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Soapbox 499: Lesley Docksey on the situation of infantry soldiers from the most disadvantaged backgrounds – cannon fodder


global research headerOn Soapbox for the 99% – adding to the theory that government-friendly MNCs require a reserve army of labour – Lesley Docksey considers the military role of the ‘underclass’ in Global Research.
She opens:

How ‘fit for purpose’ are British soldiers?  Are they truly the well-trained, highly professional people that can always be relied on to uphold the standards of international laws while putting themselves ‘in harm’s way’?  Not if one reads the evidence that was given at the Baha Mousa Inquiry, nor that currently being given at the Al Sweady Inquiry.  Soldiering is a violent trade despite all the denials, justifications and fudge put out by Ministry of Defence spokespeople and senior officers.

Points made in her article:

Soldiers from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, and with the lowest educational levels in the infantry

The soldiers from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, and with the lowest educational levels, are those in the infantry, the ‘brave boys’ in the front line, the cannon fodder who are trained to kill and be killed.  Although the infantry only make up just over 13% of the total British Armed Forces, they bear the brunt of the fighting, the killing and dying, the violence that is war.

There are those who join up because they are following a father, uncle or older brother, trusted people who only ever tell them the interesting bits, the fun times to be had in the Army.  There are those who have always wanted a career in the Army.  And then there are the rest.  Often living in the poorest city neighbourhoods, many from single-parent families and broken homes, in foster or local authority care and with lives already full of violence, these are the children who constantly truant from school, roaming the streets and forming gangs.  The truancy, gang culture and a failing social system mean they miss out on the one thing that might get them out of dead-end lives – education.

Recruitment practices

These disadvantaged youngsters are targeted by Army recruiters.  David Gee (a researcher into the recruitment practices of the UK Armed Forces) and Anna Goodman studied how often the Army visited schools within London, and what type of schools they favoured. They found that the most disadvantaged schools (the bottom 20%) received 52% of all the visits made by Army recruiters to schools in the area studied.  They also found, despite the military vigorously denying that they ever send recruiting teams into primary schools, a few occasions when primary schools were indeed visited.  When the Ministry of Defence were asked for information by the Defence Select Committee they said that they “did not collect socio-economic data on Forces personnel”.

Many youngsters, facing a future with no job, believe all they are told by the recruiting teams about how wonderful a career in the army will be – an exciting life, foreign travel, lots of sport and the rest.  The Army will train you, they are told; you’ll come out with a good qualification, something that will get you a good job when you leave the army.  No one tells them that if you want that kind of training you may have to sign up for perhaps an extra three year’s service, just to get on a three month course.

Not once is the word ‘risk’ mentioned, that by signing up they risk being killed, disabled or mentally damaged, the risk that is nobly described as ‘putting themselves into harm’s way’.  Nor is it made clear that they will be trained to kill.  That word is totally absent.  The enemy may be ‘engaged’, ‘cleared, or ‘taken out’ but never killed.  David Gee’s report on armed forces recruitment practice in the United Kingdom, Informed Choice?, gives examples of such euphemisms.  He writes: “The Army Jobs web site contains 296 pages.  It contains the word ‘enemy’ on 36 of these but does not contain the word ‘kill’, ‘killing’ or ‘killed’.”  So even if a potential recruit can read all of this, he will not get any accurate idea of what it is he will sign up to.


Much of the training involves what you and I would call bullying – and worse (the facts that came out in the Deepcut ‘suicides’ scandal testified to that).  Some, braver or more desperate than the rest, leave within the permitted first 6 months of training.  The others stay on and bond.  This is now their ‘gang’, their replacement family.  They are all in it together, whether suffering or getting drunk.  The Army depends on that bonding.  It means they won’t let their mates down, they’ll follow orders – and they’ll hide the fact that they are mentally distressed.  But in any other sphere except that of the British Forces, these are considered to be children.  And we have the gall to throw our hands up in horror at the child soldiers of Africa!

Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan

In March a Kings College study was published: Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers who have served in the front line in Iraq or Afghanistan are 53% more likely to commit a violent offence later in life. Violent offending was most common among young men from the lower ranks of the Army and was strongly associated with a history of violent offending before joining the military.  It also found that the proportion of servicemen under 30 years old with a conviction for violent offending was much higher than among men of a similar age in the general population (20.6% vs 6.7%). When the report was published military spokesmen were quick to point out that ex-military personnel are more law-abiding than the general public.  That is true but it includes all those who stayed in the Forces until retirement, who had learned to lead disciplined lives and, more importantly, all those who did not serve in the infantry’s front line.

Lesley concludes:

It is the whole social system that is at fault, and with rightwing politicians constantly demonising the poor and disadvantaged, one can’t help thinking that the creation and maintenance of an underclass has always been deliberate.  Governments need scapegoats and sin eaters and, given their propensity for waging wars, where else would they get their cannon fodder?


Read the whole article here: Relevant background information: The Select Committee on Defence 2005 report on recruitment