Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Quit the Army

Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Quit the Army

Article excerpt

TONY BLAIR tells us continually that the British armed forces are `the best in the world'. They are fighting fit, says the government, and straining at the leash to do battle with Saddam Hussein. It is all the more frightening, therefore, that in truth the Prime Minister is about to deploy a British military force as ill equipped for fullscale war as it is to provide the nation with adequate fire cover. Under New Labour, our soldiers, airmen and sailors are badly trained and woefully equipped, and their morale is being sapped by bad pay and humiliating and absurd exercises in political correctness.

I have spent the last four years as a squaddie (in army terms) in the Royal Marines. I served in Sierra Leone and on many high-profile operations and exercises elsewhere. My conclusions about the parlous state of our armed forces come from the bottom up, and directly reflect the attitudes shared in private by my fellow soldiers.

The British military and New Labour are politically and philosophically polar opposites. The government has made these differences even more acute by spending much of the last few years forcing soldiers to adopt a work ethic more in line with commerce than with combat. Who Dares Wins has been replaced by Health and Safety. The government believes that it has a duty to look after soldiers by protecting their 'rights', but this approach to soldiering seriously undermines the ability of the men and women of the armed forces to get on with a difficult and dangerous job.

The government's obsession with political correctness has been applied to the military with such relish that at times it seems almost insane. I have lost count of the number of forms I have had to fill in giving details of my ethnic origin. These forms used to be anonymous, but the last one I had to complete carried my name, rank and service number. Perhaps this was a reaction to an earlier (anonymous) form, which had revealed that in our all-male unit there was a huge number of Bangladeshi single mothers! There was always a great reluctance to fill in these forms, the fear being that anonymity had been removed so that the government could check how many members of ethnic minorities were being promoted. In response, the military chain of command offered soldiers an inducement: if they did not complete the forms, correctly, without jokes, on a Friday afternoon, they would remain in barracks for the weekend and fill them in at their leisure. No doubt that's what New Labour means when it talks about being `Investors in People'.

To those of us who are trained and paid to fight, which inevitably means killing people, this sort of exercise serves only to highlight the government's lack of understanding. The old saying `There are no atheists in foxholes' is equally applicable to racists, homophobes, misogynists and any other form of bigot you care to mention. My attitude and that of all the men with whom I have worked was simple: if somebody is trying to kill me, or it is my job to kill them first, then I want the best soldiers possible at my side, because that is the only way of ensuring that I go home at the end of it all. It makes not one iota of difference if those people are black, brown, purple, male or female, or have two heads, as long as they can do what is necessary to ensure that my family do not get woken at three o'clock in the morning by the padre, This is what the government is unable to grasp. I am sure that I speak for many an infantryman when I say that I would have felt a lot more `invested in' had I been sent on operations with a gun that worked properly.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of this civilianisation of the military is the need for the government to ensure that they are legally protected from soldiers past and present - who seek to take advantage of the current blame-and-compensation culture. This is what is behind applying health-and-safety legislation to the military. The Royal Marines endurance course is one of the most admired and gruelling in the world, but it is apparently too tough for the big girls' blouses in Whitehall. …

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