frequently asked questions about ForcesWatch
Below are our responses to issues we get asked about and issues that we think it is important to be clear about. If you would like to respond, please use the form at the bottom of the page.
- Raise ethical concerns about military recruitment practices and the rights of serving personnel.
- Campaign for improvements in recruitment practice in the interests of potential recruits.
- Help ensure that potential recruits and their families are aware of the risks, difficulties and legal obligations of an armed forces career before they enlist.
- Campaign for improvements in the terms of service for armed forces personnel around, for example, individuals' right to leave after a reasonable notice period and conscientious objection.
- Promote understanding and respect for the moral choices and objections of armed forces personnel.
- Challenge government campaigns that use the armed forces to promote uncritical national pride in the military in order to garner public support for armed intervention overseas.
Enormous damage is done to all those caught up in armed conflict, including civilians and the people doing the fighting. It is, therefore, vital that there is wide critical debate about the military and its recruitment practices. This concern underpins our work.
No. The ForcesWatch network is open to everyone who has concerns about the way military recruitment is done in the UK, whatever their views on war and peace. Many veterans support our aims.
ForcesWatch works with groups and individuals who share concerns but may have a diversity of other opinions. Many people are worried about the presence of the armed forces in their communities and the methods they use to engage and recruit young people. Part of our remit is to raise awareness about the risks and obligations of military life and the rights of young people and those already in the forces. Most of the information available about serving in the forces focuses on the benefits of a military life – we are concerned that a more balanced picture is readily available.
We see these as issues of social justice – both for individuals involved in the armed forces and for those who are harmed by armed conflict. Military intervention is a political decision and debate about it must not be taken out of the political arena by unquestioned assumptions about the role and nature of military action.
We think there are serious ethical problems with the way military recruitment is done; it involves significant risks, difficulties, ethical dilemmas and legal obligations and we think everyone should think very carefully about what they are signing up to before deciding whether to enlist. Some people in our network believe that the armed forces inevitably dehumanises young people by training them to kill and exposing them to warfare. Others believe that we need the armed forces but they should not be recruiting 16 year-olds or sending out misleading messages about what is involved. So we don’t have a single view on this question, although we do agree that the way the armed forces recruit is misleading, manipulative and unreasonable.
Unfortunately, questioning military action and government policies that seek to promote the armed forces is often taken as criticism of the people who make up the armed forces when it is not. One of our concerns is that developments in social and human rights that benefit the general population are less accessible to those in the forces, for example, around terms of service and freedom of expression.
We hope to encourage debate about the role of the military in our society which we believe is important whatever your general opinions about conflict and the armed forces. Examining the reasons and assumptions behind policies that promote the military taking a larger role in public life is important in a democratic society. If only the good side of the military is presented, and all its actions are presented as ‘heroic’, young people in particular will be misled as to the nature and risks of military life, and an important critique of military action will be stifled.
Military recruitment will continue while there is a military. The more awareness there is about all the risks and obligations of military life, the better choices young people will be able to make. The more questioning there is about how the military is used and what it does, the more debate there will be about alternatives to military conflict and the inevitable damage caused by it.
They say that but it is untrue – they definitely do target young people including so-called ‘pre-eligibles’ (children below recruitment age) with a huge array of activities and materials for children and young people. The army and air force, for example, have online recruitment-based activities aimed at children as young as 13. Colonel Allfrey, who used to be in charge of army recruitment, said the process starts with children as young as seven. Exposed to the influence of the military through toys, school and presentations, cadets forces, and even lesson plans, the armed forces hope that the final act of signing a young recruit up aged 16 will be an easy one.
Many of these recruitment tools capitalise on the impressionability of young people by presenting a glamorous view of armed forces life without the risks, legal obligations and ethical issues involved. If such efforts were put into educational and participatory activities for young people that had peace rather than conflict at their core, there may be less warfare in the future.
Many of the military toys being marketed to children are extremely detailed and designed to be ‘realistically’ based on equipment used in current warfare. The Ministry of Defence have recently marketed their own range of toys and dressing-up clothes based on military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Armed forces promotional campaigns that use simulated scenarios, such as Start Thinking Soldier, are presented as opportunities to develop ‘teamwork’, ‘leadership’, ‘decision-making’ and ‘fitness’ yet take the would-be soldier through a series of simplified tasks with moral and emotional issues stripped out.
The allure of these toys and games to young people is understandable. They can immediately relate to them particularly as they often deliberately utilise activities that interest children such as tasks that can be achieved and being part of a club. But as the terminology and concepts behind them become ingrained, how are the ethical and social issues being addressed? Is it right that a young child is specifically encouraged to play the part of a sniper or that an older child can kill with impunity on a video game? What is the impact on society when these activities become acceptable and violence is normalised and military action, above all else, is glorified?
Of course, many people’s experience of being in the armed forces is a positive one. However, for others it is not. There is a higher level of dissatisfaction amongst service personnel compared with civilians. Many people who sign up do so when still very young yet may find it difficult to leave for up to 6 years. The choices they make as children may not be made with full awareness yet affect them for much, if not all, of their adult lives. In no other profession is the contract of employment so restrictive with a criminal sanction, including imprisonment, if the contract is broken.
While the military can offer opportunities to those that join, it also entails significant risks, ethical questions and legal obligations. Not only is there a risk of death or serious injury, but risks to health and mental and emotional well-being that can continue long after the military career has ended.
While some may leave the forces with skills they can use elsewhere, others question what they are equipped for in civilian life. Many struggle to adjust to life outside the routines and institution of the military.
The army’s recent advertising campaigns have been based around the idea that a military career will improve you. We believe that recruitment material puts far too much emphasis on what the army calls ‘self development powered by the army’ and far too little on other issues that would-be recruits should consider including how long they will have to serve, what the reality of armed conflict is like and ethical dilemmas that will be encountered.
We believe that young peoples’ desires to get on in life and their concerns about how to do that in a difficult economic climate should not be exploited.