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Long Read Opinion People and Leadership

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

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TL:DR

I have 2 propositions: firstly, the British Armed Forces’ understanding of leadership is seriously limited; and secondly, in light of restructuring following the Integrated Review, it is highly likely this limitation will result in catastrophic moral failure.

I argue that the qualities of individual leaders have, at best, a negligible impact in relation to the systems that they operate within.  I will present various examples where military systems have gone badly wrong.  Finally, I  assess how the systemic conditions of the British Armed Forces are changing in a way that may create a ‘conducive environment’ for such pathologies.

Introduction

I recently attended an Army conference focussed on the topic of leadership.  Much was as you may expect: we discussed the qualities we expect good leaders to embody; we learnt about upcoming mentoring schemes within Defence; and we were approvingly shown, absent context, anodyne quotes about leadership from men who could be called war criminals.1 I was not the only one to find this odd, and I have been tossing the matter over in my head ever since.

This article comes with many caveats.  Although I am young, of junior rank and generally left-leaning, I have seen from conversations with colleagues that these and similar thoughts are also on the minds of my seniors (both in age and rank), seasoned veterans (particularly of Op HERRICK and Op TORAL, as one may expect) and those of a more conservative bent.

On the one hand, I am poorly placed to make serious change.  On the other, I am part of the generation apparently so valued by the Army for its ‘self-belief’, the generation that barely remembers a pre-9/11 and pre-Afghanistan world and which will by demographic necessity be gradually filling positions of political and military influence over the coming decades.

This article, then, is an intentionally provocative starting point for further conversation, delivered in a spirit of critical friendship.  My goal is to, as the Army Leadership Code states, ‘encourage thinking’.  I am not so bold as to think I have all the answers, nor that I will be able to cover all the topics I wish to in sufficient depth in this article alone.

Welcome to the Machine

Much of the discussion around leadership, be it in military or business circles (and certainly at the aforementioned conference), tends to focus on the personal qualities of individual leaders.  Good leaders should be ‘honest’, ‘accountable’, ‘brave’, and so on.  They should act in service of others—their subordinates, their organisation, etc.—over their own interests.

These same characteristics find themselves presented in various combinations and under various pseudonyms in all manner of organisational value statements.  It comes as no surprise that this is equally true of Britain’s Armed Forces: the Army (Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty, Selfless Commitment), the RAF (Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence) and the Navy (Commitment, Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty) all have their own versions.

These are all noble values to foster, and military history provides many examples of the right person in the right place at the right time being the crucial difference between survival and disaster, from Soviet military officers Stanislav Petrov and Vasily Arkhipov to James Blunt in Kosovo.  However, these are notable as exceptions to a much more common rule.

How many individually decent leaders have dutifully served appalling regimes?  Erwin Rommel is a famous example; a man who was, by most accounts, a chivalrous leader and well-respected by his British enemies, yet his successes in Africa ultimately furthered the interests of the Third Reich.

On the flip side, systemic pressures may be too strong for even the most virtuous leader to overcome.  Consider the reform-minded Joseph II, 18th-century Holy Roman Emperor, and in theory a man of absolute power, whose liberalising efforts were so roundly stymied by the entrenched interests of his time that his epitaph reads ‘here lies a ruler, who despite his best intentions, couldn’t realize any of his plans.’

The Pathetic Dot

One way of considering this dynamic is through the pathetic dot theory, as advanced by Lawrence Lessig.  This theory proposes that our actions are ultimately regulated by four forces: the law; social norms; the market; and architecture.  By this model, the focus on individual leadership qualities and the constrained legal environment under which the Armed Forces generally operate represent a hyper-focus on the ‘social norms’ and ‘law’ forces, respectively, whilst the ‘market’ (in a broader sense than a merely monetary one) and ‘architecture’ forces are comparatively neglected.

If incentives are misaligned in such a way that cost-benefit calculations indicate that an illegal or immoral course of action may be the most profitable, the market force can act as a powerful driver against whatever laws and norms have been put in place.  Similarly, if a situation is architected in such a way as to make following those laws or social norms difficult (or even impossible), their effectiveness will be constrained.

