ForcesWatch comment


ForcesWatch comment

This article was originally published on Information for Social Change.

The encroachment of the UK military and ‘military ethos’ on the UK education system means that alternatives to war and peaceful ways of resolving conflict will be more difficult for young people to explore.

Young people – children – around the world encounter the military and military approaches in many different ways, from the presence of military personnel and hardware in public spaces; to military youth groups such as the cadets; Armed Forces advertisements online and on television; video games developed by or with the military; and military involvement in education. They are encouraged to see the military and military approaches as normal, necessary, often the best solution to problems/conflicts, and – crucially - to be supported, not questioned.

A recent book by War Resisters’ International book, Sowing Seeds: The Militarisation of Youth and How to Counter It (2013), shows - through articles, surveys, images, and quotes - how young people around the world are experiencing these encounters, and how this privileging and lack of balance can be challenged. One chapter focuses in part on themilitary’s presence and influence in Education, which is a primary way in which they recruit and imbue a sense of uncritical pride or admiration towards the Armed Forces among future adult citizens. (You can read the book for free, or buy a hard copy).


ForcesWatch comment

Our education campaigner looks at the MoD's assertion that the armed forces do not go into schools for recruitment purposes. This is based on a definition of 'recruitment' that limits it to 'signing up' there and then. We argue that the armed forces are indeed recruiting in schools and that 'recruitment' is a broader activity that involves interesting young people in the idea of enlisting by engaging in the range of activities from careers talks to visits to bases.

[T]he Armed Forces as a whole never visit schools for recruitment purposes and would only ever visit a school after being invited by a teacher to support school activities.
Response to FOI (accessed 05/02/2013)

This statement reflects the standard response by the Armed Forces to the work undertaken by ForcesWatch challenging whether the presence of the military is appropriate within the education system. Having met with this response in private communication, panel discussions and media outlets, ForcesWatch decided to lodge a complaint with the MoD. We believe these statements are, at best, a misrepresentation of military-led activities in schools; and at worst, a deliberate attempt to mislead the public over these activities. All the statements contain the same two claims that, firstly, that they do not visit for recruitment purposes; secondly, that they visit only upon invitation from a member of staff.


ForcesWatch comment

A study published in the Lancet called Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan has found that men in the UK armed forces are more likely to have been convicted of violent offences than their civilian peers. The study shows a strong link with age – that fighting and being traumatised by it tends to make those in younger age groups more likely to be violent afterwards.

The study of almost 14,000 servicemen who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan looked at the link between their criminal records and military service. It found that 20% of young males under 30 had a conviction for violent offences compared to 6.7% in the general population. The incidence decreases for older age groups and for higher ranks. Those who had taken part in combat were more than 50% more likely to be involved in post-service violent episodes. The incidence increased with multiple combat occurrences and most significantly, violent behaviour prior to signing up. Alcohol misuse, PTSD and high levels of self-reported aggressive behaviour are all strong indicators of post-service violence.

“Our study, which used official criminal records, found that violent offending was most common among young men from the lower ranks of the Army and was strongly associated with a history of violent offending before joining the military. Serving in a combat role and traumatic experiences on deployment also increased the risk of violent behaviour”, explains Dr Deirdre MacManus from King’s College London, who led the research.

Although ‘overall lifetime offending’ in general is lower in the military than in the whole population, ‘lifetime violent offending’ is more common (11% vs 8.7%).

Pre-military history of violence, younger age, and lower rank were the strongest risk factors for violent offending along with exposure to combat. Often repeated trauma experienced in combat situations is one factor but the report also suggests further links between combat and post-service violence – that those in combat roles are taught aggressive responses: “Combat experiences might affect an individual's propensity to violent behaviour through various mechanisms including preparatory pre-deployment training to instil attitudes that enhance survival and ensure troops are able to commit targeted aggressive acts.”

mental health, risks

ForcesWatch comment

2012 was the the first year 'in at least a generation' in which a greater number of currently-serving US Army soldiers killed themselves (177) than were killed in active duty (176). The Guardian's analysis shows that this is partly because US deaths in military action went down during 2012 but also partly because the suicide rate has risen.

If suicides in the other services (Navy 60, Marines 48, Air Force 59) are added, the totals become 349 and 295 respectively.

Army vice chief of staff General Lloyd J. Austin III said in August 2012 that, “Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army”.

Yet the number of US military veterans who killed themselves 2012 is 6,500 - 'roughly equivalent to one every 80 minutes'. The reasons are complex with multiple deployments becoming evident as a factor. The Guardian quotes that, "William Nash, a retired Navy psychiatrist.... and colleagues in military psychiatry have developed the concept of 'moral injury' to help understand the current wave of self-harm. He defines that as 'damage to your deeply held beliefs about right and wrong. It might be caused by something that you do or fail to do, or by something that is done to you – but either way it breaks that sense of moral certainty.'

"Contrary to widely held assumptions, it is not the fear and the terror that service members endure in the battlefield that inflicts most psychological damage, Nash has concluded, but feelings of shame and guilt related to the moral injuries they suffer. Top of the list of such injuries, by a long shot, is when one of their own people is killed."

risks, suicide

Owen Everett, ForcesWatch

A DVD of the first performance of The Two Worlds of Charlie F, a remarkable play about the experience of UK military personnel injured (mostly) in Afghanistan (mentioned here), was released recently. It stars the veterans whose stories that the script, written by Owen Shears, was based on. Directed by Stephen Rayne, the company – Bravo 22 – first performed The Two Worlds of Charlie F at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in January 2012. It then went on tour, showing in Birmingham, Cardiff, and Edinburgh (where it won Amnesty International Freedom of Expression award), before returning to London to finish in September.

The play was initiated by the Haymarket's charity Masterclass, and received funding from The British Legion. Visiting Personnel Recovery Units and rehabilitation centres, Shears and Rayne learnt that 22% of UK combatants in Afghanistan have been injured.

The majority of the cast are injured veterans, and all but one were still serving as of January 2012. None of them had ever acted before, although the protagonist, 'Charlie', a Canadian Royal Marine, had studied dance at university in the US. They are mostly men. One of the few women in the play is from Trinidad and Tobago and joined the Army after seeing the Queen in a parade. An episode of the BBC arts programme Imagine charted the rehearsal process. In a cigarette break, having been playing a variety of drama games, some of the men joke that it was like being in the Army – they just did what they were told. The joke was extended when one claimed that's why they were injured. But there's an element of truth to it.

risks, veterans