What’s wrong with the British Army? Is it facing a recruitment crisis? Why does it need to recruit in schools, manipulating the most stressed out vulnerable people? Why is any of this tolerated?

Back in 2017 we looked at an incredible new media campaign for the army by a company called Karmarama, based on the idea of ‘Belonging’:

“This image – one of a series – shows soldiers larking about in the ruins of some land. The emphasis is on ‘Belonging’ ‘camaraderie’ and community, all attributes noticeably missing from contemporary life, and arguably even more so from young men’s lives. But here’s the twist. Belonging comes from occupation. The squadddies are having a real laugh in the bombed wreckage of somebody elses’s home, somewhere.”

This was an extraordinarily cynical approach, it was organised violence as an antidote to alienation, invasion as response to crisis of community. Be the Best. Last year it was revealed from a briefing document on the This Is Belonging campaign that the key audience was 16 to 24-year-old “C2DEs”, marketing speak for the lowest three social and economic groups.

Now they are targeting 16 year-olds facing a stressful time at school. Campaigners against the recruitment of child soldiers are now accusing the army of cynically trying to recruit young people at a time when they are worried about their results and future prospects. Embarrassingly the paid-for Facebook messages suggested to 16-year-olds that a career in the army would still be open to them if they did not get the grades they hoped for.

Rachel Taylor, the director of programmes at Child Soldiers International, said: “Targeting army advertisements at teenagers when they are stressed and vulnerable is abhorrent. These adverts prove once again that the MoD is deliberately targeting children at the lowest limit of the legal recruitment age to fill the lowest qualified, least popular and hardest-to-recruit army roles. Using Facebook to target the country’s young people unwittingly and exploiting the anxiety of those who may be disappointed with their GCSE results with idealised and unrealistic advertisements is shameful.”

The focus on 16 year-olds is very specific and very intentional.

Taylor has said:

“What’s very clear from the document is that the army is deliberately and strategically targeting young people from deprived backgrounds who have limited options in life.”

“There’s a reason why 16-year-old boys are a great target for recruitment. At that age adolescents are primed into risk-taking behaviour, into wanting to prove themselves as a man, into wanting to establish an identity, a sense of belonging, which is really played upon in the current advertising campaign. Teenage boys want to take risks; they are lured in by the romance, the glamour, the danger. The marketing strategy very cynically takes advantage of that.”

New information released after a written parliamentary question by Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru Leader in the House of Commons revealed that the army spent £1.7m on social media content between 2015 and 2017, the vast bulk of it on Facebook.

A new report to the Scottish Parliament  ‘Ensuring greater scrutiny, guidance and consultation on armed forces visits to schools in Scotland’ has been delivered after two years of deliberation.

Emma Sangster of ForcesWatch commented following the report’s publication: “We are very pleased that the Committee has recognised the underlying concerns of this petition and assessed it in terms of children’s rights, in line with the Scottish Government’s established practice.”

“We hope that the assessment will also consider some points of particular concern, such as visits to primary and special schools, and take a detailed look at the materials and activities across the range of armed forces visits to schools.

“There is clearly a strong recruitment aspect to military visits in schools across Scotland,” Sangster argued. “The Committee itself has noted this, saying visits ‘form part of the recruitment journey’. We are pleased that it has been recognised and call for greater oversight of recruitment in schools.”

Juliet Harris of Together: Scottish Alliance on Child Rights added: “The UN has repeatedly raised concerns at the age at which children are recruited to the armed service across the UK, and that children from vulnerable groups are disproportionately represented among new recruits.

As Sean Bell at CommonSpace has reported:

“While providing evidence to the committee, the armed forces denied that they target schools in deprived areas of Scotland for the purposes of recruitment. Addressing concerns over “potential targeting of schools in areas of high economic deprivation,” SNP MSP Rona Mackay highlighted figures from 2010 to 2012, showing all army visits were made to state schools, with one school visited an “extraordinary” 31 times.”

This is an attack on boys and young men.

As Scotland Against Militarism have noticed, the armies insistence that they don’t ‘recruit’ is completely contradicted by their own words and actions. Here is a tweet in which they refer to primary school children in Clackmannanshire as a “squad of new recruits” .

From the Glasgow Arms Fair, to Raytheon – who make laser guidance systems for Paveway IV missiles that have been used in Gaza and Yemen – entertaining kids in the Fife Science Festival – to recruitment in schools to nuclear convoys trundling through towns (which have seen a dramatic increase) – Scotland is a militarised country.

Children and young people deserve better than to be treated as cannon fodder, recruits in the British Armies next propaganda campaign. There is no place for arms manufacturers at children’s events and no place for the military in schools.

The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit soldiers at 16.