BY MAX WHITE
The British Army has launched a £1.6m recruitment campaign called ‘This Is Belonging’, aimed at de-stigmatising issues often associated with the Army, in an attempt to dispel common fears of joining and to recruit more diverse applicants. However, it has come under fire for bowing to political correctness, some accusing that the Army has “gone soft”. This article will argue, however, that the politically correct nature of the messages is largely irrelevant – an ad campaign like this can do no harm; highlighting the values of belonging and brotherhood that are much needed in a time of critical under-manning of the Army, concluding that the label of ‘political correctness’ inevitably blows the issue out of proportion and lets it descend into bitter argument.
The campaign consists of a series of television and social media adverts that address questions such as: “can I be gay in the army?”, “can I practice my faith in the army?”, “do I have to be a superhero to join?”, “what if I get emotional in the army?” and “will I be listened to in the army?”. The social media campaign is a series of animated clips with soldiers doing voiceovers and positively answering the question. The television campaign includes films such as a Muslim soldier taking his helmet off and praying whilst on a field exercise, and his colleagues looking on with respect.
The adverts have come under criticism, though, especially from veterans on online forums. They argue that by showing the army to be overtly politically correct, they are damaging the tough image of our nation’s defence force. Many have criticised these adverts with the popular mantra “political correctness gone mad”. In an interview with the BBC, Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said “the army, like the rest of government, is being forced down a route of political correctness,” and that the new campaign was “neglecting the main group of people who are interested in joining.”
General Nick Carter, chief of the defence staff, acknowledged that the “tradition cohort [of Army recruitment] would have been white, male, Caucasian 16- to 25-year-olds”, but insists that the Army has not “gone soft”, and that it is “entirely appropriate for us, therefore, to try and reach out to a much broader base to get the talent we need in order to sustain that combat effectiveness.”
However, it is difficult to ignore that the Army is focusing on small numbers here, in terms of recruitment pools. The Telegraph reports that the Army is several thousand troops short of what it should have (77,440 compared to the desired 82,000). Therefore, it is logical to assume that this campaign will have minimal effect on shortages, even if it is successful in recruiting from these pools.
Certainly, there are some who argue that the Army’s recruitment problem is not fueled by current Army minorities’ worries about the Army, but instead more general worries such as poor pay, poor treatment, poor job retention and the high-risk nature of the job, physically and mentally. For example, Catherine Bennett in The Observer argues an Army career, as such, is now less attractive to people in general.
It is also tempting to argue that surely as long as a person is a good solider, it needn’t matter about their sexuality, race, religion, gender or background. In the “will my voice be heard?” advert, the female soldier voiceover says “all that matters is that you’re good at your job.” This is why I’d argue the political correctness issue with these adverts is, in fact, a non-issue. The term ‘political correctness’ has, over the past few years especially, become such a volatile source of contention as a subject that it has completely blown out of proportion so many issues. It has also forced so many issues out of the realm of reasonable, rational and honest debate, and into the realm of bitter argument.
It’s quite a generational issue, too. Older generations accuse the current youth generation of being ‘snowflakes’ and ‘far too easily offended’, meanwhile the youth accuse older generations of being ‘bigoted’ and ‘stuck in the past’. Many individuals and institutions have become hyper-aware of being politically correct, and as such it’s an extremely nervy subject. For this reason, if you pin the term to any issue, that said issue will become inevitably and unavoidably entangled in a bitter and irrational argument.
The Army’s campaign should, therefore, be seen as recruiting based on the core values of belonging and brotherhood, or inclusiveness. As has been identified by many soldiers, including Colonel Kemp, the main motivation for most people joining the Army is scenes of combat, the exhilaration, the incredible bond between colleagues, patriotic service and unwavering loyalty. Seeing the campaign in terms of the Army bowing to political correctness skews the debate away from its real focus.
The Army is in a time of undeniable pressure, with budget and personnel cuts, as well as shortages. This campaign makes sense. However, the political correctness label defeats the purpose of the campaign and opens it up to bitter scrutiny and aimless point-scoring argument.