ForcesWatch comment


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.


ForcesWatch comment

This week the largest arms fair in the world will take place in East London. The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) will be attended by more than 1500 defence exhibitors and traders, including those from authoritarian regimes or identified by the UK government as 'human rights priority countries', who have received official invitations. UK Government departments promoting these sales are also very present.

DSEI has attracted a record amount of protest this year – from an open letter signed by more than 250 academics to a mass of direct action at the exhibition centre, an art exhibition and education events. This reflects public disquiet with the activities of the companies that exhibit there and the license they are given by government to continue these activities.

What is less generally known is the increasing involvement of these same arms companies in education in the UK. Many of the top names have a presence – BAE Systems (who are also a 'platinum sponsor' of DSEI), Rolls Royce, Babcock, QinetiQ, Chemring and others; some are big players, forging the way ahead, others are playing a smaller part. These arms companies feature in the top 100 companies supplying defence equipment and military services globally listed by Defence News and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Many people would be surprised to hear that these companies are involved in the education of our children in the UK as its not a development that has been in the headlines. Our forthcoming report on military interests in education details the extent to which this has developed and why. It looks at how the armed forces and other parts of the military, and arms companies and defence suppliers, are now influencers within schools and colleges, particularly within career-led and technical education.

The report looks at two recent developments in particular – the growth of University Technical Colleges, which provide a mix of academic and technical education for 14-19 year olds, and the provision of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) activities for school students and young people by industry.

A sponsor or partner of a UTC is able to help shape the curriculum towards the needs of local employers and channel 'work-ready' young people directly into their own industry at the tax-payers expense.

Our research has found that 39% of the 49 University Technical Colleges (UTCs) currently open have significant arms company involvement, i.e., they are sponsored or partnered with one or more of the major arms companies. All but two of these 20 companies are listed in Defence News top 100 global arms companies.

Rolls-Royce is involved with six UTCs and BAE Systems is involved with four. Babcock and Qinetiq are both involved with two UTCs and Chemring, with one.

Some of the companies have a mixed portfolio, providing services to civilian sectors as well as defence. While one part of Babcock International partners UTCs as a defence and security company, another part, Babcock Education, is a major provider of education services across the UK.

Many of the colleges have the input of more than one arms company; three companies are involved with Bristol Technology & Engineering Academy and another four are involved in South Wilshire UTC.

The UK armed forces are not missing out on this opportunity. 35% of the 49 UTCs currently open have significant participation from the military, mainly in the form of employer partnerships and affiliations. For example, Bristol is affiliated to the Royal Navy and South Wiltshire works with the RAF and the Army as well as being affiliated to the Royal Navy. It is also supported by the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down.

Our analysis shows that military interests are involved with nearly half (49%) of UTCs open in September 2017, via either major arms company or the armed forces.

These military interests are also at work in schools more widely. The provision, and sponsorship, of STEM activities by arms companies and the military has become an industry in itself. For example, BAE Systems runs an education roadshow with the Royal Navy and RAF which looks at BAE technologies including drones. During 2017 the roadshow is scheduled to visit 400 UK schools. The Big Bang Fair which attracts groups of students from primary and secondary schools was sponsored in 2017 by top 100 arms companies BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Leonardo, Thales as well as the Army, Navy, RAF and MoD. The dangers of skewing science and engineering in this direction are outlined by ForcesWatch and Scientists for Global Responsibility here and here.

Its not hard to see why military interests would be keen to make use of the opportunities presented to have an active involvement in education, or lobby for them to be created. Not only does it steer interested students towards a career in the defence industry or military and provide a mechanism for directly recruiting them, it helps to create an acceptance of military interests among young people and society at large. Their role as providers within education masks their primary purpose and blurs the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable, ethical and immoral.

A new landscape has been created, where military interests are well represented in the state education system, where the unthinkable has become not only possible but uncontroversial and unchallenged

Ten years ago this may well have seemed unthinkable but a number of shifts in society and policy have created a new climate: the fragmentation of the education system and involvement of outside interests; the emphasis placed in government policy on career-led and technical education; and, the promotion of the military within education and society more widely. This is aided by a longer-held association of communities with companies which, while not unproblematic, yields jobs and security. A new landscape has been created, where military interests are well represented in the state education system, where the unthinkable has become not only possible but uncontroversial and unchallenged.


Poppy Kohner

Poppy Kohner examines the Army@theFringe season at the Edinburgh Festival and asks what becomes censored when elite institutions take on the programming and hosting of the arts.

The Fringe festival has always been eclectic. Not an inch of Edinburgh is wasted as the whole city becomes a stage and all the people, merely players. But this year, on its 70th anniversary, the well-regarded Fringe venue Summerhall collaborated with a newcomer: the British Army. The Army Reserve Centre and Drill Hall in East Claremont Street transformed into a performance venue that was programmed and staffed by serving soldiers. This was billed as an opportunity to demystify the military, but should we be concerned that this particular kind of militainment is only the beginning of the Army’s engagement in the arts in Scotland and the UK?

I’m an anthropologist of militarism and a theatre-maker, so I felt I had to wonder down Leith Walk and make a visit to the drill hall-cum-theatre venue to take a closer look.

Many of the shows programmed by Army@theFringe dealt with subject matters such as race, gender, disability, mental illness and even imperialism. But here I am not interested in reviewing the shows as much as I am reviewing the politics of the Army hosting audiences at the Fringe.


On entering the drill hall I am greeted by soldiers. Lots of soldiers – more than are necessary. There is a relaxed, jovial, slightly disorganised atmosphere that is fairly welcoming. From the research I have done inside military bases the playful banter between soldiers on shift feels fairly familiar to me. Contrary to the marketed image of travel and adventure, being in the army usually entails a lot of waiting around.

