“Don’t join the Army.”
“Don’t do what? Don’t leave here? Don’t learn new skills?”
These are the words from the new recruitment advert from the British Army to recruit new members to its ranks. It depicts a conversation between two young people as they discuss their future prospects.
These conversations are not fictional or uncommon in Cameron’s Britain. I myself have talked friends out of joining the armed forces. With unemployment rife despite some improvements, many young people, especially those in working class communities like mine, have an uncertain future.
And with an uncertain future and minimal opportunities for young people comes poverty and desperation. Any prospect of leaving ‘here’ can seem appealing. It is these feelings that the MOD has often preyed on and sought to exploit.
This is just weeks after a leaked correspondence showed a UK Defence Minister, Julian Brazier, urging the Scottish Government to open cadet units in Scottish schools, prioritising the most deprived areas. A senior SNP spokesperson described the plans as a “cannon fodder scheme” – and rightfully so.
A few years ago, I was at a friend’s house. Sitting at his dining room table, I noticed a photo album on a nearby shelf. I began to thumb through it. It contained pictures of my friend’s father in the British Army during the Gulf War.
There were pictures of him and his regiment: their time in training; laughing with one another in their barracks; out on patrol. I allowed myself a smile. And then the charred bodies of Kurdish civilians massacred at the hands of Saddam Hussein.
There are a number of adverts from the MOD that are seductively employed to recruit people – youths in particular – to join the armed forces with promises of adventure and lifelong skills. Other adverts feature action packed cut scenes from new recruits learning their basics in boot camp; flying in a chinook helicopter; sailing on the bow of a destroyer; and piloting drones.
However, these are exactly that: cut scenes. They are cleverly selected snapshots of army life that do not portray the reality. What the MOD does not show you is the horrors of war: your dead brothers and sisters in arms or the disfigured civilians in the street.
But a soldier’s war does not end with the gunfire. Soldiers returning from the British Government’s wars can face lifelong battles.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can leave some soldiers permanently scarred from their service leading to a range of consequences including flashbacks, physical shaking, depression, and substance abuse. This can be enough for some servicemen and women to take their own lives due to the trauma they have experienced.
In August, 2014, the MOD released figures following the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars showing that cases of PTSD had risen by 19% and there was a 12% increase in mental disorders compared to the previous year.
And what was the MOD’s reasoning for the rise in these figures? The stigma of ex-servicemen seeking help had dropped. In the patriarchal armed services where values of masculinity are core, it can be assumed that the number of people coming forward for help is a small reflection of the bigger picture of the mental health issues that plague our returning soldiers.
The horrific scenes in the life of a soldier are conveniently left out of the MOD’s recruitment drives. They would rather glamourize war to entice fresh-faced recruits with no welfare safety net or opportunity, but with an uncertain future.
But one thing is certain. While we in the UK pay the price of war with taxes; civilians abroad and our soldiers pay the price with their lives and minds. And the war profiteers hold the receipts.