|ISSUE 51 SPRING 2006
- a real champaign moment
‘For your mates, for your family, for each other. To train, to learn, to better yourself. For the travel, for the action, for adventure. Confidence, courage, pride. As a unit, as a team, through it all. Together. Mechanised Infantry. Forward as one.’
The words above are from a British Army recruitment advert currently being broadcast on terrestrial television. It sounds great fun in the Army, doesn’t it? Plenty of charging around in the countryside with your mates, travelling to new places full of action and adventure. A great way to develop confidence and what‘s more, your family will be awfully proud of you. Just what every young person wants.
My thirteen-year-old niece came back from school the other day gushing with enthusiasm for the armed forces. Not from seeing this exciting advert, but because she’d just spent an afternoon at school with the RAF. They came to visit her school to help them with maths. Apparently her maths teacher is not up to the job and the RAF know everything there is to know about maths. They did maths exercises about the angle you can windsurf into the wind. They also studied how much a school bag or sweatshirt with a RAF logo on it would cost if there was 40% off in a sale.
‘We want the children to come and have a fun maths lesson and go home and talk about it with their parents and sisters and brothers, and say we had a fun day doing things with the RAF. It’s not hard recruiting, but a subtle way of spreading the message.’ (Group Captain Dawn McCafferty, RAF’s Inspectorate of Recruitment)
Now that she knows everything about life in the RAF she can’t wait to get onto the Internet whenever she visits me. She goes straight to the RAF and Army websites to play on all the games they have there. The RAF site is great for kids - all those funky cartoon-style graphics make it really fun. And it’s really handy the way any time you click on the RAF target logo you go straight to raf-careers.com. ‘Did you know that for many [RAF] jobs you don’t need any formal education qualifications?’ my niece said to me. ‘I read it on the RAF website.’
My nephew has caught the bug too. Boys his age love joining clubs, especially if there is a bit of mystery or adventure promised. The RAF and Army both have clubs young boys and girls can join online. The RAF’s is called ‘Altitude’ and the Army’s is ‘Camouflage’. My nephew went to the Camouflage site (www.mycamouflage.co.uk) and was a little daunted by the long form he had to complete (name address, date of birth, telephone number etc.) to join the club. Until he filled it in the only part of the site he could access was ‘Army Careers’. He wanted to get straight to the ‘Games’, ‘Events’, and ‘Free Stuff’ but couldn’t see any more until he told the Army all about himself. I’m sure they will be in touch before too long with lots more hard to resist offers.
So he decided to have a look at the RAF’s club for kids.
‘Aged 14–15 years and 9 months? There’s even more on offer when you join the exclusive Altitude club. As well as the chance to win an RAF iPod when you sign up, we’ll send you your membership card and keep you updated with all the latest from the RAF, all completely free.
News on aircraft and technology developments. Sports, fitness and adventure activities updates. Information on careers opportunities. Chances to win amazing RAF prizes. (www.rafcareers.com/altitude)
He was quite excited about the prospect of a new iPod (particularly with an RAF logo on it) and was keen to find out more about sports, fitness and adventure activities. Unfortunately his school is unable to provide much after school activity and he’s never had the chance to go canoeing, rockclimbing, abseiling etc.
He was also intrigued by the age range accepted for membership of the Altitude club. ‘Why can’t you be a member if you’re 15 years and 10 months old?’ he asked. ‘You can apply to join the real RAF once you are that old’ his sister replied. ‘They told us when they came to teach us maths.’
What recruiters don’t say when they visit schools is as much a problem as what they do say. They don’t point out that a newly recruited UK child soldier of 16 years old only has a five month window (after the first month) to legally leave the armed forces before the age of 22. Nor do they mention that the UK is the only European country to recruit under 18s. Or that the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the UK is party, makes clear that the recruitment of under 18s should only be in exceptional circumstances.
The recruiting teams do talk about human rights, however. PPU recently heard from a teacher whose school received a pack entitled ‘An Introduction to Human Rights’ (the accompanying letter was addressed to ‘Dear Headmaster’, despite the Principal and Vice-principal being female - not a great start!). It was from the Army Careers Advisor for Northern Ireland, who also offered to send someone to ‘deliver’ some of the lessons in the pack, adding: ‘the main benefit of this is that this introduces someone to the pupils who has had actual hands on experience with the issues raised’.
Throughout the Army’s human rights pack there is frequent reference to all the good work the armed forces do for peace. But no mention at all of human rights abuses by the UK military, of the people killed by UK soldiers or of the psychological trauma so many soldiers suffer when they return from war. I wonder if the Army ever take soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or maimed civilians to talk about human rights on their school visits? They too have hands on experience with the issues raised.
The military have a whole recruitment package specifically tailored to attract children, wherever they may be. Each element supports the others. At home they excite children with TV adverts about military life telling them how good they will feel once they join up. At school, lessons are taken by military personnel whose primary aim is to recruit, not to educate. They use misleading ‘educational’ materials plastered in military logos, adverts and strap-lines (‘Army: Be the best’). Children are enticed to websites and clubs by the prospect of fun games and exclusive access. Once there, they are groomed to accept the benevolent hand of the military as one that will care for and support them at every stage of their military career.
The glaring problem with this recruitment package is the sheer dishonesty - often by omission. Adults may be able to unpick the truth from the exaggeration, misdirection and lies, but children can’t. Schools should be places of peace and honesty where violence is discussed in an open and frank manner - and finally rejected as a means of solving disputes. Children should not be exposed to insidious recruitment programmes in schools, backed up with websites and adverts promoting the same militarist message.
It is easy to see how over-stretched and under-funded teachers might welcome someone from outside teaching their class for an afternoon. Schools often don’t have the resources to provide adventurous activities (rockclimbing, canoeing etc.) for their pupils, or they fear litigation if a child is hurt. If the military offer these for free it must be hard for schools to turn them down. The military are not concerned with just educating children and giving them a bit of fun though. They want to get something back from their visits: more young recruits.
Because schools and teachers are under-resourced the armed forces are able to enter many schools easily. Masquerading as education they go about recruitment and lay the building blocks to the acceptance of militarism amongst children. It is time to end the military recruitment of children in schools and to stop grooming vulnerable young people to accept militarism through child-focused websites, offers of free iPods and lessons about RAF sweatshirts. Children deserve better.
You can help. If you hear the military are visiting your child’s school, write to the school, your MP and contact the press. Please also send examples of militarism in schools to the PPU.