I chat to a small crowd of friendly soldiers loitering in the entrance by the makeshift box office. I ask if they are paid any extra on their normal salary to staff the venue. “No,” they tell me, “but we volunteered to do it.” A Superior Officer catches wind of our conversation and strides between us with a brisk yet casual air of importance. He extends his finger in the air and without stopping or looking in my direction he bellows, “All our British soldiers are volunteers! Every single one of them wants to be here!” and continues to walk out the front door.

Compared to a larger conscription army, a volunteer force is easier to train, discipline, and retain. A smaller army also allows for public perception to be controlled by the military public relations team, as a smaller percent of the population actually experience army life. This notion of a professional army full of patriotic volunteers bolsters the cogency of the hero myth that makes up a central tenant of militarism. Once inside the military, individuals have a different (and limited) set of rights compared to civilians, and it is extremely difficult to leave once a contract is signed. In an era of austerity, increasing precarity, and the privatisation of social services such as higher education and healthcare, the army successfully presents itself as a fast track means towards social and economic mobility. So in response to the Superior Officer, how free is a choice between a vanishing number of options?

Inside the drill hall’s Mess there are Chesterfield sofas, a long table complete with tartan tablecloths, cut glass, candelabras, statuettes, trophies and other silver ornaments. The massive stuffed head of a caribou stares over us with glazed eyes and sprawling antlers, framed either side by pictures of Queen Liz and Prince Phillip. Despite all the twee, it feels sterile, solemn and stuffy.

Focusing on the person behind the uniform diverts the audience’s attention away from the Army as an institution. “Don’t worry about what we might be doing in the Middle East,” it says, “just remember: we’re people too.”

The exhibition at the venue was a celebration of soldiers in both training and operations, including a bigger-than-life-sized photograph of a small child in army camouflage crouching in long grass, without explanation. The Army were keen to assure me that this endeavor was not a recruitment exercise but about public engagement. Lt Col Jo Young, the British Army's Officer for the Arts commented, “The impact of this is not something we can measure in terms of how many more people will join us as a result.” Lt Col Gordon McKenzie, head of public engagement, described it as “deepening the public understanding of who we are and what we do. So that people can know that behind the uniform we are also human beings”. But focusing on the person behind the uniform diverts the audience’s attention away from the Army as an institution. “Don’t worry about what we might be doing in the Middle East,” it says, “just remember: we’re people too.” In this way, the army’s engagement with the arts is a means to depoliticise the image of a soldier; a deeply political and strategic move.

Theatre is always in danger of becoming an apparatus of the state. Theatre operates on our sensibilities in ways that can evoke deep emotional responses and has the potential to change perceptions and consequential actions (or inaction). Aristotle called this catharsis: an empathetic connection towards the protagonist of a story, which, as the play comes to a resolution, arouses a potent mix of pity and fear in the hearts of the spectators.


Join us at the Medact/International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Health Through Peace conference in York from 4-6 September, where ForcesWatch are part of a roundtable discussion on British Military Recruitment and Marketing strategies and part of a workshop on challenging military influence in universities and schools.

Click here to find out more and register for the event.

Deciding to enlist into the military is an extremely important, life-altering decision. Not only can it have serious social mobility and health implications, but it should also entail moral and intellectual interrogation; into the ethics of the wars you would be supporting or fighting, the conduct of them, and whether or not you are willing to kill and injure.

Enlisting should therefore be a fully informed choice; not one made due to perceived want of other options, nor made at an age when you can still not legally smoke or play violent video games. Neither should recruitment and military marketing glamourise warfare - particularly to impressionable children and adolescents - nor present an imperialist, revisionist view of history.

Many British army recruits are young and vulnerable. 22 out of every 100 UK army recruits are under eighteen – children, by international standards. At enlistment, British recruits are more likely to be 16 than any other age. Military influence in education is increasing, along with more and more visible military presences in cultural events and on the streets - with young children introduced to weaponry, tanks and simulated warfare.

For these reasons and more, there is a campaign in the UK for the minimum age of recruitment to be raised to eighteen. Multiple organisations, academics and campaigners are concerned by military recruitment and public image drives in schools, and problematic military recruitment marketing campaigns, both of which target working-class children and young people.


ForcesWatch comment

In a powerful Guardian piece (Sunday, 9 July), damning evidence was revealed demonstrating that British Army recruitment marketing deliberately targets working-class young people. While it is not a surprise that the Army are targeting economically disadvantage parts of the country, they have always denied this.

The evidence is a marketing brief attained through Freedom of Information. The brief was given by the Army, and their recruitment agency Capita, to the advertising agency Karmarama. It spells out the key target audiences for the 2017 ‘This is Belonging’ Army recruitment marketing campaign, which we discuss here.

The ‘core regular target audience’ is described as:

“16-24, primarily C2DE. Mean household income 10K. High index for social, mobile, cinema Not heavy TV viewers. Interested in sports and spending time with friends.’

The brief also makes it clear that specific areas of the UK - poorer, northern and Welsh cities - are targeted by Army recruitment

The brief also makes it clear that specific areas of the UK - poorer, northern and Welsh cities - are targeted by Army recruitment:

“Please see below for highest indexing army locations, please consider to use these across all media channels. Leeds, Cardiff, Cleveland, Belfast, Nottingham, Manchester, Doncaster, Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, Liverpool.”

The Ministry of Defence has responded to these revelations both by denying the evidence of targeting and by claiming that, in fact, it provides social mobility opportunities for young people.