British Military Recruitment and Marketing: Targeting Disadvantaged Young People

This is part of a blog series ahead of  the global Medact/IPPNW Health Through Peace conference in York. Click here to find out more about the event and register.

Join us on Tuesday 5th September at 2pm roundtable on British Military Recruitment and Marketing.

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.

Speakers at the workshop on Tuesday 5th September either in person or over a video link are a mixed group of veterans, activists, and academics.

Joe Glenton, a journalist, Afghanistan veteran, and member of Veterans for Peace. He is the author of ‘Soldier Box’, which John Pilger called: “One of the finest books I have read on the military and war by an insider.” Joe refused to serve a second tour in Afghanistan on legal and moral grounds, later spending five months in military prison while suffering from PTSD.

Wayne Sharrocks, a young Afghanistan veteran who suffered serious facial injury in an IED explosion. He enlisted at the age of seventeen. He experienced mental health problems after leaving the Army, and now campaigns for the minimum age of recruitment to be raised to eighteen. Wayne is a member of Veterans for Peace and a Quaker Peace and Social Worker Peaceworker, working at the Peace Pledge Union.

David Gee, co-founder of ForcesWatch, and author of multiple books and reports on child recruitment, veterans’ wellbeing, and militarism. David previously worked for Child Soldiers International.

Rhianna Louise, lead author of the Medact report ‘The recruitment of children by the UK armed forces: a critique from health professionals’, now working on Education and Outreach at ForcesWatch. ForcesWatch monitor and critique the influence of the military on civil society in the UK, and scrutinize the ethics of armed forces recruitment practices.

Feryal Awan manages the Peace and Human Security programme at Medact developing research papers and policy positions on topics such as drone warfare, child soldiers and the refugee crisis. She specialises in working with children and young people and has a PhD in Childhood Studies.

This panel will present:

  • The 2016 report by Medact, ‘The recruitment of children by the UK armed forces: a critique from health professionals’. In 2016, Medact released Britain’s only public health report into the long term health impacts of the British military’s recruitment of children. The report detailed the risks to health that are disproportionately faced by child recruits, including self-harm, suicide, death or injury from combat, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Join us and hear more from lead author Rhianna Louise.
  • The 2017 Veterans for Peace report on the mental health impacts of military training, ‘First Ambush’. The Veterans for Peace report ‘First Ambush’, released in July 2017, details the impact of military training on mental health using veterans’ testimonies and around 200 studies (mainly from the UK and USA).
  • The 2017 ForcesWatch paper ‘Does the military give young people a ‘leg up?’ The armed forces and social mobility’. The military, particularly the Army, often presents itself as a champion of social mobility for young people from socio-economically deprived backgrounds. This paper critiques and challenges this claim.
  • An ongoing research project by ForcesWatch and Medact into military recruitment marketing campaigns. In November 2017, Medact and ForcesWatch will be releasing a report offering fresh analysis of the controversial techniques used in recent and current UK military advertising campaigns. It discusses the language used to target children for recruitment, the ways in which this target audience is represented and the role of class, ethnicity and gender.  
  • A discussion on mental health, class, social mobility and the ethical considerations around enlistment, led by two Afghanistan veterans. We will be presenting a short film with a one-off interview of Joe Glenton and Wayne Sharrocks from Veterans for Peace, who may also be joining us over video link for the Q&A session.

Following the presentations, we will be inviting you to discuss these issues with us, and we will be seeking your input on how to progress our advocacy in this area. We hope Health Through Peace delegates who are psychologists, mental health professionals or who work in child development, will join us and bring their passion and expertise to these important discussions.

ForcesWatch will also be running a workshop at the conference on Wednesday 6th September with Scientists for Global Responsibility, on challenging military influence in universities and schools – where they will share findings from upcoming papers on military influence in universities and in University Technical Colleges.