ForcesWatch comment

16/10/2017

ForcesWatch comment

Douglas Beattie reports on an important campaigning moment.

Members of YSI with Bruce Adamson, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Ronnie Cowan MP and Rachel Taylor from Child Soldiers International

On the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow earlier this month the Scottish National Party passed a resolution backing raising the age of military recruitment to 18.

This Conference vote (Sunday 8 October) came after two years of hard work by the SNP’s youth wing, the YSI, who had won the backing of numerous members, MSPs and some MPs.

There were passionate speeches on both sides of the argument, but the young delegates won the day with overwhelming support in the hall when it came to a vote.

The key text of the motion read: Conference calls upon the UK Government to work towards raising the minimum armed forces recruitment age from 16 to 18 for all roles that require combat training in line with international standards and affirms that this will form a part of the SNP’s Defence Policy for an independent Scotland.

Work by ForcesWatch was used by those backing the change and the recent report by health professionals’ charity, Medact, on military recruitment was frequently cited.

Rhiannon Spear, national convener of the YSI told delegates that those who join at 16 and 17 are "more likely to suffer PTSD, alcohol abuse, self-harm, commit suicide and more likely to die or be injured in active service than older recruits.”

Quoting directly from the Medact report Spear said the MoD took “direct advantage of how young people’s brains work, and their psychosocial vulnerabilities,” targeting alienated youngsters “searching for their place in the world under the immense austerity pressures of job insecurity and low pay.”

MSP Christina McKelvie said that comparing the military age of recruitment to giving young people the vote – as some on the other side of the argument had sought to do – was “a false equivalence argument.”

She said: “If we give a young person a pencil to go into a ballot box to put an X on a piece of paper, that’s nothing like the same equivalence to handing them a gun, teaching them how to us that gun, dehumanising them to the point that thy will go into combat with that person facing them.”

Media coverage of the vote was extensive with articles appearing in The Herald, The Scotsman, The National, The Times, Daily Record and Common Space among others.

The next day a fringe event was held on the issue heard from Bruce Adamson, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Rachel Taylor from Child Soldiers International and Ronnie Cowan MP; one of the leading backers of the policy change at Westminster.

All three speakers welcomed the move by the Conference.

They also discussed the importance of the policy shift in terms of welfare and recruitment practices going forward, plus also how the passing of the resolution may change thinking in the party and beyond at Westminster.

There was also strong backing at the meeting from the YSI and the speakers for a Commission – suggested by the party’s Westminster defence spokesman Stewart McDonald MP – to advise on the wider changes needed in the military.

09/10/2017

ForcesWatch comment

This article was first published in Schools Week

Cadet units are not a social panacea but a recruitment tool, says Emma Sangster

An interim report praising the social mobility benefits of the cadet forces was published last week by the University of Northampton.

It states that cadet units can improve attendance and educational achievement, supporting children in ways that schools cannot, and was welcomed by the defence secretary Michael Fallon, who took the opportunity to announce 31 new units in state schools.

The continual promotion of cadets in schools by ministers, at a time when education and other services for young people are being severely cut, suggests that the government feels that it still needs to sell what is primarily a defence policy to the education sector.

This focus on cadets can only be understood in the context of government concerns about the shortfall in military recruitment. The recent report to the prime minister by ex-defence minister Mark Francois, Filling the Ranks, recommends more cadets units in schools, “with a particular emphasis on underprivileged and BAME areas”, and that careers in the armed forces should be promoted.

The MoD’s defence priorities are sometimes adverse to the best interests of the young people with whom it interacts

In fact, military activities in education, have always been about boosting recruitment and creating a widespread positive awareness of the armed forces. The Northampton report itself regularly mixes child development aims with defence aims such as recruitment, retention, financial savings, and promoting the armed forces. Unfortunately, it does not explore whether encouraging school children towards a career in the forces is actually a good thing, despite a body of evidence that military service can be damaging to the socioeconomically disadvantaged or emotionally troubled young people that new cadet units are aimed at.

On the contrary, demonstrating that cadet units are fulfilling ministerial policy statements seems to be a principal objective of the report. It does that emphatically, despite being based on “partial data” and presenting “preliminary findings”. Not a single negative view or experience is reflected in the quotes from cadets, despite plenty of anecdotal evidence from elsewhere that cadet units can be a tough environment for some kids.

cadets, recruitment
07/10/2017

ForcesWatch comment

This article was first published in The Morning Star

Children don’t need militarism. They need a decent learning environment, writes Rhianna Louise

Cadet units can improve attendance and educational achievement, supporting children in ways that schools cannot, said an interim report on the social impact of cadet forces published this week by the University of Northampton.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon praised the report while announcing 31 new cadet units in state schools.

The funding of the cadet expansion programme, part of nearly £90 million that has gone into military programmes in education since 2012, seems rather an anomaly.

In contrast, non-military services and facilities for young people have been decimated in recent years, and education is facing a funding crisis.

Teaching and support staff posts are being cut, along with Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision and spending on books and equipment. Funding for education of 16-19 year olds has been devastated.

Outside the classroom, the picture is equally bleak. Youth clubs have been so badly hit that they are closing up and down the country and may become once more reliant on Dickensian philanthro-capitalism.

Children’s mental health services have also faced cuts, with funding falling by nearly £50m between 2010 and 2015.

I’ve seen first-hand the impact of these cuts, having worked as a teaching assistant in a comprehensive school. My team supported pupils with physical needs and learning difficulties in and outside the classroom.

