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

ForcesWatch comment

06/03/2014

The Defence Select Committee have today released their report of inquiry into the MoD's Future Army 2020 plan. Amid the concerns about the strategy of increasing the proportion of reservists in relation to regular forces, the report calls on the MoD “to respond in detail to the argument that the Army could phase out the recruitment of minors without detriment to the Army 2020 plans”. Read our submission to the inquiry here.

26/11/2013

Many areas of society in the UK have seen a growing involvement and/or visibility of the military and military approaches in recent years - from schools, to local communities, to ‘militainment’ (military-themed films, TV programmes, video games etc). This process of privileging and prioritising the military is often referred to as ‘militarisation’; Cynthia Enloe, one of the foremost thinkers on the subject, states that “To become militarised is to adopt militaristic values and priorities as one's own, to see military solutions as particularly effective, to see the world as a dangerous place best approached with militaristic attitudes.”

In response to the recent developments in the UK, there has been an increase in critical academic studies, media coverage, and work by campaigning organisations and others on these issues. On 19 October 2013, around 70 academics, activists, campaigners, and writers came together in London at the Militarisation in Everyday Life in the UK conference organised by ForcesWatch.

21/11/2013

On 15 November 2013, the Department for Education announced "£4.8 million to projects led by ex-armed forces personnel to tackle underachievement by disengaged pupils".

ForcesWatch has a number of concerns about the military-led 'alternative provision' being developed in schools: who benefits? the armed forces certainly will; military-led 'alternative provision' targets young people seen to be 'failing' - precisely those who need more options and, if channelled into the forces, are most at risk in warfare; the policy is based on limited evidence and ideological assumptions; will there be space for ethical issues around conflict to be addressed?

08/11/2013

ForcesWatch are among 24 signatories of an open letter to Mark Francois MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces which calls for an end to the recruitment of under-18s.. The signatories include the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Unitarian Church and Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and Quaker groups and Child Soldiers International. The letter notes that as the centenary of the outbreak of World War One approaches, the recruitment and deployment age of British soldiers is lower now than it was a century ago. The signatories call on the Ministry to raise the recruitment age to 18 as a “fitting memorial” to the thousands of young soldiers killed in World War One.

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.  

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

April 2013: One Step Forward: The case for
e
nding recruitment of minors by the British armed forces

This report published by Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch outlines the numerous ethical and legal concerns related to the recruitment of under-18s, including the disproportionately high level of risk they face and long-term consequences for their employability, as well as detailing how much more it costs than recruiting only adults. 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.

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.

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Sign the petition to raise the age of recruitment in 2014

November 2013: 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

Militarisation in everyday life in the UK
An event held in October 2013 in London which brought together academics, writers, activists and campaigners who are researching, writing, campaigning on, or just concerned about the implications of the militarisation of everyday life in the UK. See more here including background reading and films of 12 presentations from the day.

ForcesWatch are working with the charity Headliners and young people aged 8-18 years old to make a short film about the ways the military seeks to engage with them. Thanks to over 100 contributors who have funded this film. See more here

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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

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 an April 2013 poll, 70% of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum army recruitment age should be at least 18. See more

latest news

17/03/2014 Telegraph Philip Hammond says he is prepared to introduce new powers to exempt armed forces from human rights laws which are hampering military operations
13/03/2014 Channel 4 news Channel 4 report on how the MoD deal with bullying and assault in the armed forces and new indications that they recognise that the chain of command is part of the problem. Can it be tackled if the new Ombudsman that the MoD has announced will not be independent?
12/03/2014 The Guardian Letter signed by over 100, including ForcesWatch
06/03/2014 Child Soldiers International press release The Defence Select Committee has increased the pressure on the MoD to stop enlisting minors, in a report published today.
03/03/2014 Open Democracy The country’s military institutions must not be seen as deserving of special consideration. Once the ethos of public service has been smashed and discredited by neoliberal restructuring, the danger is that it will take more than an army to bring it back.
03/03/2014 The Guardian Informal and unaccountable 'in-house' procedures mean hundreds of allegations go unquestioned
03/03/2014 BBC online A second inquest into the death of Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement, who was found hanged, has found the effect of an alleged rape by two serviceman and bullying by colleagues were factors in her taking her own life.
26/02/2014 Guardian Letter from Child Soldiers International and 2 others about the dangers of joining at 16.
03/02/2014 Telegraph Inquest hears how The Royal Military Police woman complained to her mother that she was depressed after senior commanders decided not to pursue her claim
01/02/2014 The Guardian Call for urgent overhaul of military justice as MP highlights plight of servicewomen alleging sexual offences