ForcesWatch challenges the ethics of military recruitment and questions the climate of uncritical national pride in the armed forces

ForcesWatch comment


This year over 550 schools around the country have had a Red, White and Blue Day on 11th October, which involves pupils raising money for three military charities by wearing red, white and blue clothing (the colours of the Union flag), or holding another fundraising event.


This article was originally published in Red Pepper

Vron Ware reports on how the Armed Forced Community Covenant is a crucial part of the creeping militarisation of UK society.

As politicians have sought to prove their own commitment to the troops in an effort to control ‘the message’ about the wars, they have effectively turned this public concern into a political instrument. One consequence has been that, within the last two or three years, local authorities up and down the country, from borough to county level, urban, metropolitan and rural, have been ushered into an unprecedented programme of support for the armed forces in their areas. This development is symptomatic of a wider process of integrating military work into civil society, but it also reveals the social costs of maintaining a professional military force at home.


On Thursday 26 June 2014, we launched our new short documentary film 'Engage: the military and young people', at Friends House in London. A packed and diverse audience watched the film, which was very well-received. Speakers included Ben Griffin, founder of Veterans for Peace UK, Sam Hepworth from Headliners (the youth journalists charity who made the film) and some of the young filmmakers, and Owen Everett, Education Campaign worker at ForcesWatch.


Letter to The Times (see all signatories below)

On this day 100 years ago, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo in an action that led to the First World War. Unchecked militarism in Europe was also a major factor. 

Today is also Armed Forces Day, one of the clearest indications of the re-militarisation of British society. Established in 2009 to increase public support for the forces, there are over 200 public events, many billed as 'family fun days'. This week also saw Uniform to Work Day promoting the reserve forces and 'Camo Day' in schools. 

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our projects

ForcesWatch has been working with others to raise concerns, including the recruitment of 16 and 17 year olds into the armed forces, the lack of recognition of conscientious objection and restrictive and unclear terms of service.  

September 2014: Army Recruitment: Comparative cost-effectiveness of recruiting from age 16 versus age 18

This paper, published by Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch, finds that approximately £50 million would be saved annually if the minimum age of recruitment were raised to 18. It argues for a full, independent review of the policy of recruiting under-18s, with a view to phasing it out as an unnecessary, cost-ineffective, and fundamentally unethical practice. See more

28 October 2013: The Last Ambush? Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces
This ForcesWatch report, shows that post-war mental health problems are most common in young soldiers from disadvantaged backgrounds; also in veterans who left the forces in the last decade. It draws on over 150 sources, including 41 British military mental health studies, as well as testimony from veterans. It calls for the policy of recruiting from age 16 to be reviewed so that the greatest burden of risk is not left to the youngest, most vulnerable recruits to shoulder. See more

August 2013: Young age at Army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks: An analysis of British Army fatalities in Afghanistan
This paper, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, indicates that the risk of fatality in Afghanistan for British Army recruits aged 16 who have completed training has been twice as high as it has for those enlisting at 18 or above. This increased risk reflects the disproportionately high number of 16 year olds who join front-line Infantry roles. This is mainly the result of recruitment policies which drive the youngest recruits into the Army’s most dangerous roles. See more

The armed forces visit thousands of UK schools each year, offering presentation teams, free resources such as lessons plans and military-led activities and other activities that lead to recruitment. The Department for Education are further integrating military-led activities into Britain's education system as 'military skills and ethos' are presented as a solution to educational problems. Should the armed forces by given access to children within schools and colleges? Is the military's agenda and the development of a 'military ethos' appropriate within education?

ForcesWatch briefings

Questioning the presence of armed forces in schools: a ForcesWatch briefing for parents, students and teachers concerned with military activities in their school. Download

Military activity in UK schools, updated May 2013 Download  

Expanding the Cadets and 'Military Ethos' in UK Schools Download 


ForcesWatch observe and respond to ways in which the military is being promoted as a normal part of everyday life. We believe that uncritical support for the armed forces stifles concerns about how young people are recruited and limits debate on alternatives to war.

Conference: Militarisation in everyday life in the UK
An event in October 2013 which brought together academics, writers, activists and campaigners who are researching, writing, campaigning on the implications of militarisation of UK society. See more here including background reading and films of presentations.

Book: Spectacle, Reality, Resistance: Confronting a culture of militarism 
By David Gee, published by ForcesWatch late October 2014

At a comfortable distance from warfare, our culture easily passes over its horrific reality in favour of an appealing, even romantic, spectacle of war.  Yet, over the last decade, most Britons have opposed Western military ventures abroad.  This book takes a fresh look at a culture of militarism in Britain, public resistance to it, and the government's increasingly prodigious efforts to regain control of the story we tell ourselves about war. See more here about the book and the launch event.

our new book on militarism

At a comfortable distance from warfare, our culture easily passes over its horrific reality in favour of an appealing, even romantic, spectacle of war. Yet, over the last decade, most Britons have opposed Western military ventures abroad. This book takes a fresh look at a culture of militarism in Britain, public resistance to it, and the government's increasingly prodigious efforts to regain control of the story we tell ourselves about war. 

The book was launched at Housmans Bookshop with ForcesWatch and Veterans for Peace UK on 3 November 2014.

See more detail here      Buy the book

Security for the future: In search of a new vision

September 2014: A group of UK peacebuilding professionals invite you to participate in a new civic conversation about alternatives to the current approach to national security.

