problems and mental health problems. 10% of the prison population is made up of veterans. Once the army has used these people, they’re expendable”.
However, through clever marketing and intriguing financial packages it seems as though the British Army have man- aged to convince young people that the military is the perfect place for them to develop themselves and their careers. A recent survey found that two thirds of British teenagers would like to join the army. With the economy and education systems failing to provide youngsters with the opportunities and skills they need, this is understandable.
While a military career is honourable in theory, the actions of the British Army and Government must be taken into account.
There is substantial evidence that the UK’s interventions in the Middle East and Africa over the last dec- ade have been motivated by greed and lust for power rather than the liberation of oppressed people. In addition, the deaths and mistreatment of soldiers such as Rick Clements show that the reality of military service is far from the inspiring and immensely satisfying life portrayed in adverts.
It is therefore of paramount importance for communities to start taking greater responsibility for training and creating opportunities for their young people. The Army cannot exploit those who already have what they need to develop their character and aspirations.