Army adverts slammed for being ‘too soft’

Then and now: Lord Kitchener’s iconic WWI poster (left) and today’s crying solder (right).

What sort of armies do we want? The British military is under fire for saying: “It’s okay to cry." Do modern liberal societies want tough fighting machines or “social workers armed with guns”?

Picture the typical armed forces advertisements. They preach excitement and the chance for ordinary people to better themselves. There will be lots of shots of military hardware and an emphasis on the physical requirements needed to join up.

The British army’s latest recruiting adverts are rather different. They ask: "What if I get emotional?", "Can I be gay in the army?" and "Do I have to be a superhero?" In one, a Muslim soldier explains how the army has allowed him to practice his faith.

The latest series of adverts comes in response to a recruitment crisis in the army. General Sir Nick Carter, head of the army, said the traditional soldier was a young, white man, aged 16-25, but Britain’s vast demographic changes mean there were now "not as many of those around as there once were".

But the army has been criticised for becoming too soft and for pandering to political correctness. Last month the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, blocked plans to scrap the “Be the best” slogan, as it was considered too "elitist and non-inclusive".

This comes alongside notices not to use language like "mankind" or "gentleman's agreement" from the army’s Joint Equality Diversity and Inclusion unit.

Writing in The Telegraph, Colonel Tim Collins says that “Daydreaming of a better world is a very dangerous occupation and one that should be confined to specialist hospitals and universities.” He contrasts this utopianism with the brutal realities of a soldier’s life: a life which is frequently a matter of “Kill or be killed.”

But is this really what the armed forces should be in 2018? It may not seem like it, but Britain’s forces have rarely been so sparsely deployed: December 20th 2017 was the first time Britain had no major warships on operations anywhere in the world in living memory. And much of what the armed forces do is peace-keeping, rather than fighting.

As the world becomes more comfortable, the supply of “angry young men” who typically join the army is diminishing. Is it time to rethink the army’s role?

Progressive force

Some argue that in an age when the world is more peaceful than at most times in history, and when drones and other machines are slowly replacing armed soldiers, the army must adapt. It should be seen as ambassadors of peace and of Western liberal values, and that means presenting a very different face.

Nonsense, reply others. The world is still dangerous, and an army’s main — possibly only — task must be to defend the nation at all costs. Contrary to what these adverts suggest, the army should be elitist and exclusive. And there is a consensus among those who have served in the military that an army cannot both reflect society and do its job.

You Decide

  1. Do armies belong in 2018?
  2. Should an army aim to reflect society or to be as effective a fighting machine as possible?


  1. Come up with the profile of a person who you think would be the ideal soldier. Include both mental and physical traits.
  2. Design your own recruitment campaign for the army, with a billboard and a video.

Some People Say...

“Any organisation not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.”

Robert Conquest

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The army is suffering a recruitment crisis. Between April 2016 and March 2017, 8,194 soldiers joined. However, 9,775 left during the same period, with family life and "opportunities outside the forces" among the reasons given. Partly due to this, the army has decided to alter its appeal to prospective soldiers, emphasising inclusion and teamwork, although the same rigorous physical tests will remain.
What do we not know?
Whether the new approach will work. According to Sir Nick Carter, applications to the army had gone up by 30-35% in the past nine months, but it is unclear whether this is due to the campaign. It could be that, as in France following the Paris attacks of November 2015, last year’s string of terror attacks in Britain fuelled the rise.

Word Watch

Gay in the army
The question of whether gay people should serve in the military has long been a controversial one. The United States used to operate a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, implying that a soldier could be gay if he kept the matter to himself. The UK Ministry of Defence first allowed openly homosexual soldiers in 2000.
General Sir Nick Carter
Carter, 58, served in Bosnia and Kosovo before commanding British forces in Basra during the Iraq War. He was then deployed to Afghanistan.
Demographic changes
As of the 2011 census, 81.9% of the British population were white British. In 1991, this figure stood at 94.1%. It is expected to continue to decrease.
No major warships
Navy sources said that they could not recall a time when Britain had not deployed a major ship, meaning that this could be the first time it has happened since the modern navy was formed some 500 years ago.

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