The Pathetic Dot Theory – Lessing

Its All About Your Base

Alternatively, there is a useful concept from Marxist theory (don’t panic) that can also help us to picture this dynamic: the base and the superstructure.  The base represents the material conditions within which an individual operates.  In the military context, this would be the ‘facts on the ground’, the realities of materiel and manpower, enemy activity, oversight, and the in-practice enforcement of discipline.  The superstructure represents everything that is layered over the top of those conditions.  In our context, this means values, ideology, policy, the in-theory enforcement of discipline, etc.

The theory proposes that each layer shapes and maintains the other, but that the base is ultimately dominant.  The Armed Forces’ approach to leadership focuses overwhelmingly on the values and culture associated with the superstructure, yet the much more powerful force in determining outcomes is the oft-neglected base.  Consider a group of sailors stranded in a lifeboat and without food; though they likely all hold the value that cannibalism is abhorrent, the material conditions of their tiny society likely mean it’s cabin boy fritters for tea.

The key point is that leadership does not occur within a vacuum; one is not simply ‘led’ in place, from nowhere to nowhere.  The act of leadership presupposes a destination towards which one is being led.  Each leader may well have their own idea of this destination, but ultimately each operates alongside countless others within a much larger system, with its own distinct goals and objectives.  On this macro level, the qualities of each individual leader are at best negligible: ‘They’re all part of the same machine, and what comes out the end of the gears and levers is the same product, whatever their attitude is…the machine produces the effect it was designed for.’2

Runaway Trains

The direction that any system takes is the unconscious result of a complex set of feedback loops and incentives.  Your respiratory system, for example, works by continually monitoring the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your system and breathing in or out when they hit certain thresholds.  However, systems are at risk of becoming self-reinforcingly pathological through the same mechanisms; in such a case, the incentives they present to their agents become perverse, and the results corrupt.

In this section, we will examine various examples of this happening within the military context, although similar examples can be found in fields ranging from healthcare to education.  In the following section, it is important to bear in mind the phrase apocryphally attributed to Mark Twain: ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes’.  The future will not repeat the past verbatim, but it will echo it.

The most obvious and heavily analysed example of a pathological system is Nazi Germany.  It is in her coverage of one of the post-war trials of a Nazi leader— that of Adolf Eichmann, a key figure in the organisation of the Holocaust —that Hannah Arendt proposed the concept of the ‘banality of evil’.  In short, she argued that Eichmann and those like him were ultimately psychologically normal people who had become so focussed on the minutiae of their jobs (the timetabling of trains and so on) that they simply lost sight of the bigger picture of what they were doing.3

Arendt’s work remains influential, but hers and similar theories have been challenged by contemporary scholars, who argue that Eichmann and his ilk ‘did not simply follow orders’ but instead pioneered creative, new methods of deportation in part because ‘this won [them] the approbation and preferment of superiors’.4 That is to say, the incentives provided by the system encouraged them to exercise creativity, albeit in the service of evil.  Some may have been true believers, others mere sadists or opportunists, but ultimately the machine produced the effect it was designed for.5

Let us turn to more contemporary examples.  The ‘forever wars’ of the 21st century have offered copious evidence that our own military systems are not incorruptible.  Pair two decades of demoralising counterinsurgency with a lack of effective oversight or threat of consequences and it becomes clear that beneath every ‘Kill Team’ or Haditha Massacre, every Abu Ghraib or Marine A, there could be a sizeable mound of atrocities that have simply yet to see the light of day.

In the United States, for example, investigative reporting has implicated SEAL Team Six in a veritable spree of war crimes.  Similarly, in 2015, the Australian SAS was accused by the then-head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation of fostering a culture of ‘arrogance, elitism and a sense of entitlement’, and five years later revelations of a similar nature led to the disbandment and re-naming of an entire squadron.  One of the accused soldiers was Sgt Roberts-Smith, one of the four living recipients of the Australian Victoria Cross.  It is worth noting that Australian media coverage has suggested an intriguing factor behind this corruption: influence from and envy of US Tier 1 Special Forces such as SEAL Team Six, who ‘got the sexy jobs [but] also drew fire [as] over time it became clear that maximum power with minimum oversight produces moral cost’.

If there are fewer examples featuring UK forces to reach for, it is not because they do not exist.  Rather, the British Government has refused to comment on Special Forces operations as a matter of policy since the controversial killing of three unarmed IRA members in Gibraltar in 1988.  The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, however, and the occasional horror story still manages to filter through this wall of silence.

