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ForcesWatch comment

New findings highlight the need to protect young people from harsh military training environments and inadequate safeguards in cadet forces.

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.

While multiple reports and studies demonstrate the dangerous long-term impacts of early enlistment and relate this to combat itself, little research has been done on the impacts of military training.

A new report from Veterans for Peace UK, released today (4 July 2017), tackles the nature and effect of military training using veterans’ testimonies and around 200 studies (mainly from the UK and USA).  

The First Ambush? Effects of army training and employment
 is an in-depth exploration of the nature of training and what it does to recruits.

In short, the purpose of that training, from the initial stages onwards, is to mould young civilians as soldiers; to follow orders by reflex and to kill on demand.

That, the report explains, demands unquestioning obedience, aggression, antagonism. Normal inhibition to killing must be overpowered through a dehumanising training regime. The lasting effects of this training are many and set out thematically across the 72-page report in terms such as ‘forced change’ and ‘moulding the soldier’.

At any time - and for any reason - training instructors can deprive recruits of sleep, food, shelter or permission to go the lavatory. Harsh treatment known as beastings are commonplace. These involve insults and shouting as well as physical violence aimed at recruits in order to humiliate.One section – entitled ‘Stripping the Civilian’ – focuses on the basic components of army training. This aims to suppress and overpower recruits’ civilian identities; in effect stripping these away.

This begins with isolation – for the first few weeks trainees, heads shaved and in uniform, have no right to see family or friends; they are not allowed to leave base and cannot terminate their contract. That is the case even when the recruit is under 18 years of age.

The military also dominates recruits by denying them any choice of personal affairs; their daily routine is controlled totally down to tiny details such as the right and wrong way to stand, make a bed or fold clothes.

At any time - and for any reason - training instructors can deprive recruits of sleep, food, shelter or permission to go the lavatory. Harsh treatment known as beastings are commonplace. These involve insults and shouting as well as physical violence aimed at recruits in order to humiliate. 

Instructors will punish a struggling recruit who is, as British Infantry veteran James Florey has characterised it, 'singled out for weakness, humiliated, and isolated.' The purpose is to instil fear in the group and the individual so as to bring about compliance. It builds the unitary nature of the group because often the whole group is punished for ‘the individual’s apparent failure’.

The First Ambush shows that military training and culture can be harmful, with health implications even before a soldier reaches the frontlines - such as substance abuse, mental illness, domestic abuse and sexual harassment.

The youngest and most disadvantaged recruits are the most vulnerable to these issues. Further, the Army likes to present itself as a social mobility boost for young people, but in fact the youngest and most disadvantaged are also the most likely to drop out of the army early and be at risk of unemployment and deprivation. We discuss this further here.

The First Ambush also demonstrates that the risk of violent offending and heavy drinking rises after joining the army. A study in 2013 found that enlistees were less likely to commit crime in general after enlistment, but more likely to commit violent and sexual offences. After deployment, the risk is doubled relative to the pre-enlistment offending rate.


ForcesWatch comment

This article was first published in The Morning Star

This weekend, celebrations of the British armed forces will take place across the UK. Councils up and down the country are organising and supporting military parades, displays of weapons and 'military assets' and military-themed family entertainment.

The national Armed Forces Day event will be held in Liverpool, with city centre and waterfront events including Army, Navy and RAF 'villages', family zones, fly-pasts and a gun salute.

The event is a big one. Its promotion by Culture Liverpool puts it on par with Mersey River Festival, Liverpool International Music Festival and SGT Pepper at 50.

Activists from Merseyside Peace Network with John Lennon's famous call for peace outside The Cavern Club. They will be holding a peace vigil at Liverpool's Armed Forces Day.

It is a day to reflect on how we got to the point where the armed forces are singled out from other public service professions – some of whom also face everyday danger – for a day of national celebration. What are the long-term implications of further entrenching militarism into our culture and equating armed service with 'family-fun'?

The first Armed Forces Day took place in 2009. It was instituted on the basis of government fear that the military were losing the battle for public opinion after it failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The day is billed as, 'a chance to show your support and salute our forces for all they do.' Any concern that what the armed forces do should be open to debate is blotted out. This demonstration of public support for serving personnel is then transformed into support for the institutions of the military, as councils and partner organisations become its promoters and its recruiting sergeants.  

How much does this cost the nation, and local councils each year when other services are facing cuts and closure? Recent evidence suggests that councils have to dip into their reserves, sometimes digging deep, to fund Armed Forces Day.

Despite a grant from the Ministry of Defence and some commercial sponsorship, the day is likely to cost a significant amount of money for Liverpool City Council who has to underwrite it and find the extra funding needed.

In fact the MoD grant for this national event is only £25,000. Whether or not they wish to attend or support the military, the people of Liverpool will be paying and, quite possibly, seeing cuts to council services deepened as a result.


A tale of two cities: a personal reflection by Rhianna Louise on the display of the UK's potential for armed violence on the streets of Liverpool alongside its more radical history.

This article was originally published by Souciant Magazine

Today, on Saturday, June 24th, Liverpool is hosting Armed Forces Day in Britain. Armed Forces Day is a relatively new occasion in the UK; it began as Veterans’ Day, in 2006, and was then renamed Armed Forces Day in 2009 in response to declining public support for the armed forces. Events take place across the UK (this year there are over 350), and local councils bid to host the national event – for which they receive a small amount of government funding and sponsorship, and also spend significant amounts of their own money.

As someone who has spent much of her life near Liverpool, I am surprised and dismayed by how a city with so much radical history is now being treated as a celebration ground for the British military. I grew up in a small town near Liverpool, and in my teenage years, the city centre was my weekend haunt. My favourite street was right outside Liverpool Central Station – Bold Street, lined with independent and ever-changing cafes, shops and food from all over the world – leading up to the bombed-out church, as we called it (I only know now, years later, that it’s called St Luke’s Church). One of my favourite places to visit was News from Nowhere, a radical bookshop that feels vibrant, warm, open, outspoken and welcoming – like the city itself.

