My thoughts exactly: UK army accused of dictating soldiers’ press statements
Child Soldiers International, a charity that campaigns against the recruitment of under-18s to the armed forces, noticed that graduates of the Army Foundation College (AFC) had spoken of their sense of achievement in exactly the same upbeat terms in dozens of newspaper reports.
“Graduating from AFC Harrogate in front of my friends and family is something that I am very proud of doing. I’m now looking forward to the next stage of my army career,” a number of young men and women were quoted as saying.
“As a junior soldier you learn core life skills such as leadership, teamwork and determination. I have made loads of friends and met new people, and have become much more confident in my own ability.”
Precisely the same quotes have been used in local newspaper articles about graduates across the UK from the south of England to Scotland since 2015.
Tactics for the recruitment of teenage soldiers is a sensitive issue. The Guardian revealed last year that the army had been specifically targeting young people from working-class backgrounds in a glossy television campaign.
Rachel Taylor, the director of programmes at Child Soldiers International, said: “It has always been evident that army recruitment campaigns portray an unrealistic and highly edited version of military life.
“It’s still shocking, however, to see that this manipulation extends to dictating word for word statements for the press, and presenting these to the public as apparently spontaneous and free remarks.
“The young recruits and families we work with tell a very different story about their experiences in the armed forces, but military law prevents them from speaking out publicly.”
This editorial in BMJ Paediatrics Open (2019, vol 3, issue 1) discusses the issues raised in the Medact report, The recruitment of children by the UK Armed Forces: a critique from health professionals, which brought together evidence highlighting the increased risk of death and injury for those recruited under the age of 18. The authors, Reem Abu-Hayyeh and Guddi Singh, contributed to the content and launch of the report Selling the military: A critical analysis of contemporary recruitment marketing in the UK by ForcesWatch and Medact.