A 2019 investigation by BBC’s Panorama and the Sunday Times accused the MoD of covering up the killing of civilians by British forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Vehement denials by the MoD were undermined when their own documents were recently released to the High Court.  Similarly, justice for Agnes Wanjiru, allegedly murdered in 2012 by a British soldier, appears to have been similarly stonewalled, despite the accused having confessed to his comrades.  The British approach appears to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’, but given our cultural similarities to, and close military links with our American and Australian counterparts, we should expect similar behaviours to those demonstrated by our better-documented fellow-forces.

Doing What They Can

This is not to say that the British Armed Forces make no attempt to mitigate the risks of moral injury inherent to military service.  As per international law, the UK is ‘required to disseminate the texts of the Geneva Conventions 1949 and the two Additional Protocols 1977 as widely as possible in peace and war so that the general population can learn about them’, which it does through the requirement to complete Law of Armed Conflict training on an annual basis.6

Similarly, the Values and Standards of the British Army (and the equivalents within the other services) stress that ‘moral courage is the characteristic on which the other Values and Standards depend’, that ‘every soldier and officer must have the moral courage to challenge any behaviour which threatens our Values and Standards, irrespective of rank, environment or circumstance’ and that ‘being loyal to leaders or subordinates does not mean that wrong-doing should be condoned or covered up’.

The Defence Academy has supported the King’s College London’s (KCL) Centre for Military Ethics in putting together a set of free online courses, including one on the subject of ‘Armouring Against Atrocity’ that directly tackles some of the same issues raised in this article and should certainly be required viewing for anyone in a position of command.  These are all superstructure-level (or norm- and law-level) interventions.  It is telling that one of the deliverers of the course, Major Tom McDermott, in an earlier talk that pre-dates the Australian SAS revelations, cited the Australian VC recipient currently under investigation for war crimes as ‘a personification of that virtue ethic’ that he proposed as a tool to help promote correct conduct.

The Material Conditions of the Integrated Review

So, we have seen various examples of how the material conditions within which a military operates—its base, or architecture—can lead to a breakdown of command, discipline and even morality, regardless of the values it ostensibly holds, its superstructure, or norms.  The question we must now ask ourselves is simple: what are the conditions under which the British Armed Forces will operate in the future?

The Integrated Review states that the UK ‘accept[s] the risk that comes with our commitment to global peace and stability, from our tripwire NATO presence in Estonia and Poland to on-the-ground support for UN peacekeeping and humanitarian relief’.  It also pledges that ‘the UK will continue to play a leading international role in collective security, multilateral governance, tackling climate change and health risks, conflict resolution and poverty reduction.’  To do all this, we are told that the UK ‘will create Armed Forces that are both prepared for warfighting and more persistently engaged worldwide through forward deployment, training, capacity-building and education.’  As we leave Afghanistan with precious little to show for our twenty-year presence, the key takeaway appears to be ‘more, please!’.  The Integrated Review promises a continuation of the post-9/11 state of constant militarism, poorly-defined boundaries and concurrent multi-national engagement.

The supporting Defence Command Paper  reinforces this approach.  It states that ‘the Army will be designed to operate globally on a persistent basis’.  This includes the creation of an ‘Army Special Operations Brigade’ and ‘Ranger Regiment’, ‘able to operate in complex, high-threat environments, taking on some tasks traditionally done by Special Forces’—that is, taking on a role akin to the United States’ Tier 2 Special Forces, and freeing up the likes of the SAS and SBS to dedicate themselves to their Tier 1 role.  Details of the new Regiment are still hazy, and the recently-published Future Soldier Guide has provided no further details, but it seems reasonable to expect that the same policy of silence that the UK Government adheres to elsewhere will also apply to the Rangers.

Building a Foundation for Moral Failure

The Integrated Review will oversee much smaller, more technologically-focussed British Armed Forces.  What is more concerning is everything else it presages.  We appear to be pivoting towards a far more secretive and less accountable force, partially privatised and openly inspired by the same US forces responsible for the crimes mentioned previously.7

They will continue to operate incessantly around the globe, in ‘discreet partnership’ with a rogue’s gallery of our least savoury allies, in the same conditions of ill-defined rules of engagement and the blurring of lines between civilians and combatants that have characterised the last twenty years’ worth of conflict.  There are recurrent echoes in both documents of Dick Cheney’s 2001 suggestion that ‘we…have to work…the dark side, if you will.  We’ve got to spend time in the shadows [and] a lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion…if we’re going to be successful’ —a position statement that preceded two decades of misery for those on the receiving end, from those tortured in CIA black sites to those still mourning their lost loved ones today.

