Gordon Brown leers out from above his little blurb at the beginning of the Report of Inquiry into National Recognition for our Armed Forces.
That distant rumbling you hear is Orwell’s carcass sharting oily gruel. Yes, the title and the purpose of this ‘Command Paper’ is an attempt to ‘give the appearance of solidity to pure wind’. And damn the fall-out.
It’s a beauty, this document, a blueprint for militarism and for a buttressing of war myths. In effect it is an argument, made at length on the public tab, to counter a perceived drifting apart of the British population and the military. To counter this seperation by militarising comprehensive schools, for example, or by popularising ideas favourable to war as well as a fact-light perspective on those thrust into them.
In his opening comments, Brown makes some interesting points. The thrust of his argument is that neither the government nor the military can successfully recondition the military alone; rather, that effort needs a combination of voluntary bodies, institutions of profit, those who run cadet units and those who organise military charities.
He says it is vitally important that those who do the job of war-fighting in distant places must know that the people at home grasp what is happening and why.
Now, to me the people at home understand fairly well what’s going on in Afghanistan and it is precisely this understanding which makes the wars unpopular. Even if people do not have a theoretical handle on imperialism, they understand that the reasons for being in Afghanistan are lies, that the war has been ineptly carried out, that a withdrawal is overdue, and that the troops are dying to save blushes in Westminster. None of this is obscure, and as I’ve said before the occupation of Afghanistan is a safe conversational topic to bounce your boots off.
Judging by the recommendations in the paper it has a rather different purpose. Rather than informing people of what kind of work service people do and rather than bridging a gap between our society and the military which the public funds and populates, the report aims to push a particular agenda and a suitable narrative.
The tactics include an expansion of cadet units in schools as mentioned, a relaxing of media regulations so that Commanding Officers can seek out photo opportunities around their garrisons and a greater emphasis on service people visiting schools (their own in particular).
Something worth considering here is that clearly a day off to visit your old school will be considered baksheesh, a reward. No service person who’s had a rough time in the mob is going to be despatched to St. Trinians for a day out. Those who go and give an hour or so of spiel will be pliable and will be vetted carefully. So whether or not the report argues that this ‘outreach’ is carried out as a separate initiative from recruiting programs, the view presented to school kids will be glowing.
For senior officers there is a proposed initiative to give half-day seminars on Defence to CEO’s of corporations with the rest of the day to be taken up with visits to barracks, ships and airbases. For very senior officers, the report suggests, there should be lunches with leaders of industry.
All of this, it is repeatedly stated, should be carried out in uniform where possible.
The reader will also be given a fascinating insight into the military’s grasp of media. Goods stuff is to be jumped upon, friendly hacks and editors are to be groomed, journalists are to be embedded and flown out to witness operations which have PR value. Not surprising, but interesting to read as pure policy suggestions. Another recommendation is that once a journalist in theatre has ‘earned the trust’ of a commander, they should be given more freedom to report. Nothing like a bit of favourably skewed reportage chaps. No matter how choppy an amateur I am, I must surely be able to lay a claim to being a better journo then these drip-feeders. At least I do my own research.
The report also includes a touch of prophetic humour. It laments – bear in mind the report was published in 2008 – that with only the Red Arrows were booked in for the Olympics, it would be a tragedy if the Armed Forces failed to capitalise on so great a stage. Thankfully to a number of leaders in industry – not least G4S – that chance came about, which must be a potent bragging point for brigadiers over their long lunches with boards of directors.