In Britain, the Army is defending a much-criticized recent recruitment campaign that focused on the emotional support given to soldiers.
The campaign ads reassured potential recruits that it was OK to express their feelings. In addition, it stressed that Muslim and gay people would be very welcome to enlist.
The Army says the ads were designed to promote inclusiveness and sensitivity towards the feelings of others. Military leaders say a less macho approach is badly-needed to tackle a serious recruitment crisis.
But critics accuse the Army of political correctness. They say it’s losing sight of what should be its highest priority: maintaining its military readiness and fighting power.
The tone of the latest ads is markedly different from the stirring call to arms in traditional British Army recruitment campaigns, which have tended to stress the action, excitement and danger of combat. The new ads show a soldier crying and being comforted by his comrades.
Not everyone approves.
“This is just typical of the snowflake generation,” mocked Matt Collins, a middle-aged veteran, speaking to Marketplace in the military town of Aldershot. “When I was in the army, we were trained to the best we can be. We were pushed beyond belief. You broke your fingers. You strap ‘em up. You carry on. Now, it’s: 'Oh, I’ve got a cold. I can’t go on.'"
Another vet in Aldershot, who didn’t want to be named for fear of upsetting the British Army or his former colleagues, also dismissed the latest recruitment campaign. He described it as “pandering to wimps.”
“You recruit people to fight. Not wimps," he said. “You’re trained to fight. You’re there to fight. Don’t like it? Don’t join. You want to join the Army? You join the Army to fight. Wrong way to recruit soldiers.’”
The new ad campaign stresses the importance of diversity. Muslims are told they would be welcome to enlist and would be free to pray while on active service. Openly-gay men are also welcome to sign up and women are invited to consider joining the ranks of tough front-line units now that the British government has changed the rules to let female soldiers serve in “close ground-combat” roles.
The campaign is designed to tackle a recruitment crisis which has left the British Army seriously understaffed. It’s currently 4,000 short of its target strength of 82,000 soldiers. Gen. Sir Nick Carter, head of the Army, defended the ads. He said it was vital to broaden the Army’s appeal.
“Our traditional cohort would have been white, male, Caucasian, 16 to 25-years-old and there are not as many of those around as there once were. Our society is changing. So, I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to try and reach out to a much broader base,” he said and he made no apology for trying to project a more inclusive and nurturing image.
“We want to create a workplace in which everyone feels valued and that means one’s got to have some sensitivity for the feeling of others,” he said.
But back in Aldershot, former infantryman Collins, said a better way of attracting and retaining recruits would be with more generous pay “for putting your life at risk.” Newly -trained soldiers earn less than $20,000, a third below the U.K.’s average industrial wage.
Retired Maj. Gen. Tim Cross fretted about the effect the ads might have on the reputation of the British Army. “I agree that we must be inclusive. We must ensure that everybody knows that they have an opportunity of joining the British Armed forces,” Cross said. “But we must make it clear that we’re not going to be soft and we're not going to be nice to people."
The Army insists that it hasn’t gone soft and that it is more “combat hardened” than ever. And it points out that since the latest recruitment campaign began, there’s been a 30 percent surge in applications.
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