Emphasising training and values are, ultimately, a weak from of deterrence; Marine A was not unaware that what he was doing was wrong, helpfully stating to camera that ‘I just broke the Geneva Convention’ after executing a wounded insurgent.  I therefore propose that the British Armed Forces are overly focussed on the superstructure of its professed values and the qualities of its individual leaders.  As a result, they have failed to notice that the base they are building is (to borrow a term from the recently-updated Army Leadership Doctrine) a perfect ‘conducive environment’ for moral failure.

Cassandra
British Armed Forces

Cassandra is an early-career soldier serving in a humanitarian role, who hopes for the
best whilst expecting the worst.  Opinionated yet curious, she believes in the value of heterodox thinking as a means of stimulating debate and challenging dominant patterns of thinking.

Footnotes

  1. In ascending order of criminality: Colin Powell, who began his career aiding in the cover-up of the My Lai massacre and all-but-ended it lying to the UN to justify the invasion of IraqStanley McChrystal, who oversaw the establishment of death squads during his troop surge in Iraq and Henry Kissinger, who by some assessments is one of the most evil human beings to have ever lived.  At least Kissinger didn’t make it into the latest update of the Army Leadership Doctrine.
  2. R. Shea and R.A. Wilson, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Raven Books, 1998, 184.
  3. H. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Viking Press, 1963.
  4. S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher, ‘Beyond the Banality of Evil: Three Dynamics of an Interactionist Social Psychology of Tyranny,’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 33, Issue 5 (2007): 615-622.
  5. In a striking example, Karl-Otto Koch, commandant of the Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps, was in fact arrested and executed by the SS for murder and embezzlement; see Konrad Morgen: Conscience of Nazi Judge.
  6. JSP 383, Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, Ch 16, Part B
  7. For more on the detrimental ‘warrior ethos’ often espoused by these forces, see The Toxicity of the Warrior Ethos and Warrior is a Terrible Media Trope

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9 comments

Alex January 6, 2022 at 06:59

This is a thought provoking article but I found it deeply flawed.

To name Colin Powell and Kissinger as criminals but to later say that Nazi leaders were role models (Rommel was a well documented nazi) is….. well I was speechless

To say that the SF community must have committed crimes because the American and Australians did so we MUST have is non sensical. To cherry pick the missions (a handful out of the thousands that were run over 20 years of high intensity Warfighting) and say look at the crimes here – how dreadful. How can you say ‘they did it once or twice so we must have done it too’ with no evidence is laughable and insulting to the SF community who have to operate at a secret level.

And finally – to quote Marx in an article about moral values is…. Well where do you start! Marx’s work led to the deaths of millions of people and the human suffering of millions more, to say ‘don’t worry’ after referencing Marx is just hypocritical in the context of an article about moral values that seems to suggest that we are on for a moral failure because we lack transparency and quote American leaders in our doctrine.

Perhaps the author should try and iron out their own left leaning bias before writing a piece like this. It is offensive to the veterans of campaigns that she wasn’t on and if she were there she would lack the maturity to conduct herself with the required values to support her teammates.

Perhaps the Wavell Rooms can stop publishing articles like this. Or publish the name of the author so they can show the required transparency they want from our SF community (oh the irony).

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Mark January 6, 2022 at 07:54

Although I disagree with much of the basis of this article, it is worthy of discussion. At an academic level the article discusses warfare with the hindsight afforded to only those not in the thick of threat. To witness atrocities perpetrated by the enemy combatants at such a young age and have the lack of national and political will behind you to get the job done, must have weighed heavily on the minds of those losing comrades, being shot at, blown up and generally ill treated by commanders removed from the battle. That there were likely times when the coalition forces stepped over the line I have no doubt. Yet the majority of forces special or otherwise did not.
All Armed forces employed by any country are are a reflection of the prevailing normative society at that time. In any society you will find bad apples, you cannot train that out of someone….they just are. In Nazi Germany these bad apples rose above the rest to take leadership positions.
The military must strive to instil a moral compass that perhaps society has somewhat lost sight of, but it must also win the battle to maintain national and political will. It will only ever do that by fighting wars within the law.
I do not see this as a failure of doctrine but rather a successive political wavering on the goal. The “forever” wars are past. The current war is in the grey space where states employ unconventional forces to disrupt and influence other states. Similar to the Nazi use of paramilitary forces to manufacture a reason to invade Poland. They are backed by political leaders without the hindrance of national will, in the above article that could be seen as what the market can bare. Unfortunately to win this new battle we may need leaders (from private to general) who will operate without much oversight, in which case we need to find a way to select those with the moral compass we desire, so that we maintain the national will through following the law.