The department has now been cut to the bone. One Year Eight pupil with learning difficulties offered to run a cake sale to raise money for us.

I was a “mentor” to an 11-year-old boy — I’ll call him Connor — who struggled academically and behaviourally, due to emotional difficulties.

Many of his issues arose from home, where there was a history of abuse. Connor started the year well, and asked repeatedly if he could have counselling, which had helped him in primary school. But the school was unable to provide this.

As the year progressed, Connor got into fights and disengaged from learning. I pushed for him to be given extra support, but by the time occasional “anger management” sessions were offered to him, he had already started down a pathway he wouldn’t come back from easily. He was expelled the next year.

The University of Northampton report, and Fallon’s dream of cadet units blossoming up and down the country, herald the cadet forces as the solution to the struggles of children like Connor.

This is premised on the militarist narrative in which the military is the highest of institutions, a school for the nation which offers a solution to all of society’s problems. This narrative is disingenuous, flawed, and dangerous.

06/10/2017

Dr Brian Belton and ForcesWatch

We approached Dr Brian Belton, a leading international authority on youth work, for his thoughts regarding this week’s publication of a report: What is the social impact resulting from the expenditure on cadets?, and the Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon’s subsequent announcement of further cadet expansion. The document is reporting interim finding after one year of a four year study by The Institute for Social Innovation & Impact at the Univeristy of Northampton.

We have previously written about the expansion of the cadet forces as a poorly thought-through policy that is part of a push to militarise education and wider society.

Dr Belton’s comments expose the euphemistic language that is employed by Fallon and the Ministry of Defence when eulogizing about the benefits of cadet forces and a ‘military ethos’ for young people. This language is reminiscent of Chomsky’s ‘manufacturing consent’ argument: (“That's the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody's going to be against, and everybody's going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything.”)

He also unpicks and challenges the idea that the values we are told a ‘military ethos’ will instil are the epitome of desirable attributes in young people.

Dr Belton places this drive to militarise education and how it is framed for educational and social purposes within the context of two divergent youth movements, one of which is superior yet which is being lost under the weight of drives such as the Cadet Expansion Programme.

While youth work and services for young people are facing severe and damaging cuts, the initiatives receiving funding and support instead are those that fit snugly into the state’s militarisation agenda. Belton’ comments are a reminder to be mindful of the motivations behind changes to provision for young people, and they challenge the idea that such changes are always benevolent and positive.

Also see our articles Is pushing the cadets really in pupils’ best interests? and The Ministry of Defence has no place in our schools.


Dr Belton:

There's an awful lot to criticise in this report, and Fallon's recent ramblings in the light of the same (that are so transparently ideological as to be laughable). If you can take anything Fallon comes out with seriously, usually the most cursory analysis dissolves it as the basis for policy. For example:

"Cadets help instil values of discipline and loyalty."

This may (or may not) be true, but discipline to do what, loyalty to whom or what? Why is straightforward loyalty a good thing generally?  ISIS fighters often seem intensely (unquestioningly/stupidly) loyal. Where is the evidence for a statement like this?  How might one measure loyalty and distinguish it for plain blind devotion? What is too much discipline; when does it become a sort of unhealthy self-restraint (or restraint on others)?  Isn't this really about people being taught to do what they are told regardless?

22/09/2017

ForcesWatch comment

This article was first published on Huffington Post

This week 17 former Army Foundation College Harrogate instructors face a court martial. They are charged with mistreating recruits - including actual bodily harm and battery.

They are alleged to have kicked or punched the recruits during infantry training and smeared their faces with sheep and cow dung.

This is the Army’s largest ever abuse case and centres on the main training establishment for recruits under 18.

Among the many questions that must be answered, those examining the AFC Harrogate case should query the wider issue of causality: do military environments by nature facilitate threats to child welfare?

There are two military environments for children in the UK - military training for 16-18-year-olds, and the cadet forces.

While many benefit from and enjoy their time in the cadets and in military training, others suffer in the long and short-term as a result of behaviours that can be directly associated with key attributes of military environments.

These attributes include hierarchy, aggression, anonymity, stoicism to the point of repression, and authoritarianism. They facilitate abuse of power, cover-up through the chain of command, bullying, sexual abuse and a culture of silence.

High profile cases such as Harrogate, and the four Deepcut deaths, expose wider cultures of abuse and cover-up involving many people.

The statistics suggest that abuse is widespread in the armed forces. The most recent survey of armed forces personnel shows that 13% experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination in the last year.

This needs to change; the interests and welfare of young people must be prioritised above the interests and demands of the armed forces. Raising the age of recruitment to 18 would provide the best safeguard against abuses faced by the youngest recruits.

However, only one in 10 made a formal complaint with the majority not believing anything would be done (59%), because it might adversely affect their career (52%), or because of worry about recriminations from the perpetrators (32%). Of those that did complain, most were dissatisfied with the outcome (59%). A report by the MoD in 2015 found high levels of sexual harassment in the Army with females and junior soldiers most at risk.

Young people in the cadet forces have also been the subject of abuse.

In July, Panorama revealed evidence from a seven-month investigation, showing that in the last five years 363 sexual abuse allegations - both historical and current - have been made for the cadet forces.

The research shows a pattern of abuse being covered up, with victims and parents silenced, and perpetrators left unprosecuted and in a position of power and access to children.

Veterans for Peace UK have recently published The First Ambush, a report that evidences how military training and culture affect soldiers, in particular those who enlist at a younger age and who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.