Get guns off our streets. Liverpool, Saturday 24 June 2017.

In Liverpool, a crushingly violent history is weaved into the fabric of the city. An early memory is visiting the International Slavery Museum as a child, and learning about the horror and brutality that is physically present in much of the city. Its stunning stone buildings were built using slave money, and its streets are named after slave owners. Additionally, the River Mersey remains murky after gunboats arrived to help crush the Liverpool Transport Strike of 1911. Liverpool feels like something of an island in England, mainly because of how it has developed a reputation as a leftist hotbed, and these various events are a major reason why that is the case. Indeed, passed down memories of the violence were a key part of my schooling, reading, and understanding of the world, even more so in light of the economic devastation that followed the closure of the old docks in the seventies and eighties.

Liverpool’s city council, defence companies, and indeed the military itself, have ignored this history. Instead, they focus on the city’s naval industry, involvement in World War II, and its connections with the military and defence companies like BAE Systems. It is clear that there are two sides of the city. One is a story of radical activism, punctuated by revolutionary trade unionism, events like Bloody Sunday, the music of John Lennon, and the various peace and anti-war groups currently in the Merseyside Peace Network. Another has been generated by slavery, colonialism, and policing, the legacy of which is reflected in the uncritical nationalism of Armed Forces Day. The two stories obviously clashed on Saturday, with vast crowds cheering on the troops, as warplanes flew overhead, and another smaller group of people held a silent vigil next to a banner that reads “Give Peace a Chance.”

As someone who grew up near Liverpool, and studied its history I reject such a shameless display of war and armed violence on its streets. In 1911, gunships traveled up the River Mersey to crack down on revolting crowds during the transport strike, but on Armed Forces Day, warships and troops have been welcomed with cheers and celebrations. It is as though the police never baton charged a crowd of 85,000 people on August 13, 1911, injuring hundreds. It is as though soldiers didn’t open fire on a crowd on Vauxhall Road two days later, killing two people and injuring fifteen. Our alternative protest was small, but in my view, it is a far more honest depiction of Liverpool and its difficult past. The city’s history needs to be remembered properly, along with its involvement in slavery and colonial violence all over the world. It cannot be glossed over with expensive parades, and crowds happily cheering on soldiers and gunships that would have fired on them a century ago.

Photographs courtesy of Bernie Kennedy.


ForcesWatch Comment

John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the first day of their Bed-In for Peace in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel.
CC image courtesy of Nationaal Archief

"Peace is possible, and it isn't just inevitable to have violence... so advertise yourself that you're for peace if you believe in it."

Imagine John Lennon alive today, with a ticket to ride back to his hometown, Liverpool, on 24 June 2017.

He’s not going there to be a voice for peace, equality and social justice. He’s not preparing for another anti-war bed-in with Yoko Ono.

No, John Lennon is abandoning his beloved peace movement for this year’s Armed Forces Day, hosted by Liverpool. He’s off to join the crowds who’ll be cheering on the troops, waving flags proudly at guns and tanks and admiring displays of weaponry.

If this sounds unlikely, I expect you’ll see the irony in the hometown of one of the world’s most iconic anti-war activists, hosting a gigantic public celebration of the war machine.

It saddens me deeply to think about Liverpool, a city I know and love, transformed into a spectacle of war, with warplanes in the sky with the liver birds, field gun races and combat displays. Amongst the sponsors of the event are BAE Systems, one of the largest arms manufacturers in the world. This is a company that consistently sells weapons to oppressive regimes, despite the sanitised version of its activities that Culture Liverpool project.

The annual Armed Forces Day is a relatively new occasion in the UK, introduced long after John Lennon's death, on the basis of government fear that the military were losing the battle for public opinion. Events take place across the UK to celebrate it (this year there are over 350), and local councils bid to host the national event, for which they receive some funding and sponsorship, but also spend significant amounts of their own money.

Had this occurred during Lennon's lifetime, surely he’d be more likely to be rallying the crowds to sing peace songs than taking part in the glorification of military prowess.


Armed Forces Day is on Saturday 24 June, or 17 June in some places. Over 350 events which package war as entertainment with military vehicles, weapons and recruiting stalls will be taking place across the UK. The national Armed Forces Day event is taking place in Liverpool.

Here we list events taking place with provide a message of peace and an alternative to militarism. Let us know of others which we can help promote. 

Send us your reports and pictures from Armed Forces Day or post on social media.

Before You Sign Up cardGet the facts! If you would like a batch of free Before you sign up business cards to distribute, get in touch.

The Before you sign up website looks at what soldiers think of the army, what happens in army training and in war, and, what happens if you want to leave.


'Give Peace a Chance' peace vigil in Liverpool

As the national event, Armed Forces Day in Liverpool will be big. As well as a parade, there will be three miliary zones, each displaying the 'military assets' of one of the three armed forces. There will also be 'street theatre and family zones' and a display area for 'capability demonstrations'.

The tanks and weaponry, child-orientated events, recruitment stalls and combat displays will, ironically, be alongside the John Lennon Peace Monument, unveiled by Julian and Cynthia Lennon in 2010. Liverpool was the hometown of John Lennon, one of the world's most renowned peace activists.

Merseyside Peace Network will be meeting at 11 am on 24 June and are holding a peace vigil at 12-12.45 and 2-2.45 at the gates of Albert Dock with a Give Peace a Chance banner.

There will also be a Peace Fair with a Film Show during the day at Liverpool Quaker Meeting House. See details