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James Bussey January 6, 2022 at 13:53

I always thought that ‘Marine A’ didn’t really know what kind of war he was meant to be fighting in Afghanistan, at the moment he shot dead the enemy insurgent. All infantry soldiers are taught in training for general war to ‘mop up’ after destroying the enemy using overwhelming firepower, whether it comes from air or artillery support, direct fire mobile heavy weapons, or one’s own small arms. This involves entering the killing area and finishing off the enemy in whatever state one finds them.
In previous wars the British have fought, he and his men would have gone forward under cover of other sections, killed all the enemy, and reported the area clear. Only then are the enemy no longer a threat to you. And in reality, only then can the Geneva Convention be practically observed; for example, if any other enemy soldiers choose to clearly indicate their wish to surrender to you. His men carried out a conventional military action, but brought trouble down on their own heads by what was recorded on film.
In future, soldiers need to be trained more on switching between different levels of conflict at a moment’s notice, and of sticking to the justification for their decisions taken in the heat of the moment if those decisions are subsequently questioned by a higher authority.
What strikes me as hypocritical is that one can kill the enemy indiscriminately in a bombing campaign when they are no direct threat, up to and including the use of nuclear weapons, and yet an example of killing an enemy face to face in action is punished by one’s own side. Marine A’s Commanding Officer should have brought out the dangers of thinking about the right thing at the wrong time in the post-operation debrief, and that would have been the end of it. Mission accomplished.
When I was in Iraq, any insurgents we captured, including those who damaged infrastructure by, for example, stealing copper from power lines, faced a death penalty from that country’s government. That was the law of the government we were there to support, and I didn’t have much of a mental or moral problem enforcing it. Our Platoon Sergeant had served on an exchange posting with the Royal Marines in the early days of Afghanistan, and he trained us not to trust any captured enemy at any time, even when they had been transferred to a Prisoner Facility. I had handled Iraqi PoWs after the ceasefire of the 1990/91 Gulf War, but the people we were going to be dealing with in the War on Terror were of a different kind. We weren’t special forces, by the way, just well-trained and well-led infantry drawn from our nation’s ‘men of good character,’ as the old recruiting posters had it.
Chuck those ingredients into the stew of morals, Ms Cassandra.
Notice I said we captured them, during fairly routine patrols, akin to standard issue N. Ireland type operations, but we were prepared and trained to go into real warfighting at any time. This was a couple of years before helmet cameras and drones became standard infantry equipment, so we were pretty much still in the good old days of empire policing.

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James Bussey January 6, 2022 at 15:41

…so what I was getting at in my last comment is that the failure of leadership lies not with Marine A, but at the level of those who decide what tactics they were supposed to be using in either that particular operational area, or in the country as a whole. I believe that the ISAF lost the war there because at no time was the first Principle of War applied by the high military and political commanders – Selection and Maintenance of the Aim. The Taliban stuck to this principle for the twenty years it took them to win the war.
In Iraq the aim was to enter the country to find WMD materials; once that aim was redundant, to make the country safe for internal reconstruction and transition to democratic government. This subsequent aim was abandoned several years later on Britain’s withdrawal with predictable consequences. Whilst the British Forces were in Southern Iraq, we carried out a counter-insurgency operation in which I am proud to have taken a part, because we were on the way to achieving that aim. We were winning there when I left the country. The failure of Op Telic was caused by the news media not reporting our good work, the public’s subsequent negative image of the campaign, and the loss of nerve by our political leaders to continue with it.
This would be like the British forces leaving Northern Ireland in the mid-1970s, and abandoning the people there to the mercy of illegal para-military organisations. The casualty rate on Op Telic, and indeed even Op Herrick, was less than that of Op Banner, particularly in the latter operation’s early years. It wasn’t beyond our military means to have continued with either of the latter campaigns, as part of the combined armed forces of many of the Free World’s richest and most culturally and technologically advanced countries.
British soldiers have not changed character over the years, even in the modern era, either in the type of person who joins up, or in the way in which those doing the work in theatre operate. The principles and methods of leadership are basic and stand the test of time and battle if applied correctly. All leaders at all levels of our armed forces are selected and trained to lead: the failure rate is high at all stages of the process. A weakness of leadership in civilian organisations is that leadership is given to those with trade proficiency or good character, without any determination of to he person’s ability to command or manage others.
Sadly, those with military training or experience in the UK Government are few and not influential in making decisions about foreign or military policy, compared to any other time in our country’s history up until the late 1980s, when such politicians were common.
Therefore, that is where one should look for failure of leadership, and the need to improve it, because nearly all of our politicians haven’t got a military bone in their bodies. This applies somewhat also to the USA: many of their leading politicians and most recent Presidents were Vietnam War era draft avoiders.

