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CCADD Open Meeting: 9th April 2008 at 39 Eccleston Square
David Gee on ‘Informed Choice’
This meeting discussed the report produced by the speaker on ‘Informed Choice: Armed Forces Recruitment in the United Kingdom’
The speaker explained that, having worked for Quaker Peace and Social Witness for several years he was encouraged to do research into the methods by which youngsters are recruited into the UK forces. His talk was a model of balanced objectivity, and some of his conclusions had been endorsed by those closely involved in forces recruitment from the services and the MOD. He made the following points drawn from the conclusions of his report:
1. A ‘charter’ of the state’s obligations should be compiled to give would-be recruits an indication of what they could expect from recruiters (i.e. an honest and balanced picture of a forces career etc.).
2. Official recruitment literature (including written material, the internet, DVDs etc) should provide an accurate account of the ‘downsides’ of service life, if only to prevent later loss of morale among servicemen.
3. The current literature does not cover:
terms of service (very complex and hard to understand);
the likely personal risks to servicemen;
the ‘culture shock’ consequent on joining up;
the psychological and ethical issue of having to kill people;
4. The recruitment process was reviewed after the ‘Deepcut’ episode, but the Adult Learning Inspectorate still regards some information to recruits as misleading.
5. The speaker had visited several armed services careers offices and talked to those who work in them. They seemed to have a good sense of the need for care (eg many recruits come from broken homes etc and need special consideration) and of the need to tell the truth; but tend only to answer the question would-be recruits ask, which do not necessarily cover many of the things they ought to know about: eg. killing and its implications, the risks involved, the effects of life away from home. One recruiter had said, 'You have to tell the truth... to a degree.'
6. Recruiters did not always know details of the (very complicated) ‘terms of service’, for example exactly when recruits can decide to leave before committing themselves to long-term engagements.
7. Although parents of 16/17 year olds have to signify their agreement, recruiters usually do not meet the parents (often because the candidate does not want them to). The report proposes that parents should always be contacted before any irrevocable engagement is undertaken.
1) Is there any chance of reintroducing conscription in the UK?
Ans: not foreseeable
2) Is equality of women with men being strictly observed?
Ans: yes but there are problems with sexual harassment and women are still barred from front-line combat corps such as the infantry.
3) What about cadet forces in schools?
Ans: not a good idea, since choosing not to join often results in loss of exciting opportunities (eg helicopter rides).
4) What about bursaries to encourage recruitment?
Ans: A bad idea. £2000 is very tempting to a 16year old. But soldiers are badly paid and need to be better rewarded.
5) Is the 10 year average reading-age of recruits good enough?
Ans: yes, but those whose education is not up to scratch are sent on courses to improve skills. Problem of young people with low reading ages not able to understand their legal obligations at enlistment
6) How can recruiters describe what killing people really involves?
Ans: they can’t, but they must be as clear and honest as possible, especially because soldiers can’t easily leave the job. Most soldiers never kill anybody (NB: the services – apart from the infantry – are currently a safer environment than civilian life, mainly because recruits are screened for health at selection and go on to do physically demanding jobs).
7) Isn’t the crux the fact that the recruit is handing over his conscience to somebody else (eg the government)?
Ans: yes, but the report mentions this. There is provision for servicemen to get released for truly conscientious reasons.
8) Do recruiters say anything about the problems of coming out of the services: eg housing, jobs etc?
Ans: no. Forces leavers are more likely to be homeless than civilians
9) Given that UK is fighting two wars just now, with tight budgets, inadequate equipment, poor pay etc. how should recruitment be prioritised?
Ans: the recommendations of the report would benefit recruitment by avoiding waste of money on people dropping out, failing to meet the requirements etc.; but the possibility of shorter service contracts would help. UK is the second largest military spender, out of proportion to our role in the 21stC – large amounts of money go to 'prestige projects' like arguably anachronistic new aircraft carriers and Trident nuclear fleet.
10) How should recruiters address schools?
Ans: there needs to be a national policy about this. It was pointed out that some service speakers, esp. the RAF, are very well prepared and equipped – better than those from the peace movement.