Here they outline their concerns about the existing model, and offer a different vision for the future, welcoming input from anyone who wishes to engage in this debate. Read more

Watch our new film - Engage: the military and young people

Why does the military have a 'youth engagement' policy and why is the government promoting 'military ethos' within education? What is the impact of military activities taking place in schools? ForcesWatch have been working with the charity Headliners and a group of young people in London to produce this short film which explores these questions and gives teenagers the opportunity to voice their reaction to the military’s interest in their lives.

Watch the film and see more info here

Sign the petition to raise the age of recruitment in 2014

We call on the UK Government to stop its policy of allowing 15 year olds to apply and 16 and 17 year olds to be recruited into the Armed Forces.
sign petition   download paper version   
sign here if not in the UK

your questions

whats the problem with military recruitment?

ForcesWatch believes that armed forces recruitment practices in the UK are largely unethical. The military are reaching out to children and young people using sophisticated strategies to interest and involve them in military activities which do not deal adequately with the risks of an armed forces career but tend to glamorise and sanitise war. The military also fail to adequately inform young people of the legal obligations of an armed forces career.

See here for more.

what are your other concerns?

Taking an active part in conflict involves serious ethical questions regarding the justification of killing and the political purposes of military action. The armed forces fail to adequately address these concerns during recruitment and for serving personnel.

The more government and national initiatives which are created to show support for the armed forces, the more difficult it will become for individuals and society to reflect on the ethics of conflict and peaceful alternatives. See here for more

what should I think about before I join up?

There are ethical questions and questions about why you really want to join up and about what risks you face and what happens if you decide you want to leave. There are some very useful independent sources of advice about your legal situation as a member of the armed forces and other issues. We also have a selection of materials looking at some aspects of what it is like to serve. See here for more.

what can I do about military recruitment activity in my school or community?

The military make visits to many schools and colleges and are also active at local events. If you are unhappy about the presence of the military in your community, here are some ideas of how to address it and some materials to use. See here for more.

what have other people said about their experiences?

Very often the most useful insights into what it is like to be involved in anything is to hear directly from other people about what they have experienced. Here are some accounts of both what it is like to serve in the armed forces and what it is like to challenge the presence of the military in a community. See here for more.

how do you respond to those who don't agree with you?

We don't expect everyone to agree with us but we think there is significant cause for concern about military recruitment practices and about the way that a climate of uncritical national pride in the armed forces is being fostered which makes debate about the activities of the armed forces difficult to question. We think there should be more room for that debate. See more here.

A funny short film by a young boy on The Militarization of Boys

Raise the age to join the army to 18
By William and Noah

Before You Sign Up

British army: one young recruit's story, The Guardian 2013

A 4 part investigation of 'the soldier myth' - talking to soldiers about recruitment, training, fighting and coming home

The Grey Line, a photographic project on American and British soldiers who spoke out against the invasion of Iraq.

Public support for raising the army recruitment age

In a July 2014 poll, 78% of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum army recruitment age should be at least 18. See more

latest news

14/11/2014 Academies Week

The Department for Education is giving a further £8.7 million to the Troops to Teachers scheme between February 2015 and September 2018, despite the fact that only 41 veterans started in the first cohort in January 2014, and only 54 in the second cohort in September. The move has been criticised by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. 

11/11/2014 The Conversation

Can war ever be celebrated, or is it essentially futile? Do remembrance rituals, symbols and ceremonies do more to romanticise warfare than bring home its horror? Does the event of remembrance exclude the sacrifice of those who died on the opposing side? Disagreement abounds on these issues and we are unlikely to see a public consensus any time soon. We should also think carefully about the part our schools play in these public events.

01/11/2014 ForcesWatch

In the last month or so ForcesWatch have facilitated several critical thinking workshops on the military's youth engagement for schools, colleges, youth groups, and the general public recently, including in Bath, Edinburgh, Neath, and Oxford. See our Facebook page for photos. 

If you can recommend our workshops to a teacher, or would like to do a workshop on our behalf, email Owen at, or phone 020 7837 2822.

01/11/2014 Central England Quakers

A new interactive theatre production, Over The Top, created by and featuring the experienced writers and performers of issue-based theatre Lynn and David Morris, looks at the opposing views of a pro-military head teacher and a peace activist parent regarding the military's influence in the school. To find out more, or to book a performance for your school/college/youth group email 

08/10/2014 Child Soldiers International press release

Campaigners lodge claim for judicial review of “Catch-22” rules, which force youngest recruits to serve for longest. New poll: public support for raising armed forces’ enlistment age to 18 continues to grow.

06/10/2014 Peace Education Network

The Peace Education Network invite teachers, parents, governors, and any others involved in school to critically reflect on your experiences as we explore the benefits, risks, problems, and concerns of military involvement in education.

01/10/2014 Watford Quakers

Our Education Campaign worker Owen Everett was interviewed for a new short film about conscientious objectors during the First World War, 'Watford's Quiet Heroes: Resisting the Great War'. His full interview, in which he talks about ForcesWatch's three main areas of work scrutinising UK military recruitment and the influence of the military and military approaches today, is available to watch on YouTube (it is also one of the extra features on the DVD, which can be bought here). You can also watch a video of Owen and others speaking on the relevance of the film and the questions it raises to the situation today, as part of a panel at the launch of the film, here

27/08/2014 The Herald

Three pupils at a leading private school have been charged with assault and reckless conduct following the alleged beating of army cadets.