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Robbo January 6, 2022 at 20:51

Not sure Alex has really read this article with an open mind. At no point does the author refer to Rommel as a role model. The actual phrase was that he was largely considered ‘a chivalrous leader and well-respected by his British enemies’.

To suggest that the UK SF community are somehow beyond reproach because they operate at the secret level is also, to use his term ‘non-sensical’. I wouldn’t be so assured that a lack of current high profile examples of indiscretions equates to none committed. Just because Prince Andrew can’t have evidence presented against him because of a secret legal agreement does not mean he didn’t sleep with an underage girl.

Mike Jackson was also involved in the cover up of the bloody Sunday massacre… we most definitely fall victim to the same conditions and outcomes as described in this piece.

Finally, dismissing the work of one of the preeminent social thinkers of our time because his work formed the basis of communism which someone then used as a veil for control and obscenity, is like blaming Henry Ford for road deaths!

The whole comment reeks of exactly what this article is trying to highlight. This is typified by the closing comment which makes as many suppositions about the author as it suggests she makes about the topic!

I thought it was a very prescient piece and certainly rings true with my 17 years experience working in multiple parts of the Army and Defence. As senior officers fall like dominos for CEA fraud and toxic leadership and the senior soldier in the Army (at the time) was proven to have taken advantage of his position to sleep with a junior NCOs wife, how can we not acknowledge failings that point to something more than a few bad apples. This is systemic and our substructures (or base) are key in driving such perverse behaviours.

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James Bussey January 7, 2022 at 13:18

Robbo, unless the armed forces have gone seriously downhill since I left, any wrongdoing carried out by their members is not ‘systemic,’ but in my experience down to individual choice I was in the Royal Engineers in the 1980s and the RAF Regt in the 1990s and 2000s: during my service, anyone who committed any offence was dealt with under military or civil law, and punished accordingly. The punishments received by the offenders were all justified and proportionate to the offences. Soldiers were reprimanded, fined, put on jankers, jailed in either the guardroom, Colchester or civilian prison. Some were discharged from the forces, often for drug-related offences, which is a more serious punishment than a civilian would get for possession of illegal drugs. On the plus side, the Military Corrective Training Centre at Colchester works to rehabilitate offenders better than any civilian prison.
Until we start cloning angelic super soldiers, we have to recruit from those who live in the UK and its Commonwealth of Nations; the RAF gets those from the lower- and middle- middle classes, the Army has mostly public or grammar school educated officers, and its other ranks from the skilled and unskilled working classes. Having no experience of working with the RM or RN, they could still press gang young men into service in the seaport towns as far as I know.
Anyway, such men and women commit the same offences in the forces (on the rare occasions offences are committed) as they might do in civvy street: drunkenness, fighting, bullying, drug use, theft etc for the Other Ranks, and abuse of a position of trust for the posh boys and girls. I suppose we can now add racial and sexual harassment as aggravators these days: those were never issues when I was in, but times change.
Of course, in the good ol’ days, the Armed Forces never washed its dirty linen in public: whilst I was in, I no more felt a member of British society than if I had joined the French Foreign Legion, or been taken on by a monastery. Nowadays, we can all be amateur journalists. This is good for those of us who like to get their opinions and observations out into the world. The downside of all journalism is that writing about only the most sensational things gives readers the wrong impression of what an organisation and its operations are really like. Nearly all of one’s military service, whether at a home or an overseas station, is comprised of mundane tasks carried out by soldiers of all ranks and backgrounds in a spirit of co-operation and willingness to get a good job done. That’s the ‘system’ I remember.

