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The real danger of turning the military into saints

This morning on the radio we had General Sir Loudly Blustering, telling us how appalling the BBC was and how it ought to reconsider its role as a public service broadcaster. Why? Because the BBC had dared to show a drama - fiction - in which members of the armed forces were shown doing bad things.

That the general should do this reflects what I feel is a very dangerous shift in our attitude to the military. I ought to say straight away that our armed forces do an important and dangerous job, and that we ought to do everything sensible to make sure that they are well treated, especially when injured. However, it really does seem that we are seeing a Princess Diana effect in the emotional attitude that is now attached to the military.

This comes through in the distinction between the Poppy Appeal and the charity Help for Heroes. The Poppy Appeal is a sober, thoughtful appeal for remembrance, which raises funds to help veterans. Help for Heroes also has a very worthy cause in raising cash for those wounded in recent conflicts, but it is no surprise that the X-Factor has just done a charity spot for Help for Heroes. Shows like the X-Factor are masters of manipulating emotion, and Help for Heroes is very much a charity of the X-Factor generation. Emotion is in real danger of turning heroes into saints who can do no wrong.

I support the work of Help for Heroes (although I'd rather give to the Poppy Appeal), but this emotional debt to the armed forces must not be used to allow the military to have a greater presence in our everyday lives. I wasn't totally comfortable with a display of soldiers on stage during the X-Factor - it was worryingly reminiscent of the sort of thing you would expect to see in a military dictatorship - but at least this was linked to supporting injured servicemen. What we can't have, though, is generals telling us what sort of dramas we are allowed to watch.

Next the generals will assume it's okay to tell us how to deal with the financial crisis. And while they are at it, why don't they just take over running the country? And if we have come to view the military as saints, it's all too easy to say, 'Yes, why not?'

Hands off, please, generals.


  1. Fully agree, General SLB should jog on and focus on eradicating the endemic bullying culture in the army.

  2. Don't be silly.

    The General has to do it to be seen to give unconditional support to his boys. The Army exists on this pseudo parentalism. Without the unquestioning loyalty developed by this, you'd never get people to run into a hail of bullets, or keep moving under mortar fire.

    roym's comment is idiotic. Of course you want a bullying culture in the army, you're training people to be hardened killer on your behalf. Durrrr.

  3. In a sense you are right, Henry - but I think you miss the point. Yes, the general should be expected to stand up for 'his boys'. And this is fine if society has a suitably robust attitude to the armed forces.

    But when we've been emotionally manipulated to take a certain view, we should be careful we don't let the general get his own way.

    I'm afraid, roym, I have to agree with Henry's argument, though not his use of 'idiotic' - a bullying culture is pretty well inherent in the nature of the military.

  4. hmm, having not been in the armed forces myself i can accept that discipline and obedience are essential amd inescapable facts of life.

    however, outright bullying can only lead to negative results, i.e. deepcut, abingdon, and catterick and thus lowering morale no?

    burying our heads in the sand to the existence of this problem and that other elephant in the room (drug abuse) might equally be termed idiotic.


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