Monika Radojevic, MSc Development Studies
In the recent misjudged advertising campaign by the British Army, ‘snowflakes’, ‘selfie addicts’ and ‘binge gamers’ have been targeted for recruitment, with the ‘politically correct’ adverts focusing on the positive side of being a selfie addict (confidence) or a snowflake (compassion). This follows a trend of the military institution targeting vulnerable teenagers, particularly from working class backgrounds around GCSE results day, with recruitment ads on social media promising teenagers that grades aren’t everything. The UK is currently the only European country to recruit child soldiers, defined by Child Soldiers International as being “individuals under the age of 18 who are used for any military purpose”. Although 16-17 year olds are not sent to war, they still undergo the same training and militarisation as older recruits. Moreover, Child Soldiers International has also reported that younger recruits have a higher chance of suffering from mental health or behavioural issues. Most alarmingly, the research also indicates that those who joined at 16 were “twice as likely to die on deployment” than recruits joining at later stages. Minorities and women have also been targeted by specific ads that generously suggest that yes, you can be gay in the army and you can practice your faith, the army welcomes everyone!
In part, the growing concerns over shortages in the army — that are expected to continue — have led to increased inclusivity attempts. The fact that army recruitment adverts are so normalised reflects the insidious spread of military values, imagery, and ideals into society. General Nick Carter, Chief of General Staff argued in a Guardian interview that appealing to vulnerable or minority groups is an attempt to reflect the UK’s diversity — or, it might simply be an attempt to add more bodies to the barracks in a neatly wrapped inclusivity package. Perhaps, what the army should be focusing on is the issue of militarism itself and its toxic enmeshment with a certain type of masculinity: straight, white, authoritative, and quick to deploy violence to maintain control. Militarism is the belief that the use of violence and force should be used as the best way to maintain and protect national interest, but also, just like hegemonic masculinity, as a way to maintain power and control.
The UK is currently the only European country to recruit child soldiers.
What about the relationship between the army and peace? It is paradoxical that peacekeeping is overwhelmingly militaristic and dominated by army personnel who are trained not in the art of peace, but the art of warfare. These two things are antithetical, yet are somehow intertwined and institutionalised by the biggest organisation responsible for peace and security: the UN. When those who are trained to elicit and control violence as the most efficient means to an end are placed in charge of spreading peace, things will inevitably be excluded.
Why does this matter? Because the trifecta of dominance, aggression, and violence that is present in the military in general, (which is also overwhelmingly male, 75 percent in the UK as of 2018), becomes internalised in society and promotes an ideology that ensures one demographic will always come out on top. This demographic wields an exclusionary power that decides what kind of attributes a member of the British army must have in order to ‘belong’, which only becomes more and more exclusive the higher up the chain of command you go.
The British army should not be in the habit of recruiting 16 and 17 year olds, nor should they be pushing a line of inclusivity if their inflexible military institutions cannot deliver on their promises. How can the army call itself inclusive when the ‘boys club’ mentality is as pervasive as ever, and the conceptualisation of a British soldier is still very much a white male? A few vague posters and weak attempts to relate to women, working class youth, or ethnic minorities is like sticking a bandaid on a broken leg — meaningless and ineffective.