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James Bussey January 7, 2022 at 13:20

Unless the armed forces have gone seriously downhill since I left, any wrongdoing carried out by their members is not ‘systemic,’ but in my experience down to individual choice I was in the Royal Engineers in the 1980s and the RAF Regt in the 1990s and 2000s: during my service, anyone who committed any offence was dealt with under military or civil law, and punished accordingly. The punishments received by the offenders were all justified and proportionate to the offences. Soldiers were reprimanded, fined, put on jankers, jailed in either the guardroom, Colchester or civilian prison. Some were discharged from the forces, often for drug-related offences, which is a more serious punishment than a civilian would get for possession of illegal drugs. On the plus side, the Military Corrective Training Centre at Colchester works to rehabilitate offenders better than any civilian prison.
Until we start cloning angelic super soldiers, we have to recruit from those who live in the UK and its Commonwealth of Nations; the RAF gets those from the lower- and middle- middle classes, the Army has mostly public or grammar school educated officers, and its other ranks from the skilled and unskilled working classes. Having no experience of working with the RM or RN, they could still press gang young men into service in the seaport towns as far as I know.
Anyway, such men and women commit the same offences in the forces (on the rare occasions offences are committed) as they might do in civvy street: drunkenness, fighting, bullying, drug use, theft etc for the Other Ranks, and abuse of a position of trust for the posh boys and girls. I suppose we can now add racial and sexual harassment as aggravators these days: those were never issues when I was in, but times change.
Of course, in the good ol’ days, the Armed Forces never washed its dirty linen in public: whilst I was in, I no more felt a member of British society than if I had joined the French Foreign Legion, or been taken on by a monastery. Nowadays, we can all be amateur journalists. This is good for those of us who like to get their opinions and observations out into the world. The downside of all journalism is that writing about only the most sensational things gives readers the wrong impression of what an organisation and its operations are really like. Nearly all of one’s military service, whether at a home or an overseas station, is comprised of mundane tasks carried out by soldiers of all ranks and backgrounds in a spirit of co-operation and willingness to get a good job done. That’s the ‘system’ I remember.

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TMB7 January 9, 2022 at 01:24

A brief comment & review:
Some important concepts are discussed here. However the opinions, observations & vignettes of quotes lack the level of clarity & unity of reason required to make sense. The result is article fails to encourage thinking, and fails to connect with the reader due to (unintended), preaching tone. It’s called ‘empty learning’ – to borrow from Shakespeare “full of sound & fury – signifying nothing.” In future, get someone to edit your work. This will clarify & strengthen the writing. And please avoid the unnecessary excuses of age, lack of experience, gender & political leanings. This again weakens the argument unnecessarily, and we are all students here wanting to learn. We are all equal…

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Richard R. Allen, CPA, CISA, MBA January 15, 2022 at 17:42

The author appears to not have considered the rules of warfare in the War in the Peninsula and the South of France. The Duke of Wellington would give a fortress an opportunity to surrender. However, should the British Army have to take a fortress by storm, then the defenders knew that the British soldier need not offer them an opportunity to surrender, i.e. no quarters. This provided the defenders a reason to surrender. The attacking force knew that they would take terrible losses in the attack and thus wished to give the defenders a reason to surrender to save the attacking forces so many losses.

When the U.S. Army fought the Japanese soldiers in the Pacific, they faced an enemy who would fight to the death. Thus, the only rational thing to do was to offer no quarter and to shoot wounded Japanese who might try to kill a G.I. trying to get them to surrender.

This author has developed her thinking but this commentary is unpersuasive. She didn’t use the scientific method with proper statistical analysis to support her assertions.

When she talked about the forever wars, she apparently is not conversant with the literature.

Why the United States Can’t Win Wars: We routinely give the military unattainable objectives and ask it to generate political outcomes it was never designed to produce.

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/skeptics/why-united-states-can%E2%80%99t-win-wars-177374

War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory by Nadia Schadlow

For instance, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System is self funded. It has the funding to station staff in all the U.S. embassy world wide. If the United States of America wished to win forever wars, it would have to fund an expeditionary capability for all the federal civilian agencies so that it could use both hard power and soft power to achieve the ends of its grand strategy.

These are considerations this author ignores.

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